I was pleased to present to the Board tonight the FY16 General Fund Budget for Atlanta Public Schools, which stands at $685.6 million. I want to thank again all of the staff, Board members and community members who toiled through this process.
This budget represents months and months of work that goes back to before my start date and the beginning of the Board’s work on the Equity Audit. It includes the incorporation of our new mission, vision and strategic plan and the Board’s identification of clear budget parameters and priorities. It stands as the culmination of months of work that also included active engagement in the community. Based on the feedback from this Board and the public, we made considerable changes to the budget, trying to show that we are listening to you and making adjustments within the resources we have available.
As a gentle reminder the General Fund budget represents just a portion of the resources APS manages. If you remember, the Board, thankfully, recently approved an amended SPLOST IV budget to help fund much-needed HVAC improvements that we couldn’t find money to cover in the general fund. In May, we will present the Board with a tentative budget for Special Revenue, Capital and Debt Service funds. The General Fund Budget covers general operating expenses across the District while the other budgets cover other needs to benefit students and manage operations.
This particular General Fund budget is our first step, albeit embryonic, to set the course for a new direction for the District as we move toward the submission of a Charter System operating model for our schools. It also shows our commitment to a higher level of instructional quality, operational efficiency and the direction of more flexibility spending closer to the classroom to ensure the responsible and effective use of taxpayer dollars.
Due to limited resources and certain mandated expenditures, we were not able to address all of our funding priorities or fund all of the longstanding challenges (some inherited and some created) in one year. That underscores the necessity of a multi-year budget strategy that includes defining new resource opportunities, securing dollars due to us, and maintaining an ongoing and diligent effort to find efficiencies and cuts so that we can expand fund balance reserves for challenges in the years to come.
Here are some of the new things you will see in this updated budget:
- A focused commitment to Fine Arts and World Languages so some, but not all, the cuts could be restored. We will fund this with the additional $5 million the Board approved as part of the cluster planning investment for at least an equitable, basic standards of service levels in those areas. That means our schools will, at the minimum, offer visual arts and general music at all school levels; adding band at the middle school level and performing arts in high school. For World Languages, basic standards of service means that our elementary students will be exposed to other languages, while middle and high school students will have programs designed to reach proficiency.
- We went back to our baseline $668.8 million budget and scrubbed for funds to help with enhancing the educational environment and address supports for schools that have students who are still not at proficiency levels.
- There is a deliberate endeavor to guide the entire district toward IB programs or programs of comparable levels of investment and rigor.
- There is an effort to fund about $3 million in original enhancements to the educational environment the Board identified in January and February.
Throughout the budgeting process, we worked with a goal of improving quality, while increasing efficiency and addressing equity. To that end, you have seen and continue to see significant reductions in central office administration by about $6 million – yes, we did trim the fat downtown to now reflect in district financial reports general administration budget reductions from 6.7 percent to 3.2 percent – and we reduced school administration by $2.3 million while adding $14.1 million for school and cluster flexibility. Such flexibility and autonomy at the school level enables principals to develop staffing plans and invest resources in alignment with the District’s academic standards of service.
The good news is that the FY 2016 budget fully funds many of the priorities of the district. But there also remains a considerable number of unfunded priorities – improved services in regards to custodial and grounds work, pay parity, increases in the cost of living and fully funding the IB programs or programs of comparable levels of investment and rigor are a few. As we work to secure new revenue sources (for example, a tax neutral Pension Obligation Bond this fall) or secure revenue already due to us, the Board can consider those funding priorities during the school year or for the FY 2017.
Even after Board approval, APS will continue to fine-tune this budget as we finalize cluster programming needs, firm up staffing allocations, and develop more options for rethinking current resource allocations. The District will also continue to review and address support for students who remain below proficient in basic academics. As we near the start of FY16, any adjustments or modifications will be reflected in the final load of the budget in July.
Thanks again for all of the feedback that informed our budget! Congrats to all!