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.
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