Live Blog: Budget Commission Meeting 5/16/13

This live blog comes to you from the Thursday, May 16th APS Budget Commission.  The purpose of today’s meeting is to discuss the proposed FY14 budget.

APS projects $554 million in revenue for FY14 and appropriations of $615 million, which constitutes a $61 million budget gap.

The Commission met this past Monday and much of the discussion during the meeting revolved around closing the budget gap, which included recommendations to use money from the district’s fund balance reserve, building furlough days into the budget, property sales, and program and personnel reductions.

The meeting will begin shortly.

3:21pm – Chairwoman Butler-Burks has called the meeting to order.

Burks: We do have, before we turn it over for presentation, we do have one resident who called in and asked to comment – Mr. Charles Carey.

Mr. Carey will have 3 minutes to address the board.

Carey:  I am here today to address my concerns as it relates to the custodial staff.  As I understand the staff is a part of this 2014 budget.  I think these people in the system have suffered enough.  Their monies were cut in 2012 severely and its been reported to me that the schools are not being cleaned by the so called contractors.  I’m asking this body to not approve any budget that would include cutting the custodial staff.  I’m asking that someone here, especially Mr. McDaniel, to have the superintendent to address every item I mentioned (in a letter sent earlier).  I’m asking that you spare these custodians.  I do know that the director in HR has already notified them up there to reapply for their job even though the budget has not been approved.  This is a predominately black system that is letting things happen that should not happen.  I’m asking you to take a look at this.

Presentation by Superintendent Davis and CFO Chuck Burbridge now beginning.

On the screen is a slide showing the FY2014 Budget (projections).  Slide is entitled “Closing the Gap.”

Burbridge:  This is a summary as we start thinking about turning this in and creating a budget resolution, the dollar amount would be $588 with resources balancing the budget.

Deductions include:

Program/Personnel reductions (9.8)

Bonus Eliminination (9.6)

3 Furlough Days (4.5)

Vacancy Management (3.0)

Additions to revenue include Beltline payments of 8.0M and Property at 6.0M

McDaniel asks about a list of vacant properties.

Burbridge: I don’t have a list of vacant properties.

Davis:  We’re going to put it on the market and we may get more than that.  We won’t get less than 6M.

Burks: Can someone speak to the process the last time we tried to put properties up for sale?

Larry Hoskins explains that the last time the district tried to sell properties there was very little interest. “Certainly we have quite an extensive inventory of vacant properties.  Their appraised value is one thing….but appraised and what someone is willing to pay may be two different things.  There isn’t a huge market for school properties”

Kinanne: I don’t think we can have a discussion about surplus properties without a discussion.  We certainly have made mistakes in the past by selling off properties we wish we had. (Mentions a presentation of all properties)

Meister mentions the downside of selling the AIS property for 6M when it could be worth as much as 25M

Davis: I can’t say it will be worth more in the future, it could be worth less.  In the face of what we’re looking at in this budget…should I lay off people because we think something may be worth more in the future?  We’re trying to put this budget together with the least human impact.  It gets down to either you make fundamental structural changes which are difficult, always in the school-house, or you keep doing these 1 time things and kick the can down the road.  We will start next year with a 50M hole.  We started this year in the hole.  We can do anything.

Burks: The important thing to bring up is other properties and the 6M not being  just that one property. Any property would have to come before the board anyway.  We could do something around asking the administration to look at revenue generating properties before we decide on one property.

Kinnane:  As much as it may be a certainty that we can get 6M, it is also a certainty that we would like to keep that property.  We don’t want to make a decision that years from now is like, ‘what were they thinking!’  Yes, we would all like to have 6M in the budget but if it’s gained by selling the property….

Davis:  I can’t sit here and talk about a property I may need in 35 years…I need 6M dollars.

Hoskins: It’s 32 years

Kinnane:  I think there are some things in the contract…

Burbridge:  There is a buyout that is very expensive.

Note:  The property being discussed currently houses the Atlanta International School and is leased to the school by APS.

Davis:  The only thing the buyer would get if they bought this property is the lease.

YJohnson: Because of the lease?

Davis:  Yes.

McDaniel:  I recall when we first started this process a much bigger vacancy number.

Discussion has now turned to possible vacancies, historic vacancies and vacancy management.

Discussion moving on to class size.

Burks: I struggle with average (class size) vs actual.

Davis: The discussion around planning maximums and actual class size maximums really can’t be had in a vacuum.  You need to understand the actual composition of how class sizes are put together.  We have a planning maximum that results in teacher allocations for each school.  We allocate Title funds to the schools after the allocations and student counts.  Then in most instances, not every, these funds are moved to buy additional teachers.  All but 6 of our schools are Title 1 schools.  There are substantial numbers of EIP teachers in non title schools.  These schools do not have the ability to make adjustments of teachers based on Title funds.  We’ve looked at what support we can provide to struggling students and the elusive category would be the near struggling students.  We ask ourselves ‘should there be minimum levels of support based on the size of the school?’ What we came up with essentially is that if you put a minimum level of 2 support teachers, whether they are EIP or otherwise, in every school as a minimum and then increase that to every 1 or 200 students above 400, we augment our elementary schools by 13 or 14, most of whom would be in those 6 schools because the other schools would be above the minimum.  What we’re looking at is should there be a minimum standard of help in all of our schools and we believe we can start to address, not completely address, but start to address the impact of loss of EIP teachers and there are others who would benefit as well.  I can start to solve that problem for about 1M.  The question becomes what are we really trying to address.  We believe again, there is les of a problem with teachers in Title schools.  You can also make the argument that if you change the planning maximum there would be more money left over to buy other teachers or other things.  When I look at the list of the type of Title monies we are putting in, its a very broad range.  Take a school like Brown MS its getting 600k, Cascade 300k, Dobbs $445k…the smallest I see is 130k which buys 1.5 teachers.  The class size waiver does not define, or the planning does not create, unattainable problems in those schools.

Burks: Can we stay on this example.  We can use Dobbs.  (runs down the numbers of additional teachers per grade).  I get 445k.  After teachers, I’m left with 45k to do hardly anything else to help with the other needs in my school, because Title I dollars are not just for teachers and it seems like what we’re doing is asking schools to choose as it relates to Title I dollars.  We are limiting them with 45K and that is one of the highest of needy schools as an example.

Davis:  I don’t know how many EIP teachers are put in that school, but we’ve created an environment where the principal makes that decision about how they spend their Title I monies.

Burks: It’s hard to get anything else approved

Davis:  In the past they’ve spent it more on stuff than teachers.

Burks:  Part of that, is because in the past….general fund monies….they could use it on other things other than teachers.

Davis:  I’m saying before you make a 5M decision we need to find out if we have a 5M problem.  The places where we’re hearing the most from are the EIP teachers, not the core teachers.

Burks:  Not me, I’ve heard very little noise around EIP.  I’ve heard a lot more conversations around class size and if we are allowing them to decrease class sizes if they have room.  Some of our class sizes, its evident, they don’t believe they are allowed to decrease class sizes.

Davis:  They are allowed to do what is legal.

Burks: They still have to have approval.

Davis:  (Speaks about the 28M Title 1 investment)

Burks: I just think its important to talk about the choice that I don’t think they always think they have.

Meister:  We don’t know how many core classroom teachers there are?

Burbridge:  Yes, you do know how many, they are in the staffing sheets.  But I don’t know, if Dobbs has a class size average of 16 students, if thats combining…

Meister:  What would it take to school based budgeting or at least region based?

Burbridge: We’ve had those conversations.  Even around charter schools, charters have school based budgets.  Would there be some logic to bring it all into one?  We’ve done some draft runs of that to see what it looks like.

Meister asks about $ cost and time.

Burbridge: Can’t do it for FY14 and we would have to train the schools like we train the charters.  If we started today, you can think that by FY15 you could get some schools up…

English:  Right now, isn’t there a 3rd piece…we don’t have anything to…

Davis:  If you do that, small schools fold.  If you do it on a per capita basis these small schools (all small schools, ES, MS, HS) would not have the resources.

Burbridge:  A small school may not get enough money to hire admins.  We would have to figure out how these formulas would work.

Davis:  If every school were a charter school, funding with a charter school formula, you would see very quickly there is not enough money to operate some of these schools.

Burbridge:  If money were allocated like charters, how would you provide services (mentions payroll, other charging services).  It’s complex but not impossible.

Meister:  Are you saying the only way to do school based budgeting is to set it up like a charter school?

Davis:  I’m saying if you wanted to do school based budgeting on a per capita basis we could tell you what that would look like, but that exercise would highlight for you the cost of maintaining small schools.  I don’t think they could hire enough teachers, they would have no services.

Burbridge: Do you want to roll out all of the budget on a per capita basis, utilities, services?  That’s why you have to have a lot of discussion around this.  It’s not something you can do quickly.

English: What would it look like?

Davis:  An example I come back to is substitutes.  A school should have a budget for subs.  You could provide incentives to reduce costs.  You could tell them they could keep the unused part of their sub budget to spend elsewhere or roll over.  Places where there are incentives for subs you see things like sharing and unique coverage.  It’s important to control costs where costs are driven.  If we can construct a budget with controlled systems, its an easy win.  The hard part is getting those systems built.

Burbridge:  Our challenge, as always, is what if you distribute budgets to school and the principal decides to spend 100% of their budget 2/3 of the way thru the year?  Are we going to be like that small school recently where they had to close the school?  Can’t fire the principal b/c you’re out of money.

Burks:  I think that would be difficult for us to do this year.

Kinnane is concerned about staffing.

Kinnane:  I have a hard time believing that anywhere, globally as a district, have we over identified kids (EIP). If we are not identifying, we are not serving the population that was intended to be identified by the EIP program.  The students are identified at the school level and the principals know the number of EIP students they have in any given year.  There’s not a disconnect.  Where are we saying we’re over staffed there?  Some schools may have new principals that need support to do the identification and there may be lag time, but if you look at what our numbers have been traditionally, I have a hard time believing we are overstaffed in that area.

Burks:  I know one of the things we asked for was to find out when do you identify from the state.

Davis talks about identification and states that he is not opposed to placing EIP teachers in schools.

Kinnane:  Its not just based on CRCT scores but a lot of school readiness measures.  I’m saying maybe we haven’t identified all the names that should go in it.

Class size discussion continues.  Dobbs continues to be used as an example.

Davis:  This principal decided that with a 25 average and 6 EIPs they only needed to buy 1 teacher…

Group: She needed to buy other things.

Burks: Maybe the question is, what is the cost to keep the same number of teachers in the general fund that we have.  Because it is evident in this budget that we are cutting teachers.  And what is that number and if everyone says we are comfortable with this number….

Davis:  We need to be careful because the cuts you are seeing are not necessarily cuts because of the waiver, they are cuts because you did not make cuts last year.  There were teachers that should have been moved out, but it was so late in the process we did not move them out.  I can’t tell you the number off the top of my head, but if that is a number you are comfortable with…what about increases?  There are schools that have earned additional teachers, do you want not to give them that?

Burks: I think we can have that conversation as we get information. It’s hard to have a conversation without information.

Davis:  It’s hard to give information without questions.

Burks:  I’m trying to get us somewhere.  Maybe what does it cost if the waiver is no more than 3… I’m not sure how to get an answer so that we can take the next step forward.

Davis:  We can go back and run allocations at every level.

Burks:  How many teachers do we lose at 5?  If we go from 1665 to 1650?

Burbridge explains why you can’t do that…

Burbridge: At some level, this is very close to status quo.  These numbers suggest we haven’t deviated alot.  Student populations change year to year and we expect to lose 500 students at the elementary level.  The staffing is consistent with the changes but I haven’t seen changes based on waiver.

McDaniel: So its not based on waiver, hiring , class size…its based on we’re going to do the same work with the same number of students.  Obviously, students move, but from a school system perspective….

Kinanne:  The problem, there was a change in how we use the waiver in the year we’re in.  WE may have applied some things at a later date and opened up possibility of making class sizes smaller.  But the problem with that is that it didn’t always happen.

Davis:  I’m led to believe that we planned at the max levels last year.

Kinnane: I’m talking about the year we’re in and the year going forward.

Davis:  If we plan that way this year and the next year…

Burks:  I think you’re right, but even the way we did it this year caused a lot of disruption that we’ve never seen.  If you buy teachers you change schedules.  For every teacher you buy you change schedules.  A child has been through a lot of changes in a month to get you down to 3.  The question is, what does it take to get you down to the 3.

EJohnson:  My concern is that I’m thinking that we are getting down into the weeds, into administration.

Burks:  We don’t set the class size as a board.

EJohnson:  I think we’ve laid the ground work.

Burks:  Do we set class sizes?  We have to approve the waiver.  I think what we’re trying to get to is where are we comfortable with the class size that informs the whole budget.

Davis:  To go to 3 instead of 5…how much are we talking?

Burbridge:  5M each time

Davis: If you approve the waiver at 5, we will plan at 5.

Burbridge digs deeper in to how limiting class sizes impacts state funding and QBE.

English: I’m just looking for a sweet spot.  It’s beginning to feel like a circular conversation.  Where do we go from here?

Davis:  I will state our position.  We believe that these are manageable situations at this max planning level.  Does it meet every need, absolutely not.  The EIP teachers, I think we should change to provide minimum to support to every school and that will cost 1M.  Again, we’re trying to be responsible to the needs of the kids.  If I had more money to spend on Title it would be nice.  I keep harping on this, but until we make structural decisions we are always going to be in this position.

Karen Waldon addresses program changes for the fY14 budget.  Explains some programs that have been moved around in the line items.

Waldon: Another example is a substitute budget.  Last year no sub budget, simply sub spending.  Now we can see the actual dollars attached to those subs.

Davis:  I think what you are trying to get to is what on this list represents what you would call a new investment.

Burks:  Where is there an increase or decrease from last year?

English: It’s budget neutral.  So a better question is where did we add/cut.

Davis:  You take the substitutes.  I think we’ll spend about 6M on substitutes.  We’re going to spend, hopefully, less than we spend now.

Meister:  Where were they last year.

Waldon: In line 1200, they were not budgeted.  We believe there is an area in the budget we have not addressed which is student behavior so we are creating a position to manage school based discipline.  There is no budgetary increase however.

English: That’s a reclassification?

Waldon: Yes

Q&A continues between Ms. Waldon & BOE.

Burks:  I do have a question, say for instance the number of positions didn’t change but in the budget book the salary line decreased…

Burbridge:  There may be hourly salaries in there that may have reduced these other items or other factors.

Burks asks about 1261, athletics.

Burks: Back to the 1614, I would have thought that was budget or operations.  I would have never looked at this and thought it was instruction.  When you look at it one way you think we are decreasing from 19 to 4, but then realize its buried somewhere else.

Kinnane:  In this school administration, account 1101, we eliminated some positions last year that were individual school positions, but we have, have we gotten feedback from those administrators that they handled things like the registrars, there were positions that were cut and positions they had took on over duties…we probably stretched them in ways…have we looked at…there were records clerks cut, attendance clerks cut…did we get that kind of feedback…there schools were stretched in ways that make our data integrity…did we get that kind of feedback going forward?

Waldon speaks to school administrators.

Waldon:  We repurposed a lot of CLL positions into the schools last year.

Burks speaks to the difficulty of figuring out increase/decrease in principals.


5:33pm Budget Commission meeting continues, however this live blog must end.  Thanks for tuning in this afternoon.

2 thoughts on “Live Blog: Budget Commission Meeting 5/16/13

Add yours

  1. We don’t need less personnel or service programs in the schools, we need fewer expensive employees in the central office in curriculum and instruction.

  2. We don’t need any more program or personnel cuts. We have already cut programs like Communities In Schools and the number of graduation coaches.

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