APS Budget Commission meets

APS Budget Commission meets to review proposed salary increases, the Special Revenue Fund Budget and other issues

The Atlanta Public School Budget Commission met yesterday and reviewed a revised proposal for allocating the $15 million salary increase, reviewed the Special Revenue Fund budget for FY15, considered an appeal for additional funding of Gifted Student teachers and reviewed the potential impact on accreditation status as the result of eliminating media paraprofessionals positions.

The following is a brief review of each item considered.

$15 million salary increase – The administration presented a new alternative for the pay raise in which all district personnel would receive an approximate 3% raise (or a percent that remained within the $15 million cap for both salary increases and the related cost of employee benefits). The exact percent has yet to be determined as the administration had not fully established the actual cost based on the existing employee base. The administration stated that it would perform additional modeling and come back to the Commission with a more exact figure next week.

In its original recommendation (see more here), the administration established four employee categories for purposes of allocating the proposed pay raise. The group of employees that had received a salary increase in the last two years as a result of obtaining  advanced degree were very dissatisfied with the proposal as they argue that the salary increases received as a result of the advanced degrees is not only consistent with APS policy, but also enhances their ability to do a better job for the district. As a result, these employees believe that they are being penalized for advancing their skills as they are not sharing equally in the initial raise proposal.

The revised proposal would treat this disaffected group the same as all other employees and the result would be to lower the salary increases for employees that had not received any salary increase in the last four years and lower the raises for hourly and part-time employees.

It was also interesting to note that the administration stated that their HR tracking system was not up to date and that the salary step function had been turned off several years ago. As a result, a more complex proposal like the initial one would represent an administrative burden to implement. CHRO Price indicated that it could take up to a year to fix the existing system to accommodate the changes. A number of Board members appeared to be skeptical of this timeline and questioned whether there were short-term steps that could be implemented to fix the system. The administration maintained that it would fix the existing system, but that implementing a complex salary proposal was problematic.

Review of the FY15 Special Revenue Fund (SRF) Budget – In the last Board meeting a decision was made to defer approval of the SRF budget until a more thorough review was completed at the Budget Commission. The administration presented a slide show on the largest categories of the SRF which includes all Federal funding (Title I, Title II, Title III, Title IV and Race to the Top). It is important to note that there are hundreds of SRF accounts with many different requirements attached to each specific account. I will prepare a more in-depth review on the SRF in a subsequent post. In the end, the Commission did not take formal action to recommend adoption of the FY15 SRF Budget, but my sense is that it will be accepted by the full Board at its next formal meeting.

Addition of Gifted Student Program teachers – A member of the community made an appeal to the Commission to add back approximately 20 Gifted Student Program teachers – that had been included in the original budget submission – but were then cut back to the same level of 140 teachers that were included in the FY14 budget. The argument made was that the GA QBE funding report would support the 159.5 teachers in the original budget submission and that the administration had redirected the QBE funds to other purposes in subsequent budget submissions. [Added] The administration stated that the expansion of the Atlanta Virtual School would supplement the Gifted Program and, given all the other priorities in C&I, there were insufficient resources to fund the additional teachers.

[Note added – my sense is that the issue of teacher vs. technology will become an ongoing issue as the Virtual School expands and the supplement vs. supplant debate will become more intense in the future.]

A Commission member asked the administration to see if they could find the $1.8 million to add these teachers back, but the Commission was cautioned that selectively addressing this type of issue outside of the context of the entire district spending priorities could be a problem.

As an aside, while the argument made by the community member has merit on a stand-alone basis, it is important to note that if all the funding standards incorporated into the QBE funding formula were also applied to the district, it would result in a disaster. I will expand on this in a subsequent post.

Media paraprofessionals and its impact on accreditation – As part of the FY15 Budget CTO Tony Hunter included the elimination of 26 media paraprofessional positions in the district. Subsequent to the approval of the budget, the Board learned that the elimination of these positions could impact the accreditation of the elementary and middle schools when the next accreditation is completed in 2016. When questioned on this, Mr. Hunter indicated that he had raised this issue when he made a presentation to the Budget Commission in March.

None of the Board members in attendance at the meeting seemed to agree that this issue had been brought up in the past. I attended the meeting in question and do not recall this being raised as an issue either. Board members were visibly upset that a decision had been made by the administration that would potentially impact the district’s accreditation status without a full and thorough discussion on the issue. I expect that this issue will be raised again in the very near future.

Other thoughts – I thought it was interesting that there was no discussion on the status or progress on the FY15 budget revisions. If you will remember, the current budget for FY15 passed on a 6-3 vote, but none of the Board members were happy with it. However, the budget was passed so that the hiring process for FY15 could commence and not be delayed as it was last year. In addition, while not contained in the formal resolution passed at the Board level, there was an understanding that the FY15 Budget would be reviewed in detail with the new superintendent and revisions would likely be made.

Dr. Carstarphen addressed this specific issue during a media event on Tuesday. Her response, as reported by Atlanta Intown (see here) was,

The budget is one of her first priorities. The FY 2015 approved budget still allows for review and revision during the superintendent transition. Revisions will not be immediate…“Everything [needs to be] on the table before we start making adjustments,” Carstarphen explained.

The district is finalizing its vision, mission, and values. The board is working to solidify its definition of equity and approach for distributing resources – time, people, money. Carstarphen is both drilling down into the budget and comparing it to similar districts.

It is fully understandable that she needs time to dig in and to start making assessments. However, it was not clear to me that the Budget Commission members were fully engaged in the re-prioritization process.

We will see.

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

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