Monthly Archives: February 2014

Atlanta Public Schools Budget Commission message to the administration – “we’re not in Kansas anymore”!

The Atlanta Public School Budget Commission met again yesterday to continue reviewing the administration’s plans for spending for FY15. As noted in a previous post (see here), on a preliminary basis, the administration has requested $655 million in expenditures, but also indicated that its final request will likely be closer to $630 million resulting in a deficit of $20 million.

The intent of yesterday’s meeting was to provide the administration – specifically Curriculum & Instruction – the opportunity to justify the expenditure request for the largest division of APS.

While the debate and comments were all respectful, Karen Waldon’s presentation did not go well. She focused on “process” while the Commission was focused on student educational outcomes. When pressed for information, on several occasions she made statements that were a clear admission of past failures and her Divisions inability to execute in a way that would advance student educational outcomes. Further, the Commission members and other Board members in attendance continuously asked for data establishing the current status of specific programs and then for specific objectives that would be met with the additional spending. Ms. Waldon was not able to provide either.

Towards the end of the meeting, CFO Burbridge indicated that this was the first budget discussion during his tenure in which the Board was focused on the results of spending money versus the procedural aspects of passing a budget. This was a clear acknowledgement on his part that the new Board was taking a fundamentally different approach to the budget discussions. In other words – “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Burbridge gets it. The question is whether Waldon and the superintendent get the message and begin to substantiate their budget requests with data and – most importantly – specific improved educational outcomes that will result from the spending.

The Commission wants results and is not interested in excuses for why those results have not been achieved in the past. It is also clear that the Commission wants to have clear and measurable student educational outcome objectives and they intend to hold the administration accountable for meeting the established objectives.

In other words, this is a bureaucrat’s worst night mare – specific and individual accountability for results. This concept has been sorely missing from APS for a long time.

The Commission wants to hold the administrators accountable for meeting specific and objective measures that show progress and are indicators of success. Given that the current budget proposal is over $780 million (including Special Revenues), asking the administration to be accountable for results seems to be a reasonable request. However, this is the first time that I have seen such a request over the last three years and the administration was clearly unprepared to justify its budget based on specific measures of improved student achievement.

In my view, this was the most refreshing and on-point Budget Commission meeting I have ever attended. The new perspective shown by the Board is an indicator that we will not be seeing “business as usual” with the traditional results that have consistently ended in wasted millions and subsequent failure.

Hooray!

The Budget Commission and the Board have a lot of difficult decisions to make – and they appear eager to take on those tough decisions. I urge all readers to encourage their efforts (even though some future decision will upset you) – tell the Board members you support them and will stand by them as they take on the tough issues.

While it is still early, the initial indications are that this Board will succeed where previous Boards have failed miserably.

I hope you will join me in encouraging this attitude that is focused on accountability and results!

Robert Stockwell is the financial watchdog for APS and posts at Financial Deconstruction

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Good summary of APS BOE presentation at E. Rivers last night

Seven of the nine APS Board members attended a community forum last night at E. Rivers and they addressed a variety of issues. Melissa Weinman of the Reporter Newspapers has a good summary of the highlights here. As she reports, some of the key highlights are as follows:

Some of the “best and brightest minds in education” are in the running to become the next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Board of Education Chairman Courtney English said… “We are competing with Fortune 500 companies in some cases. We are competing with the president of the United States in some cases,” English said.

English asked for parents to be patient and trust the board.  He said he does not intend to introduce candidates to the community for input before a selection is made, mainly because candidates are already working in other positions.

Board Member Nancy Meister, … addressed questions about the future of Sutton Middle School, … “The facility at the old North Atlanta, now Sutton, included some spaces that can be converted to classroom spaces, so we’re looking at that.” … Portable classrooms, or trailers, are also an option, but Meister said it’s not the most popular solution with the superintendent… We’re aware of it. We’re addressing it. But there isn’t a solution today,” Meister said.

Board Member Matt Westmoreland updated the organization on the school board’s budget process, which has already begun for the next school year. Westmoreland said the school board started the budget process early this year, with the goal of finalizing the budget by April 14… “Our top priority is to make sure as much money as possible is directly touching students. That’s always going to be our goal,” Westmoreland said.

Read the whole thing here.

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Atlanta superintendent search advances

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Superintendent Search Committee plans to continue reviewing candidates during meetings this weekend before handing a list of candidates to the school board by early April.The Atlanta Superintendent Search Committee plans to continue reviewing candidates during meetings this weekend before handing a list of candidates to the school board by early April.

The school board will then name finalists, and board members have said they hope to announce a superintendent by the end of April.

“It’s been the most affirming process to see the caliber of people who want to be in Atlanta,” said Ann Cramer, chairwoman of the Superintendent Search Committee.

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APS Budget Commission meeting today at 2 P.M. – will they address the student outcome objectives for FY15?

The Budget Commission will meet again today at 2 P.M. after having previewed the preliminary FY15 budget this past Tuesday (see summary here). The plan is not to review a detailed set of numbers today as the administration indicated that a full set of detailed numbers would not be released until next Tuesday’s meeting. However, the Budget Commission wanted to continue pursuing the discussion on the objectives for FY15 that will be supported by spending in the budget.

As noted in the previous post, the head of C&I Karen Waldon discussed a number of initiatives for the next year. However, the presentation was sorely lacking in specifics related to improved student outcomes as a result of increased spending.

As a suggestion, my sense is that the process would move forward much faster if the presentations today address the key objectives the administration wants to pursue in FY15 and how the funding correlates with addressing these objectives. Additionally, the Balanced Scorecard that is a statement of key objectives (see FY13 Actual Performance here and FY14 Objectives here) would be a perfect outline to address the initiatives proposed by the administration. If student achievement and outcomes are their top priorities, then show us the specifics of how improvements in each objective will be made.

Some of the specific objectives on the Balanced Scorecard are as follows:

  • Graduation rates
  • Target percentage of meet or exceed CRCT testing scores.
  • Target percentage of students passing the EOCT.
  • Percent of students in Advanced Placement classes scoring 3 or greater on AP exams.
  • Percent of students that are absent less than 10 days.
  • Percent of teachers with a Teacher Effectiveness Measure of Effective or better.
  • Percent of leaders with a Leader Effectiveness Measure of Effective or better.

The administration would advance the budget process if it would focus on the key objectives that are contained in the Balanced Scorecard and then simply answer the following questions in regards to each item, as follows:

  1. Why was the objective met or missed in FY13?
  2. If the objective was missed, what steps were incorporated into FY14 to address the shortfall?
  3. How is the system progressing on meeting the FY14 objectives?
  4. Are there any current indications that some FY14 objectives will not be met?
  5. If so, what mid-year changes are being implemented to address the shortfalls?
  6. What are the objectives for FY15 and what specific funding and programs are being implemented to achieve those objectives?

These should not be difficult questions to address given that the administration should have these issues as “top of mind” if in fact improved student outcomes is their primary goal.

I will be interested to see if any of these items are addressed today.

Robert Stockwell is the financial watchdog for APS and posts at Financial Deconstruction

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Several Atlanta principals to be removed from their schools

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Principals at about seven Atlanta schools are being removed before next school year, said city school board Chairman Courtney English on Wednesday.

A statement from Atlanta Public Schools wouldn’t confirm which principals are being transferred or what schools will be affected, but the system acknowledged it has informed some school leaders they wouldn’t serve in the role of principal next school year.

Hundreds of students at Mays High School in west Atlanta walked out of school Tuesday to protest the removal of their principal, Tyronne Smith. They later returned to class. Neither APS nor English would confirm that Smith is one of the principals being transferred.

Hope Hodges, a junior at Mays High, said students respect Smith and don’t understand why he’s leaving.

“He talks with students and meets with us. He doesn’t just sit in the office all day,” Hodges said after school was dismissed Wednesday. “I’d like to be informed about what’s going on. I don’t want to go to a school where they make people leave and don’t tell us why.”

English said Superintendent Erroll Davis has made decisions to reassign principals when he believes doing so is the best interest of children. English said he didn’t know whether the principals were being transferred for academic or other personnel reasons.

“We’re in a constant process of evaluating our people, and making sure we have the right people, and making sure they’re being effective for our kids,” English said.

The unsigned statement from Atlanta Public Schools said personnel changes have been contemplated for a long time — in some cases, more than a year.

“The decision to seek new school leadership is never an easy one,” the statement said. “We are making these changes in the best interest of our students, with a focus on what is best for the campuses that will be impacted by these decisions.”

The changes in school leadership come in Davis’ final months on the job. Davis plans to retire this summer, and a national search for a new superintendent is expected to be completed in April.

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Grady High football investigation nears completion

The Atlanta Public Schools investigation into accusations of address fraud and recruiting violations on the Grady High School football team is expected to be completed next week.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Superintendent Erroll Davis wrote in a Tuesday letter to the community that the investigation’s findings will be released to the community during a series of meetings on the Grady High campus in Midtown on March 5.

Davis said the school system’s mission is “to foster a culture of ethics,” and providing false information about student registration strains resources, jeopardizes student safety and impedes the student transfer process.

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Schools claw back time lost to snow

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Minute by minute and day by day, some school districts in metro Atlanta are clawing back instructional time lost to unusually severe winter weather this year.

Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest district, had already altered its calendar last month to make up the three days lost to an Arctic chill in early January and a snowstorm later that month. Now, in response to another round of snow that shuttered school for four days this month, the district has announced it will lengthen 48 school days by half an hour, from Monday through mid-May.

Decatur, one of metro Atlanta’s smallest districts, chose a similar approach, adding 30 minutes a day but only from Monday to the beginning of May. Another small district, Marietta, also stretched the school day but with a twist, lengthening days in March but only Mondays through Thursdays and for a whole hour. (The district told parents they can opt out.)

Atlanta and Fulton County decided to make up a day each in March by scheduling school during time previously set aside for teacher planning and training, and Fulton will delay high-stakes testing for younger students. The school system in Rockdale County took the cold-water approach, deciding less than two weeks ago to cancel last week’s winter break and make up five days immediately. Another make-up day is on the calendar there in March.

Fayette and DeKalb counties were still working on their plans Monday. DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond said any make-up time he recommends to the school board would occur before high-stakes testing this spring. He also said he might use emergency waivers from the state and write off the lost time.

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