As our students and staff prepare for the start of Spring Break this Friday, it’s hard for me to fully unplug as my mind is on what happens the day we get back on Monday, April 11. That’s when we will hold our next Board meeting and take the opportunity to fully update the community on our progress as it relates to the proposed Fiscal Year 2017 General Fund Budget. But the fun doesn’t have to wait until then! So read on…
Until then, I wanted to share with you the thinking behind how we got to where we are on our progress to this point and how we are moving forward. Our process for building the FY17 Budget for next school year actually started nearly eight months ago — not long after Day One — when the Board of Education began laying out a Budget Calendar and developing Budget Parameters during retreats and board meetings. Once they formally approved those documents at their September meeting, my team and I used the Board’s timeline and strategic priorities as guidance when we began developing the budget itself.
Next, our finance team began reviewing revenue projections for the next fiscal year. More than 70 percent of our revenue comes from the local property tax digest — Atlanta’s kids thank you — where we are projecting $13.4 million in growth over last year. The team also expects a $10 million uptick in revenue from the state, including additional funds as we transition to a charter system on July 1. Finally, our new Inter-Governmental Agreement for the Atlanta Beltline includes the payment APS will receive during the coming fiscal year.
While there is an increase in revenue, that’s no cause for complacency. Therefore, the administration has been hard at work to slim down our costs by finding efficiencies and redundancies within the Central Office budgets. Those efforts, coupled with a refined budgeting strategy for vacancies and benefits, currently total a $20.9 million reduction from the FY16 Budget. Since the last Budget Commission meeting, our team worked to find efficiencies at all levels of the organization to further reduce overhead costs for the district.
While scrubbing the Central Office budget for efficiencies, we have also been working on building department budgets with guidance from the Board’s parameters. Many of the largest blocks are what you would expect: The allocations to every school for their staff and supplies, funds for our buses and drivers, and dollars for the maintenance and upkeep of our buildings. We have also seen required increases for special education, pension funding and teacher retirement contributions, as well as increased enrollment in (and, therefore, increased funding for) our APS charter schools.
To date, we can highlight more than $72 million in strategic priorities for the upcoming school year that have been discussed with the board:
- $22.5m to fund the system’s Turnaround Strategy, about which I blogged earlier this month
- $18.5m to support signature programming, cluster initiatives, and flex dollars for principals
- $10.6m to support the implementation of our new safety/security model
- $9m toward our pay parity initiative, including a salary step increase and cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for all staff
- $5.5m investment in textbooks, especially for literacy in grades 3-5 and math in grades 6-9.
- $4m to continue providing remediation/enrichment for students impacted by the CRCT scandal
- $950k investment to move our Pre-K teachers to the same salary schedule as our other teachers
- $920k for ongoing implementation of positive behavior supports programming
The Board’s Budget Commission, chaired by Board Member Matt Westmoreland, is scheduled to hold its sixth meeting of the budget season on Friday, April 15, where we will identify additional allocations, including additional funds for pay parity and teacher compensation. I expect to present the proposed FY17 Budget to the Board for tentative adoption at a special-called meeting on Wednesday, April 20.
But our work will not end there. Our Budget Commission will meet in late April to review the administration’s proposed budget for the Special Revenue Fund as well as to review the district’s Capital Projects budget. It will also meet in both May and June to continue the work we began last November around multi-year budgeting.
Due to limited resources and certain mandated expenditures, we have not been able to address all of our funding priorities or address many of our long-standing challenges over the last two budget cycles. This underscores the necessity of a multi-year budget strategy that identifies long-term approaches for strategic priorities and other large-expenditure items and identifies transparent and clear priorities for new revenue.
During our budget conversations over the past few months, the Board and I have had several conversations about how we best pursue what we’re calling “Big Bet” ideas — ambitious, research-backed proposals to best improve the lives of Atlanta’s kids. These initiatives are focused in two areas: further funding critical projects and priorities in the base budget and funding bold new initiatives to address deep-rooted educational problems linked to intergenerational poverty in Atlanta — initiatives with proven results elsewhere but would be new to our district. These initiatives include tackling grade-level reading deficiencies, early childhood education, meaningful and effective family engagement, and impactful wrap-around services for our students and families. While much work remains to be done around these ideas, I am convinced that our city and school system will rise to the challenge to tackle these long-standing challenges and remove every obstacle possible for our kids.
I know dollar signs and budget parameters make for dry reading, but the outcome of this process is what keeps this ship — and our kids — moving forward. During my time as a superintendent, I have come to believe that where a district puts its money speaks volumes about what it values. I am encouraged by the proposed FY17 budget that has taken shape throughout this process and look forward to the weeks ahead as we finish building the strongest budget possible for our students and schools.