On Wednesday the Atlanta Public School Budget Commission tentatively approved a $685.2 million FY16 Budget on an 8-1 vote. The Commission considered raising property taxes to fund a $700.8 million budget – which included the full list of expenditures considered – but then reached a consensus to accept an increase in funding for additional classroom and programmatic expenditures and for implementing additional positive behavior support programs.
Revenues are projected to be $682.8 million and the remaining $2.4 million deficit will be funded out of General Fund reserves.
The Board will formally act on the proposal in a Special Meeting scheduled for Monday, April 20 at 6 p.m.
Byron Amos voted against the $685.2 million budget and indicated that he was in favor of raising property taxes to fund the full $700.8 million budget which funded most of the priorities considered by the Board over the course of its deliberations.
The Commission participants (all Board members were in attendance) appeared to be generally in favor of funding all the priorities that had been identified. However, they were constrained from doing so as the $14 million Beltline payment from the City of Atlanta remains in dispute and the timing of collecting the moneys remains unknown.
The Commission included the $14 million payment in the revenues, but believed it needed to maintain an adequate level of General Fund reserves to cover expenditures in the event the Beltline payment was not received in FY16. Under the Board’s policies, the General Fund reserve must be maintained at no less than 7.5% of expenditures.
At the beginning of the budget deliberations, the Board established a $668.8 million expenditure baseline and then considered other funding sources to increase the expenditure total. Among the items considered were raising property taxes by one millage point ($18.0 million), using additional General Fund reserves (up to $12.2 million) and including the $14.0 million Beltline payment. As noted above, only the latter was adopted.
With the $668.8 million starting point, the following additional expenditures were included:
- $9.1 million for school flexibility. This expenditure added back teaching resources that had initially been cut. The amount has been allocated to each school in APS and the principals have the flexibility to direct the allocated expenditure in a manner that they believe will best impact their school.
- $1.0 million to recalibrate teachers at elementary schools. The initial budget allocation for teaching resources was considered to be inadequate to fund specific issues faced by the elementary schools. The additional funding is intended to redress these issues. [Update – the $1.0 million is in addition to $1.9 million included in the $668.8 million baseline budget]
- $5.0 million for additional cluster flexibility. This amount will be added to the $9.1 million noted above and can be used by the principals to fund additional teaching resources or the cost of programmatic changes.
- $1.3 million for “Positive Behavior Supports. The this line item includes expenditures for positive behavior supports (see BOE presentation on this topic here) and includes social and emotional learning implementation, screeners and dashboard information.
While the Commission accepted the items above, other identified priorities costing approximately $15.6 million were deferred due to lack of funding sources. The deferred items included $7.6 million for enhancing the educational environment, $0.9 million for additional cluster flexibility, $1.5 million for incremental bus maintenance, $1.0 million for Pre-K compensation parity adjustments, $1.0 million for college readiness programs, $1.0 million for career readiness programs, $300 thousand for the transition to the charter system operating model and $2.3 million in additional funding for the District’s charter schools.
It would not surprise me if the Administration reviewed the current budget allocations and made additional changes that might ultimately fund some of the unfunded items noted above.
In prior years, the budget process had often been contentious and full of mistrust between the Board and the Administration. This year it has been very different.
Budget Commission Chair Westmoreland and Superintendent Carstarphen led a very open and thorough process of identifying the District’s needs, establishing priorities and then funding what it could within the constraint of limited resources.