Category Archives: Robert Stockwell

Review of the Atlanta Public School FY15 Special Revenue Fund Budget

As noted in yesterday’s post, the Budget Commission spent some time reviewing the FY15 Special Revenue Fund (SRF) Budget. The following chart presents the major sources of funding. As you can see, the most significant sources are federal funds and the reductions are having a significant impact on the total funds available in the SRF.

FY15 SRF by Source 051614

The following is a brief review of the changes that are shown in the chart above:

  • The Race to the Top program, which was a component of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus program is winding down and will end September 30th. The balance of funds for FY15 is essentially a carryover from prior years.
  • Title I-A & G, which are designated for improving academic achievement is decreasing by $3.8 million. Approximately $427 thousand is the result of decreases in funding for the federal program and the balance is related to lower carry forward amount from previous years.
  • Title II-A-Improving Teacher Quality decreases are almost in their entirety the result of decreases in funding for the federal program.
  • Title VI-B IDEA funding for the Exceptional Children’s program has increased primarily as a result of an increase in students eligible for federal funding. This increase in student eligibility has also increased the funding requirements in the General Fund.
  • Large Private Grants greater than $250 thousand have decreased by $861 thousand – the primary factors are a decrease of $955 thousand in the Gates Teacher Effectiveness Accelerator program that is coming to an end and a decrease of $523 thousand in the GE Math and Science program. These decreases are offset by a $614 thousand increase in the NITV/Bellsouth Clearwire program.

Below is a summary that attempts to categorize the many accounts by the major district functions (see Note at bottom of post).

FY15 SRF by Function 051614

  • Exceptional Children – There is a $2.2 million increase in Title VI funding for the Exceptional Children’s Program. This increase, along with the General Fund increase of $4.2 million amounts to a $6.4 million or 12% increase over FY14. As noted above, this increase is due to increases in qualifying children.
  • Remedial Instruction – The Title I and Title IV-B funds, which are designated for school improvement and for remedial support for economically disadvantaged children, is decreasing by $4.2 million primarily as the result of the balance is related to lower carry forward amount from previous years. The recent announcement of a reduction of approximately 119 teachers is specifically the result of this decrease in funding (see more on this here).
  • Professional Development – Overall, professional development funding is decreasing by $1.9 million and is primarily the result of the Gates Teacher Effectiveness Accelerator Program ending and a reduction in funding for the Federal Title II-A Improving Teacher Quality Program. It is important to note that the vast majority of spending on Professional Development is funded by the SRF and that no additional provisions were made in the General Fund budget for this activity.
  • Reform Programs – The decrease of $5.7 million is almost entirely related to the ending of the Race to the Top program. In addition, the Small Learning Communities grant has ended resulting in a $928 thousand decrease.
  • Charter Schools – The increase in charter schools spending is primarily composed of Federal/State grants that the district earns for starting or implementing charter school formation. This category also includes the 2% administrative fee that charged to charter schools. In addition, there are certain expenditures that are fully reimbursed by the charter schools for one-time services (i.e. temporary bus services to Drew Charter School students while it transitions to a new facility).

In summary, the total reduction in the SRF is related to certain Federal programs ending or a general reduction in the Federal programs. I think it is also fair to say that the federal school reform program funding is at its end and I am not aware of any new direct federal reform programs on the horizon. The one overall concern I have is that the Professional Development dollars have decreased, but there has been no provision to make up the difference in the General Fund. I will assume that the administration has considered this and determined that the decreased level of funding is adequate.

Note – The allocation of the program cost by function is based on my interpretation of the descriptions for the program. The administration has not reviewed my categorization and they may interpret it differently than I do. Additionally, certain grants are accounted for in the SRF, but are also incorporated into the General Fund. These amounts have been previously reviewed as part of the General Fund analysis.

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

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APS News Rundown

***Superintendent Carstarphen’s Incoming Administration

***Therrell High School Shooting Incident

***Board of Education Committee Meetings and Public Forums

  • Charter School Task Force meeting held – meeting resulted in establishing a working group to establish timeframe for future meetings.
  • APS Budget Commission meets to review proposed salary increases, the Special Revenue Fund Budget – Financial Deconstruction
  • Review of the Atlanta Public School FY15 Special Revenue Fund Budget – Financial Deconstruction
  • District 5 Town Hall Meeting – May 15th – 6-8 p.m. – BOE members Steven Lee & Jason Esteves – Towns Elementary, 760 Bolton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30331
  • Washington High School Cluster Collaborative – discussions on best educational practices – Monday, May 19, 2014 – 5:00- 7:00 p.m. – CLL
  • District 2 Town Hall Meeting – May 21th – 6-8 p.m. – BOE members Byron Amos & Courtney English – Brown Middle School 765 Peeples Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30310
  • Pension Fund Task Force – May 22, 2014 – 4:00 p.m. – CLL

*** Other APS News

Non-APS News and Opinion of Interest

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

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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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Press Club Reception – Carstarphen

Carstarphen does the media circuit – great reception at the Press Club

Yesterday incoming APS Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen was on the media circuit and met with numerous reporters at six or seven events. Based on the events I attended, she was very well received by the media and interested community leaders in attendance.

The following is a quick recap of the news stories published with some key extracts.

From the AJC – extended coverage – New leader seeks revival of Atlanta public education [behind pay wall]

Rejuvenating Atlanta’s public education system will require finding “a light at the end of the tunnel” to recover from scandal and mistrust, said Meria Carstarphen, the school system’s incoming leader….Carstarphen…said parents want her to focus on student achievement in hopes of moving past widespread cheating by teachers who changed students’ answers on standardized tests in 2009…“There’s a lot of concern and frustration about the past, but there are a lot of people ready to move forward.” 

Carstarphen said she’ll seek a “culture change” in which the school system will put children first and spend less time on issues that don’t directly have to do with education. 

“The magic can flow. It does become a very special place where wonderful things happen for children. That’s something I don’t think is out of the reach for Atlanta,” she said.

From the AJC – Atlanta school leader seeks to repair system

The next leader of Atlanta Public Schools, Meria Carstarphen, said Tuesday she’s seeking a “culture change” that puts students first and moves past controversies.

She said the city school system needs to learn from its cheating scandal but can’t dwell on it. …

Carstarphen said she wants to hire staff, reduce the bureaucracy of education administration, improve employee morale and raise the school system’s 59 percent graduation rate.

Carstarphen is already working to hire her staff and evaluate the school system’s needs during a transition period.

Atlanta Intown – Carstarphen says it’s “a new day for APS”

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.

She also called for a “citizens advisory committee” that would add transparency to APS budget and policy decisions. Carstarphen said she believes that public schools should focus on the whole child and ensure they are “life long learners that love coming to school.”

Decaturish – New super says K-8 is ‘appealing’ [with audio of one of the events]

Carstarphen was asked about her feelings on K-8 schools in general…“I think a rich portfolio of options really helps parents in picking designs that may or may not support what they’re interested in for their child,” she said.

“I think K-8 as a design is appealing. I’ve heard parents talk about it in ways that eases their anxiety about that transition from elementary to middle school, and that research shows that by reducing transitions, or if you’re going to do a transition it has to be successful and well supported from elementary to middle or middle to high school. But having a good supportive transition that is within the same school culture can be beneficial to a child who needs that kind of continuity.”

“I think that it’s fair enough to say that K-8 can be beneficial to parents and families,” she said.

WXIA 11 Alive News (with video)

I will never tolerate people violating the law or openly violating the policies of the Board. I think it is about setting a standard and an expectation about how we are going to do business with our children.

People now … are talking to me about what is going well and what they would like us to [focus] on and what they hope for the future.   

MyFox Atlanta – New superintendent working to change APS culture

The new Atlanta Public School Superintendent, Dr. Carstarphen, and her transition team have been working for several weeks now. Carstarphen said she’s using this time to actually learn the district and she’s even made some new hires.

“It’s just a lot of things that have to happen before the culture fully shifts,” said Carstarphen. Carstarphen said that the APS cheating scandal has made recruiting difficult…“There’s a reputation about the district right now that is what it is, but it’s also not the whole story,” said Carstarphen. “It’s a little more difficult of a sale, but those who have come and spent the weekend with me are very excited.”

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

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APS Chief of Human Resources

Will bringing on a new APS Chief of Human Resources make a difference? The numbers say yes – big time!

As noted in a prior post (see here), Dr. Carstarphen has started to build her team here in Atlanta and one of the key members that is already on board is Pamela Hall who served as executive director of human resources in Austin and it appears likely that she will serve as Chief of Human Resources in Atlanta [sentence modified from the original]. In an effort to preview how Hall may manage the HR function in Atlanta, let’s take a look at some comparative data between the APS and AISD HR functions.

Below is a chart with some of the key data points for each of the Human Resources departments (see Notes below).

FY15 HR staffing APS v AISD 051215

Right from the start, you will see some striking differences. The APS HR function has 54 employees to hire and coordinate 7.6 thousand employees across the district. This is in stark contrast to the Austin HR function with 43 employees that are responsible for hiring and coordinating 11.2 thousand employees. From a pure efficiency standpoint, each Austin HR employee is responsible for 260 staff versus APS HR that handles only 141 staff – that is a huge 119 difference in efficiency between the two systems. If the APS HR function was staffed at a similar efficiency ratio to Austin, the function would require 29 people – not the 54 currently working in Atlanta HR.

It is important to remember that the HR function was reviewed last year and consultants recommended a revamping of the function – as a result, we got Project Thrive which was supposed to save the district money (it did not). I would also assume that the consultants did some benchmarking on the HR function, but it is clear that they did not include Austin in their review of efficiency ratios.

So now that we have Project Thrive in place, let’s see what it gave us. Of the 54 HR staff, 24 have executive director, director or manager in their title – and they have six administrative assistants to help them with their workload. And how many staff do the 24 ‘managers’ manage – 24. That is a one to one ratio of managers to staff. It is important to understand that a general rule of thumb is for each manager there are six staff. This ratio is so far off kilter, I am not sure what else to say. But suffice it to say that Austin performs the same function with six managers not 24.

Ms. Hall – welcome aboard to APS HR. You have your work cut out for you, but let’s hope that you bring some of the same operating practices and efficiency measures that you worked with in Austin. And let’s hope that Dr. Carstarphen takes the savings from improving HR efficiency and pushes it into the classroom.

Notes – Austin separates the teacher and principal mentoring staff from the core HR function and the APS HR function has been adjusted to conform to this presentation. The staffing data for APS is based on actual staff as of 12/31/13. The AISD data is extracted from the AISD FY14 Budget information (see here – page 313).

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

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APS News Rundown

***Superintendent Carstarphen’s Incoming Administration

***Board of Education

***Board of Education Committee Meetings and Public Forums

  • Charter School Task Force – Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 11:30 a.m.District 5 Town Hall Meeting – May 15th – 6-8 p.m. – BOE members Steven Lee & Jason Esteves – Towns Elementary, 760 Bolton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30331
  • District 2 Town Hall Meeting – May 21th – 6-8 p.m. – BOE members Byron Amos & Courtney English – Brown Middle School 765 Peeples Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30310
  • Budget Commission meeting – Wednesday, May 14, 4:00 p.m. – Special Revenue Fund on agenda

*** Other APS News

Non-APS News and Opinion of Interest

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

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Closing of Kennedy Middle School

Parents and students continue to protest closing of Kennedy Middle School – plan to convert it to a career academy remains in place

A number of parents and students continued to protest the closing of Kennedy Middle School and the related plan to reopen it next year as a career academy next year. Per the AJC (see here),

The board didn’t suggest it would change course on plans set during a redistricting process two years ago to turn Kennedy Middle into a career academy next school year. Kennedy Middle has 59 students left, and they will move to Brown Middle. 

[Superintendent] Davis said at Monday’s board meeting. “I do not think, however, that we should give people going into these discussions an expectation of an outcome.

In addition per the AJC, the school board

…agreed to start a conversation about improving education in the central part of the city …The board on Monday unanimously approved a review of education in the Washington Cluster, where Brown Middle and Kennedy Middle feed into Washington High.

While I understand that long-held attachments to a specific school are hard to let go of, the parents protesting are not recognizing that the limited enrollment (59 students) results in a significant limitation on resources that can be devoted to Kennedy as it now stands. By placing the students in Brown Middle School, the district will be able to place more resources at the disposal of the students and hopefully improve educational outcomes.

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

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