Live Blog: Budget Commission Update – April 3, 2014

Today, from 3:00pm and 4:30pm we will live blog the Board of Education Budget Commission update.

This is the last scheduled budget commission meeting before the BOE is expected to vote on the FY15 budget.

–REFRESH your browser every 10 minutes for updates–

3:20pm Matt Westmoreland, Commission Chair, calls meeting to order.  Asks for an update from Chuck Burbridge, district CFO, from his recent community meetings.

Burbridge:  The district hosted 4 community meetings in all 4 regions of the city.  We had good support and acceptance as it related to the addition of the employees to support the work of Student Support Teams (SST).  The first narrow topic was around the recommendation not to fund the extended day program.  There were community members who were very vocal about their support for extended day from Springdale Park Elementary.  More so at Woodson than other meetings there were two issues related to paraprofessionals.  The first issue was the decision not to have ESOL paraprofessinals in the budget.  Essentially what we are seeing is a reduction in paraprofessionals with the trade-off being an increase in teachers.  I will contrast that with the second paraprofessional issue which is media paraprofessionals.  Many were very passionate about the inclusion of media paraprofessionals.

Last night’s discussion at Cascade, we got a little off the budget and onto policy around how the district is approaching charter schools.  The community engaged in a broader discussion about charters, including budget, at that meeting.  I’ve been responding to parents.  I responded today to a parent who reached out about the Mays field house issue.  I think we received a nice reception from people who were happy we were present.  The meetings lasted for approximately 2 hours and we stayed until there were no more questions.

–Burbridge is now speaking about  the difference between the two previously posted budgets–

* The C&I and Operations bottom line did not change between the two budgets.

Karen Waldon, Deputy

Waldon: The major adjustment was the shifting of the support we asked for as it relates to physical education teachers.  We are working on a plan where we move forward pushing in some paraprofessionals in physical education.  We also wanted to move towards a more robust approach to gifted services.  We have not decreased our support for gifted education.  The challenges with fully funding the expansion of Atlanta Virtual Academy — I’ve talked with Tony Hunter and members of the AVA team — we will be able to find some resources to do some levels of expansion.  We feel that it is a priority for APS to position itself to provide access to virtual learning to our parents and students.  We won’t be able to fund it totally in the amount originally suggested, but we will be able to fund it enough to provide services needed.  There was no change to EIP.

Meister:  At NAHS, they have earned 3 gifted teachers and now that’s been pulled?

Waldon:  This was brought to me today, but there should be no reductions to earned positions for gifted positions this year.  We are checking to see what is circulating that would make anyone think that.

Brown:  Right now I want to focus on a larger issue.  It is one I am really struggling with and I hope you can hope me.  In our original conversations we laid out several things with the administration we wanted to achieve (no furloughs, earlier start of budget process, etc), then we wanted to see in the budget pushing more and more resources to the school level and giving principals opportunities to have control of that.  I don’t see that in this budget.  Can you help me with that?  I feel like that is the big goal.

Superintendent Davis: Some will not be apparent in the numbers.  For instance principal advisory council is helping me design the recruiting process, that would not be reflected in numbers. The principals number 1 item was SST and we’ve moved $4M into SST.  Principals are now a much more integral part of the hiring process.

Waldon:  To go back to the SST, the superintendent’s council has a subcommittee of 8 principals who are tasked with what that SST redesign will look like.  You can take the teacher budget, it sits in C&I, school counselors, nurses those are in C&I’s budget but they are in the school-house.  We are losing 60 positions after this year because of the end of the Race to the Top funding.  We won’t have those positions next year.  Even with those positions in place, they don’t support CLL, they support schools and their costs sit in the C&I budget.  In terms of pushing out those resources to schools, I think we have a pretty solid job.

Brown:  I understand many of these buckets actually support our schools, but I’m not seeing a move into our schools, into our students and those who do not visit this building.

Davis:  Moving more things to regions and direct school support and out of this office, as Karen said there will be 60 people fewer here next year…

Brown:  How many people are in this building?

Burbridge:  There are 377 cubes in this building but there are not 377 people in those cubes.  Even finance has 5 people that are in schools 4-5 days of the week.

Davis:  More of the other points about moving this to regions and schools is that we have too many schools.  To move one person from CLL and duplicate them in schools totals $8M.  I don’t have $8M.  If we had a lot less schools I could provide a lot more services.  We cannot totally delegate a lot of the financial responsibility to the school-house level until more are trained at the school-house.  The first step is training at the regional level.  [Davis explains that there is risk when you allow schools to touch Title spending].

Brown:  I think the issue of schools is something we will have to deal with over the long-term.  I will also say that over the next very short period of time, I need to see cause and effect between dollars and outcomes.  I am very frustrated that we don’t seem able to track that in many areas of this budget.  I think we need to make that a very early priority so that a year from now we won’t have to have this same conversation.

Davis:  When you take the new SST positions, we will be able to track those kids – however how much is due to the new SST roles vs higher quality teaching.  Perhaps we can point more the elimination of barriers.  We are brining a lot of different things to bear on that student in the classroom and hopefully they will do better.

Waldon:  One of the expectations we have for schools are continuous improvement plans.  Every school has a plan and we look forward to seeing the outcome at the end of the year.  For example, our nurses have a plan for continuous improvement.  What are the needs, the process, challenges and the outcomes.  We have those plans for every component of C&I.  We do tie their work to this.  Each week team members bring forward accountability reports.  We have good data around this to share.

Davis:  We also can give you work sessions on those types of things.  We can show you what data we have and how that data is used to inform teaching practices. [Davis asks the BOE director to make a note about a presentation or information around what resources go to school-house].

Collins:  I see there has been an increase in performing arts, but from my understanding all middle schools do not have performing arts.  What can we do to make that happen?

Waldon:  One of the challenges ongoing has been, there was a practice in place years ago called flipping the script.  There was a degree of autonomy that came with that.  One of the things that principals were allowed to do was to make decisions concerning programming.  The principal at that time, may not be the current principal, would make that decision.  The challenge has been providing some degree of standardization within the district.  The same thing goes for textbooks – the district may adopt a textbook but a school could opt out and choose a different textbook.  Rightsizing things is something we have been doing progressively.  We are asking the fine arts coordinator to take a look at teacher sharing, teacher schedules… We will look at that and see if we can at least get half-time support.

Davis:  From a budget decision perspective, this is driven by the teachers in C&I, and when we level in the fall – that results in an increase in teachers.  In the last 2 years we added teachers without asking for additional resources.

Esteves: I want to echo Cynthia.  Some schools feel they are receiving less teachers than in the past.  How do we access the number of teachers needed at schools, particularly at overcrowded schools?  What flexibility are we giving to our principals to assign teachers in an area where they need them.

Davis:  We should not have any classrooms in this district that exceed the norms you set as a Board.  Overcrowding is again..they earn what they earn based on the number of children.  The principals in the school have great flexibility but they cannot create classes larger than what you have authorized.  The only thing that is dictated is the maximum size of the classroom and that is a board approved level.

Westmoreland asks for a presentation from operations – Larry Hoskins will present.

Hoskins:  The major difference since the last budget is in safety & security and facilities.  The consequence of the last budget was that 42 people would need to lose their jobs to meet the thresholds operations was given. We went back and looked at a new initiative for officers and decided to hold off, shifting the resources to facilities to save 31 custodians, several electricians and painters.  One of the other shifts is in utilities.  After looking at our history with utilities, we took a harder look at our usage and made a cut to the utility budget based on information about natural gas prices.  At the end of the day we are still looking at some employees exiting operations at the start of next school year –Possibly 9 positions, 2 of which are currently vacant, for a net of 7 employees.

Westmoreland:  It was explained at some point in the budget process was that we were not going to fire custodians but we were not going to fill their jobs when a vacancy occurred.  So no one is leaving?

Hoskins:  About 80% of our custodial activity is provided by contractors.  As our folks leave, we outsource those services.  From a financial standpoint that has worked very well in the past for us.  Typically you can save on benefits.  Going forward, under the Affordable Care Act, we are researching whether outsourcing will still be affordable.  It will be interesting how ACA impacts outsourcing not only in APS but in other industries.

Note: Packed seat at today’s meeting – additional seating brought into the room.

Several community members have signed up to speak.

Westmoreland brings up topics to be covered.  Talks about 3% increase possibility for employees.

Davis says that administration is working through creative ways to distribute that increase based upon last pay raise and other specifics.

Meister:  As a minimum, we will be giving the 3%

Davis:  Yes, if you approve.

Conversation now shifting to Technology.  New CIO, Tony Hunter, is updating the board.

4:30 – Blog has now ended.







One thought on “Live Blog: Budget Commission Update – April 3, 2014

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  1. Thanks. I am reading on the plane in Houston with keen interest!

    Ron Price

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