Every journey has its mileposts, markers along the way to let travelers know they are getting closer to their destination.
This afternoon, on our journey to transform Atlanta Public Schools into a high-performing, life-changing, choice-filled school system, we reached another milepost when the Board of Education voted unanimously, in a special called meeting, to tentatively adopt a $743 million budget for the 2016-2017 school year.
Shortly before Spring Break, I shared with you the thinking that got us to our proposed Fiscal Year 2017 General Fund Budget. In September 2015 (gosh, that seems so long ago now) when the Board adopted several budget parameters which became the guiding principles for the development of our spending plan, we pledged to:
- Achieve a more equitable distribution of resources
- Allocate resources to effectively implement the district’s move to a charter system model
- Fund pension obligations in accordance with state statute and standards
- Invest in the district’s multi-year school turnaround strategy that provides additional support and interventions especially for schools at risk of potential state takeover
- Make investments in early childhood education
- Ensure the budget is aligned to the district’s mission and vision
- Allocate resources toward key district priorities in the areas of academic programing, talent management, systems and resources, and culture
On many occasions, you have heard me say – and you will continue to hear me say – that where a district puts its money speaks volumes about what it values. And after seven months of tedious but necessary number crunching, I am proud of the spending plan that the Board tentatively adopted today: It puts children first.
Now bear with me as I give you a few budget highlights:
- $23.7 million will be invested in our Turnaround Strategy providing additional support and interventions for our schools currently struggling and, therefore, at risk of state takeover.
- $18.6 million – $3.6 million more than the current budget – is devoted to ongoing initiatives which support our cluster model and the implementation of signature programs such as STEM, IB, college-prep and the new school governance groups we call “Go Teams.”
- $15.2 million will fund a step increase, a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for teachers, a 1% raise for all staff and a $4 million investment in achieving pay parity for our non-instructional employees. This will allow APS to remain competitive in retaining our best and brightest teachers, administrators and support staff so that they continue serving our students.
- $10.1 million is earmarked for safety and security measures, including the implementation of our new in-house safety and security team, a unit that will practice a more student-friendly approach when enforcing school discipline policies and procedures.
- $4 million is allocated to continue providing enrichment and remediation for those students who were victims of the CRCT cheating scandal.
- Nearly $1 million will be spent to move our Pre-K teachers to the same salary scale as our other teachers. These professionals are the very first educators in our district that many children of Atlanta see. They should be paid in accordance with that tremendous responsibility.
Additionally, the proposed budget provides more spending flexibility for school leaders, which is in alignment with our charter system status, and allows more cluster-based planning to better meet the specific needs of our district’s diverse school communities.
In order to make these investments possible, we have worked diligently to create a more efficient budget. Specifically, our senior team found nearly $21 million in efficiencies and redundancies, so that more funding may be directed toward our schools to address their needs.
This process also continued to model the transparency I am committed to embracing in all that we do, as we provided opportunities for the community to engage by hosting six commission meetings and four community meetings where the budget-building process was explained in detail.
But there is more to be done before the Board considers final adoption in June.
As part of the journey to transform our school district, we must embrace big, bold, ambitious, research-backed proposals that will certainly improve kid’s lives.
We want to do our part to end intergenerational poverty with innovative programming that addresses the needs of students, parents and grandparents in a way that has never been done in APS. I’m talking about a deep dive and meaningful investment into early childhood programming, wrap-around services and cluster-based parenting centers.
But the tentative budget approved today is a great step in our journey toward the transformation of public education in Atlanta. It is balanced. It provides for equity throughout the district. It distributes resources in our areas of critical need.
Simply put, it is a student-centered spending plan that continues our commitment to put the children of APS first in everything we do.
While I am very proud of what this budget represents for our students and employees, I am equally proud of the process that got us here. Thanks to our Budget Commission Chairman Matt Westmoreland and Board for their leadership and unanimous vote tonight. A big shout out to our Chief Financial Officer Robert Morales and our Executive Director of Budget Services Lisa Bracken for their leadership and hard work. (Yay! You guys rocked on all the budget clean-up from past years.) This budgeting process demonstrated the importance of having clear goals – our budget parameters – from the outset.
Whew, I know that was a lot to digest! Thank you for going on this journey with us. We have taken another step, and reached another critical milestone as we move towards a transformed APS.
(* On behalf of Atlanta Public Schools, located in the city of the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement: Congratulations, Harriet Tubman, for being the new face of the $20 dollar bill!)