APS First District in Georgia to ‘Recycle Across America’

Bins1

Thanks to our volunteers for “sticking it” for recycling!

We made an exciting announcement in Atlanta Public Schools today when our school district became the first to join the national “Recycle Across America,” which is designed to teach Americans how to recycle right!

At the former Coan Middle School building today, volunteers from Bank America, Republic Services and Recycle Across America spent some of their valuable summer time placing more than 4,000 standardized labels on recycling bins. These labels detail the proper way to recycle paper, glass, plastic and other reusable materials.

Atlanta Public Schools, in our ongoing effort to be an environmentally friendly school system, already has a comprehensive single stream recycling program that accepts paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass at all APS-operated and -managed sites. Our district has been a member of the Atlanta Recycles Coalition, which promotes a culture of recycling, since 2011. Recently, the National Wildlife Federation recognized five our schools – Beecher Hills Elementary and Douglass, Grady, Maynard H. Jackson and Mays high schools – as “Eco Schools,” a distinction awarded to environmentally conscientious schools that have established a student managed recycling program.

During the 2015-2016 school year, we diverted some 445,000 pounds of recyclable material in our schools from the landfill.

Bins2

With standardized labels, our students, teachers and school visitors will know exactly what to place in the bins!

But during a Recycle Across America event at Coan, I learned that we could be doing so much more! (See the end of my blog for some really interesting recycling facts!)

As part of the new national Recycle Across America initiative, we have made a goal to recycle more than a million pounds of material each year, which will not only keep more reusable materials out of our landfills but also save the district on trash hauling fees. Thanks to Bank of America and our hauling vendor Republic Services, every classroom in every school will have a recycling bin that will feature a standardized instructional label.

Bins3

APS now has 4,000 recycling bins with clear instruction labels!

But this effort is more than just labels on recycling bins. Through the generosity of a $50,000 gift from Bank of America to Recycle Across America, APS is also launching a comprehensive audit that will help us recycle more efficiently. We want to make sure recyclable materials – plastic bags, plastic bottles and paper – do not end up in a landfill.

Summer blockbuster movies – such as my current favorite Wonder Woman – often stir our imagination to behave in heroic ways. But today, I learned how in reality we can all do a little part in saving the world simply be recycling more and more.

So join us in APS and Recycle Right!

Recycling Facts:

  • Recycling one aluminum can save enough energy to run a TV for three hours – the equivalent of a half gallon of gasoline.
  • Once an aluminum can is recycled, it can be part of a new can in six weeks.
  • An aluminum can will remain a can for 500 years, but it can be recycled again and again.
  • Recycling newspapers throughout the year would save 250 million trees each year. To put a finer point on it, if every American recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, we could save about 25 million trees annually!
  • Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour – and throw most of them away.
  • Plastic bags thrown into the ocean kill about a million sea creatures each year.
  • Each month, Americans throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill a giant skyscraper – all of those jars can be recycled.
  • Energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
  • The United States is the No. 1 trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person.
  • A typical family consumes 182 gallons of soft drink, 29 gallons of juice, 104 gallons of milk and 26 gallons of bottled water each year. That’s a lot of opportunities to recycle.

Source: Recycle Across America

Highlighting (and Understanding) 3rd Year of GA Milestones Results

57 Schools Improve, Up 17 More than Last Year

APS_4.27.17_AAA0495.jpgWhile our beautiful students are away for summer break, my Atlanta Public Schools colleagues and I spend these months evaluating the past school year and preparing for the school year ahead. In what is becoming a Georgia education pattern, summer seems to also now mark the official release of Georgia Milestones results. (No summer rest for the school-year weary! LOL!)

This morning, the Georgia Department of Education released the results of its third administration of the Georgia Milestones assessments based on the new Georgia Standards of Excellence. Milestones results also inform College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores, which will be released later this year. (I have written extensively for this blog explaining what these tests mean for Atlanta Public Schools and our results; I encourage you to click my 2015 results blog if you need a primer to make sense of these tests and the differences from previous assessments and my 2016 results blog for how APS did last year.)

APS Selects BD.These tests sometimes come with news of hope and progress but always with indicators for improvement and renewed focus. Once again, we have both. Here goes …

For the glows: 57 – or about two-thirds – of our schools showed improvements over last year’s assessments – that’s 17 more than last year! Broken into the two main categories of assessment, that means that 50 of our schools in grades 3-8 showed overall improvements on the End-of-Grade (EOG) tests when we average the results across all subject areas. For the End-of-Course (EOC) tests administered at the high school level, 10 of our schools achieved an overall gain in their scores. Three schools – BEST Academy, Charles Drew Charter, Forrest Hill Academy – saw improvements in both the EOG and EOC.  (See Tables 3 and 4 at the end of the blog for those schools!)

I am pleased with the progress, especially when two-thirds of our schools improved on their Georgia Milestones as compared to the year before. We also saw significant EOC improvements in five high school subjects with comparison data. Also, APS improved district-wide in the EOG mathematics assessments, which tested elementary and middle school students.

As a reminder, APS has made considerable strides over the past two years as part of the district’s Turnaround Strategy. Nearly all of our schools receiving targeted interventions – that is, 16 of our lowest-performing schools with the deepest supports with school programming changes, operating partners and/or additional resources – saw gains across all subject areas.

That’s encouraging news as we go into the 2017-2018 school year and inspires us to push those scores even higher!

And now for some of the flows (as in charts – assessment humor – womp womp!): We can expand the scores even further as shown on the following tables. To understand the charts, note that Georgia Milestones Assessments measure student performance using four levels: Beginning Learner, Developing Learner, Proficient Learner, and Distinguished Learner.  Each level provides information based on student mastery of content standards.

On the EOG tests, the district percentages of students scoring Developing and Above ranged from 51.7% in Science to 65.2% in Mathematics.

Table 1: APS 2016-2017 Milestones EOG Results, Average of Grades 3-8

Subject Beginning Learner Developing Learner Proficient Learner Distinguished Learner Developing and Above
ELA 38.5% 29.5% 23.1% 8.8% 61.5%
Mathematics 34.8% 35.5% 20.8% 8.9% 65.2%
Science 48.3% 24.6% 20.0% 7.1% 51.7%
Social Studies 37.2% 37.4% 17.3% 8.1% 62.8%

On the EOC tests, Ninth Grade Literature & Composition had the highest overall achievement levels with 74.4%, followed by American Literature & Composition at 70.5%.

Table 2: APS 2016-2017 Georgia Milestones EOC Results by Subject

 Subject Beginning Learner Developing Learner Proficient Learner Distinguished Learner Developing and Above
Algebra I 53.5% 28.5% 12.9% 5.2% 46.5%
American Literature & Composition 29.5% 35.1% 26.2% 9.3% 70.5%
Biology 45.6% 24.5% 23.4% 6.6% 54.4%
Economics/Business/Free Enterprise 37.2% 30.9% 27.1% 4.9% 62.8%
Geometry 41.8% 33.7% 16.6% 8.0% 58.2%
Ninth Grade Literature & Composition 25.6% 36.1% 31.9% 6.4% 74.4%
Physical Science 62.1% 22.6% 11.7% 3.6% 37.9%
United States History 36.8% 33.4% 22.6% 7.2% 63.2%

Here are some positive highlights among the numbers:

  • Fourteen schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level averaged across all subjects in elementary grades. These schools are Warren T. Jackson (96.3%), Mary Lin (95.3%), Morris Brandon (94.4%), Springdale Park (93.1%), Morningside (92.6%), Atlanta Classical Academy (91.7%), Charles R. Drew Charter (90.4%), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter (88.2%), Sarah Smith (85.7%), West Manor (81.4%), Burgess-Peterson (81.1%), E. Rivers (79.3%), Garden Hills (78.0%) and Wesley International (77.3%).
  • Seven schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level averaged across all subjects in middle school grades. They are Atlanta Classical Academy (91.5%), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter (85.4%), Inman (84.8%), Charles R. Drew Charter (81.3%), Sutton Middle (80.0%), KIPP STRIVE (76.6%) and KIPP WAYS Academy (75.8%).
  • Six high schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level in American Literature & Composition. They are North Atlanta (88.7%), Grady (88.6%), Charles R. Drew Charter (87.8%), KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (79.1%), Coretta Scott King (78.4%) and Maynard H. Jackson (78.2%).
  • Seven high schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level in Ninth Grade Literature & Composition. They are Atlanta Classical Academy (98.1%), Grady (90.8%), Charles R. Drew Charter (90.7%),  North Atlanta (88.2%), KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (84.4%), Maynard H. Jackson (83.8%) and Carver Early College (83.5%).
  • Five high schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level in U.S. History. They are Grady (80.3%), KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (77.6%), North Atlanta (76.7%), Carver Early College (76.1%), Charles R. Drew Charter (75.0%).

I’m so proud of the schools above and the achievement levels they are meeting! Please see our press release, and visit our Georgia Milestones results page and my Twitter feed @CarstarphenMJ for more information.

As we continue the Journey of Transformation of Atlanta Public Schools, it is imperative that we continue to improve student outcomes over time. We must make greater progress. As I wrote earlier in this blog, Georgia Milestones is one guide to help districts determine our needs and areas of focus for academics.

For the grows, we have seen a decline in English Language Arts (ELA) in the elementary grades, meaning many of our students are not reading on grade level. To that end, APS has targeted literacy as a district priority for the future.

This summer, we made a big play in literacy thanks to a multi-million-dollar grant from the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Inc. and the College Football Playoff Foundation. With that grant, we have implemented a district-wide training program for all kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers over a two- to three-year period. APS will oversee the use of the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction that focuses on teaching kids to read at the word level, make connections between sounds and letters and develop language skills. Training for 175 teachers began this summer; by 2020, this initiative will equip 1,500 APS teachers with the skills to more effectively teach reading to our students.

Other grants and initiatives for literacy are in the works, so stay tuned!

But we are working hard across the curriculum – not just with reading – to meet the state’s more rigorous and demanding standards. And that will be more difficult with fewer resources in the upcoming school year.

While we have every intention of continuing this work along a strategy that has shown results, an unexpected fiscal challenge recently surfaced around our budget as it relates to tax assessments as I’ve written about on this blog before. With the Fulton County Commission voting to freeze residential property tax assessments at FY2016 levels, the district is preparing to lose up to $12 million in tax revenue and that has reduced our budget resulting in program cuts and furlough days for staff and preventing the implementation of the state’s increase to teachers’ base salary scale.

To date, we still don’t know the exact details of the Fulton County tax digest, especially in commercial and new construction; therefore, we will not be able to assume growth levels will be enough to reinstate the aforementioned reductions. As our results show, it requires an investment to turn our lowest-performing schools around, which is now in jeopardy.

Despite that possible setback, we will continue to be committed to supporting our teachers and schools with the resources we have so that they can try to deliver quality instruction. Our mission remains to graduate all students ready for college and career.

Finally, I know it has been hard on school communities that have experienced targeted interventions such as consolidations, new operating partners and big changes in programming and staffing, and I thank them for their thought partnership, critical feedback and ideas that helped refine our strategies over these past three years.

I want to also thank my colleagues – our leaders, teachers and support staff – for their patience, flexibility and support throughout the turnaround, as well as our partners for their expertise, guidance and resources and our parents and caregivers for their loyalty and trust.

All of the work required support from the Atlanta Board of Education, and I appreciate the members for their commitment to the district.

Most of all, I thank the students for their hard work and preparation that led to these gains.

We achieved this progress TOGETHER!

~APPENDIX~

Table 3: Schools seeing gains in the percentage of students scoring at or above the Developing Learner level across all subjects for grades 3-8 End-of-Grade tests

Table 3 EOG 2017 School Gains

Table 4: Schools seeing gains in the percentage of students scoring at or above the Developing Learner level across all subjects for End-of-Course tests

Table 4 EOC 2017 School Gains

Table 5: APS Year-over-Year Milestones EOG Comparisons, Developing and Above

Subject 2015 2016 2017 Difference 2016 to 2017
ELA 61.6% 62.5% 61.5% -1.1
Mathematics 63.9% 62.4% 65.2% 2.8
Science 51.7% 52.7% 51.7% -1.0
Social Studies 61.8% 62.4% 62.8% 0.4

Table 6: APS Year-over-Year Milestones EOC Comparisons, Developing and Above

2015 2016 2017 Difference 2016 to 2017
Algebra I N/A 52.7% 46.5% -6.2
American Literature & Composition 69.3% 65.1% 70.5% 5.4
Biology 46.0% 52.4% 54.4% 2.0
Economics/Business/Free Enterprise 59.3% 57.0% 62.8% 5.8
Geometry N/A N/A 58.2% N/A
Ninth Grade Literature & Composition 70.5% 63.4% 74.4% 11.1
Physical Science 34.2% 31.3% 37.9% 6.6
United States History 60.9% 64.2% 63.2% -0.9

 

 

#WorkHardPlayHardAPS #Summer

Although most of our students are away for the summer, my dedicated colleagues across Atlanta Public Schools continue working hard as we prepare for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year and move forward on the APS Journey of Transformation!

I miss all of you, and I want everything to be ready when you come back. So our facilities team is cleaning and renovating our buildings … our teachers and staff are taking time for professional development … our human resources team is working to ensure our schools are fully staffed on Day One … and that is just some of the work going on this summer.IMG_1910

(There’s a brief break for the system when the district will be closed from Friday, June 30, through Friday, July 7, and again on Friday, July 14, but we will be right back to work bright and early on all other days!)

I’m so excited for the new school year to begin on Tuesday, Aug. 1! We need all of our students at school on Day One because every day is a day of instruction. #EveryDayCounts

Continue to follow me on Twitter @ATLSuper to track our Day One readiness, also, please mark your calendars with these other important events:

  • First Official Day of Practice for Athletes on Tuesday, July 25. Everyone knows I love our high school athletes. I will be joining many of our football teams and cheerleading and dance squads for practice as APS starts on another great year of high school sports. #APSUnitedWePlay #Forever11CtopTgQWEAAYLei
  • District-wide School Open House on Friday, July 28. Every school will be open to allow students and their families to visit with teachers and staff at their schools to get an early start on the school year. #APSOpenHouse Open house hours are:
    • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. – elementary schools
    • 1 to 3 p.m. – high schools
    • 3 to 5 p.m. – middle schoolsIMG_0187
  • Third Annual Back-to-School Bash from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, at the Georgia World Congress Center. For the Bash, APS is partnering with more than 50 community organizations and businesses to give APS families the resources they need to have a safe and successful school year. The Bash will include school registration information, health screenings, immunizations (while supplies last) and on-site school transfer applications for families who are new to the district.

A ton of information will also be available about APS services and resources, including afterschool enrichment programs, extracurricular programs and more. The Bash will have backpack and school supply giveaways and free activities for the kids. This event is free and open to all APS students –that means from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. There will also be free parking!

Basically, the Bash will make sure that all of our families and students have access to everything they need to get the school year started right and to put us on a path to beat our record attendance numbers from last year’s Day One program for the first day of school. For more details, visit www.atlantapublicschools.us/backtoschool and use the tag #APSBash.

While I want our students to fully enjoy their summer, I truly hope that they are staying engaged to avoid summer learning loss.

_DSC7440To keep our students reading, our Instructional Technology department launched the Summer e-Reading Getaway, which provides students from kindergarten through 12th grade with access to more than 6,000 e-books, which they may access by going to the Summer e-Reading Getaway website at www.myON.com and entering their unique user name and password, which was given to them before the last day of school. For students without Wi-Fi or an Internet connection at home, media specialists at all of our schools downloaded books onto students’ mobile devices.

The program is linked to each individual student’s school data and will record how many books he or she reads and how much time they spent reading. Additionally, it will suggest books on their reading levels or slightly above to help them continue to improve their reading skills.

So even though it’s summer, the learning should never stop. When everyone returns for Day One – again, on Tuesday, Aug. 1 – our students will already be off on run to start school off right. #APSFirstDay

IMG_0280

#WorkHardPlayHardAPS

#Summer

EndofYearCelebration

APS Considers Millage Rollback as Part of Reassessment Solution

As I wrote in my blog “Clarification of Our Millage Rate Adoption Process and Call for Reasonable Stop Gap for Your Property Taxes” last week, the Atlanta Board of Education earlier this month approved an FY2018 budget based on 6% growth projections in the Fulton County Tax Digest as provided by the Interim Chief Tax Assessor.

As a school district in a growing city, APS has been working to keep up with mandatory pressures – the state’s increase to teachers’ base salary scale, pension and retirement obligations and rising health care costs among them. The projected 6% growth in local revenue pays for those mandatory obligations.

Our first priority is our kids. Our mission is to prepare each one for college and career, and help make them good citizens along the way. Every decision we make is based upon that ideal, and we make those decisions in a fiscally responsive and prudent fashion.

APS_CCC3279Understandably, the reassessments left many residents in a difficult position as the digest may show double-digit growth with individual property reassessments ranging widely from 1 percent increases to over 100 percent. At 12:30 p.m., Thursday, June 15, the County Board of Assessors plans to consider solutions for the reassessments including freezing property values to 2016 tax values.

While we understand the impact that reassessments could have on our communities, we must also consider the damage deep cuts will have on our schools and the education of our students, especially at this late stage in the budget and hiring process. As we explained in a letter to Fulton County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker, we believe the county needs to find a more balanced, more measured and more reasonable approach that provides at least the 6% increase in the digest as projected. To help reach that solution, APS will consider a millage rollback to ease taxpayer pressures.

Here is the letter we sent to Ms. Perkins-Hooker:

Dear Ms. Perkins-Hooker,

Our School District has been asked by Fulton County Senior Attorney, Ms. Cheryl Ringer, to assess the very real budgetary strains on Atlanta Public Schools based on conversations held at the June 8, 2017, Special Called Board of Assessors (BOA) meeting.

Our first priority is our kids.  Our mission is to prepare each one for college and career, and help make them good citizens along the way.  Every decision we make is based upon that ideal.

Atlanta Public Schools understands that the released assessments have left the families of the city of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools in a difficult position. We are appreciative that you are allowing us to weigh in as the decision could have a significant impact on district operations for FY2018.  We understand and appreciate the need for property assessments to be correct and we have a deep appreciation for the impact that these new assessments have on the citizens all across the city. To that end, we believe a more balanced approach is necessary to address this issue in a way that protects the interests of our students, their families and our communities.

Specifically, it was requested that we respond to the following questions:  1) The impact of delaying the digest for additional review and 2) The impact of freezing the digest at the 2016 amount.

First, we were asked to determine the impact of delaying release of the tax digest until further assessments and review were carried out.  With a delay of the digest until July, APS would need to issue a tax anticipation note (TAN) for the second year in a row in order in meet cash obligations beginning in September.  We will be forced to budget for interest, related to the TAN borrowing.  Last year this unplanned expenditure amounted to $148,000 in net interest on a $60 million borrowing. Additionally, if the release date of the tax digest and subsequent late property tax billing is pushed even further off schedule, APS would be placed at real risk of not being able to meet the Georgia Constitutional requirement that short-term loans such as a TAN be repaid by December 31 of the calendar year in which the TAN was issued.

Secondly, based on the range of 5%-7% provided by the Fulton County Interim Chief Appraiser, APS adopted a FY2018 budget that assumed an increase in Fulton County assessed values of 6%.  This was within the range provided and seemed conservative based on growth and reassessments from other local counties.  Freezing assessments would mean that APS would lose the anticipated $24 million in assumed increased revenue.  This $24 million was budgeted for FY 2018 to meet mandatory cost increases for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) ($8 million), classified health rates ($1.3 million), scaling of charter schools ($4 million), City of Atlanta pension ($1.5 million), scaling up of system strategic initiatives in support of the charter system model ($3 million), and a 1.5% COLA for all employees in support of the Governor’s/General Assembly’s increase to the teachers’ base salary scale ($6 million). As a note, state revenue allotted to the District to fund the salary increase and the increase in TRS was more than cancelled out by a dramatic increase in the state’s withholding for local fair share meaning that the local revenue picked up the cost of the increases.  The District has very limited opportunity to raise additional funds by other means and depends on the local digest for 70% of all revenue of the general fund.

With more than 70% of our budget in salary and benefits, and with contracts already issued for teachers and other certified staff, we have limited responses: furlough days, cutting contracts days, reinstating austerity cuts to schools, freezing hiring of teachers (leaving hundreds of classroom vacancies for start of school year), cutting non-instructional staff including paraprofessionals, custodians, food-service workers, etc. (those without contracts), and reneging on the Governor’s and General Assembly’s increase to the teacher’s base salary increase.  None of these are good options, as you can see.

Finally, if the digest is both delayed and then frozen, the issues above are compounded and many of the aforementioned strategies and solutions are no longer viable and are off the table leaving us with only draconian and destabilizing methods of cutting.

Therefore, we request that you consider other options to a freeze including capping the assessments at a certain amount, phase-in the new assessments over a period of time and allow municipalities and school districts to contemplate rolling back millage rates, which Atlanta Public Schools is prepared to consider.  Without knowing the amount of the increases due to new growth, reassessments, corporate, or residential, we cannot fully cost out what even a partial freeze of the digest could mean for our district.  We need a reasonable stop-gap that includes revenue growth to provide critical public education services to more than 50,000 students in Atlanta.

In conclusion, we again thank you for taking the time to review our feedback and appreciate the consideration of our recommendation for a balanced approach that provides at least the 6% increase in the digest on which  our FY2018 budget was approved.  We look forward to working with you to find a solution for the families of Atlanta and the students of APS.

Regards,

School Board Chair, Courtney English
Superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen
Budget Commission Chair,  School Board Member At-Large, Jason Esteves

Clarification of Our Millage Rate Adoption Process and Call for Reasonable Stop Gap for Your Property Taxes

Wow! We’ve been seeing quite a lot of incorrect and misleading information about Atlanta Public Schools’ millage rate related to Fulton County tax assessments.

First, Fulton County has made it clear that recent increases in the assessment of property values are due to under-assessments over the past several years. Second, APS and our Board have absolutely no involvement in the assessment of property values.

tabletphotoHere’s what the public school system and the Board actually does in relation to this issue:

When Atlanta Public Schools develops its general operating budget each year, a major source of revenue – about 70 percent – comes from local resources, mostly property taxes. Each year, the Atlanta Board of Education considers and sets a millage rate, which currently stands at 21.74, for ad valorem taxes due to the city school district.

Even when the millage rate stays constant, the value of the tax can rise or fall due to inflation or to changes in assessed value of property. State law requires our district each year to publish assessed taxable value of all property and also calculate a “rollback” millage rate when assessed values of property leads to a significant rise in property tax revenue.

When the Board approved the FY2018 General Fund Budget on Monday, June 5, it did so based primarily on information provided by the interim Fulton County Chief Appraiser to the APS Board Budget Commission at its March 16 meeting. He projected growth of between 5% and 7%. The adopted budget made the assumption of 6% growth in the overall tax digest with NO – I repeat, NO – increase to our millage rate.

Typically, we receive the preliminary tax digest numbers by late May or early June. To date, we still don’t have the official tax digest.

To go further, here’s how the District and the Atlanta Board of Education considers and sets the millage rate each fiscal year.

  1. District receives estimated consolidated tax digest from the Fulton County Tax Commissioner’s Office. Again, we do not have the actual tax digest in hand at this time.
  2. Our CFO and the APS Budget Department then calculate the rollback rate, which is equal to the previous year’s millage rate minus the millage equivalent of the total net assessed value added by reassessments.
  3. APS, under state law, provides certain disclosures to taxpayers prior to the establishment of the annual millage rate for ad valorem tax purposes. The first disclosure – which must be published – shows the assessed taxable value of all properties in the City of Atlanta, the proposed millage rate for the current calendar year, and the assessed taxable values and millage rates for each of the immediately preceding five calendar years. The second disclosure requires APS to compute a “rollback” millage rate, and if the proposed millage rate exceeds the “rollback” rate, the district must advertise a tax increase including the rate and hold public hearings before adopting a final millage rate.

The challenge with the FY2018 general fund budget was that our CFO and our budget team have no way to determine what share of the increase is related to new property assessments (which is not included in the rollback rate) and what is due to reassessments.

Additionally, this year’s tax digest will represent Fulton County’s effort to correct and right-size its previous assessments. While other counties have seen gradual increases over the years, Fulton County has not kept up. And that has nothing to do with APS.

This has meant, however, that APS, Fulton County Schools and municipalities in the county have struggled to balance budgets with increased costs and undervalued assessments. While the Board could have increased the millage rate to fund these rising costs, it hasn’t. What has happened: The Board has recommended to hold the rate constant.

The FY2018 budget includes yet another year of austerity planning (totaling $20 million over three years) including central office budget cuts to keep up with mandatory cost increases. These include: an $8 million increase in contributions to the Teacher Retirement System; a $1.5 million increase for unfunded pension obligations; a $1.3 million increase in health rates; and $6 million in support of a state-mandated cost-of-living adjustment for teachers and other employees.

Such costs are expected to go even higher for subsequent budgets. For example, we have already been notified that for FY2019 the APS contribution for TRS will increase an additional 4% or $16 million.

Regardless of all of these pressures, APS remains committed to children and schools, all the while working to redirect existing resources to pay for our Strategic Plan priorities, which include $32 million for the Turnaround Strategy and $21.8 million in cluster, flex and signature funds in support of the charter system model. With no rollback of the millage rate, the district may also be able to implement the remaining unfunded components of transformation for the upcoming year, meet unanticipated challenges (including additional growth in the charter school calculation), and offset the use of fund balance currently recommended to balance the FY2018 budget.

Again, APS has not set a millage rate yet and does not plan to increase it.

Finally, it is still as reasonable today as it was in March when the Interim Chief Appraiser advised the district on the projected growth rate of between 5 and 7 percent.

Freezing property assessments at tax year 2016 values – as the Board of Assessors is considering at its next regular meeting on Thursday, June 15 – will only exacerbate the need to correct and right-size across the city in the out years. Public agencies have mandatory costs that must be covered, and in a city like Atlanta that is seeing growth, there should be at least some corresponding new revenue to cover these costs.

Without it, it will lead to further decline in public services that a growing city like Atlanta needs, especially while it works through gross inequities and disparities for some of its residents.

It is our hope that our leaders and officials sort out a more balanced, more measured and more reasonable stop gap until all of this can be sorted out for all of our stakeholders.

Congratulations, Grad Nation – APS Class of 2017!

IMG_7823

It’s official. It’s late on Friday at the Georgia World Congress Center. And all of the Atlanta Public Schools’ Classes of 2017 – supported by spirited and loving gatherings of parents, caregivers and other family members as well as teachers, principals and friends  – have left the building.

Operation Grad Nation was a smashing success! #APSGrad17

IMG_6100-SIt is during this week – Graduation Week 2017 – that we truly live the Atlanta Public Schools Mission: Graduating students ready for college and career. So many beautiful moments when we saw our students – our community’s sons and daughters, grandchildren and godchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends – walk across the stage in their splendid school colors.

In those moments, we all came together as family to cheer our children – our newly minted graduates! – into the future. And it is rewarding to know that so many of the students worked so hard against some unbelievable odds. No matter the circumstances or individual stories – and yes, there are approximately 2,400 of them – they made it to the stage for graduation this week.

And this class has achieved.

IMG_5759-SThe 2016 graduating class has 10 Posse Scholars, 11 Georgia Scholars and 16 APS Georgia Tech Scholars. This class has earned well over $100 million in scholarship money (and counting). Additionally, nearly 800 APS seniors earned the Achieve Atlanta scholarship up to $20,000 each that provides “last dollar assistance” to low-income students attending two-year and four-year colleges or technical programs.

But their work, their lives, have only begun as graduation and commencement do not suggest an end. Not at all.

With their high school diplomas in hand, many of our graduates are off to the workforce, prepared to start their careers. Others have stepped up to the challenge of joining the armed services, and we are so proud of their commitment to our country. Finally, many members of the Class of 2017 have decided to continue their education in college or technical schools. I have no doubt they will excel as they did in high school.

IMG_3069Whichever paths these graduates have chosen, I can only hope that they will take all of their lessons, experiences and friendships with them. But for now, I want them to take a moment to celebrate in the works and honors they have achieved.

For all of us, APS has provided many ways to relive the spirit of graduation. Of course, the first stop is to visit our main page at www.atlantapublicschools.us/GradNation for archived video and media galleries of every ceremony. My APS colleagues and I have posted hundreds of images and videos on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. My handle is @atlsuper; the district’s is @apsupdate.

Also, I’ve collected a sampling of my favorite new memories and have shared them in the galleries below. Enjoy! Congratulations again to the newly minted graduates of the Class of 2017.

Charles Drew Charter School, Saturday, May 20

Alonzo Crim High School, Tuesday, May 23

Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy/B.E.S.T. Academy, Tuesday, May 23

KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, Wednesday, May 24

Frederick Douglass High School, Wednesday, May 24

South Atlanta High School, Wednesday, May 24

Booker T. Washington High School, Thursday, May 25

Henry W. Grady High School, Thursday, May 25

Benjamin E. Mays High School, Thursday, May 25

Carver High School/Early College/School of Technology, Friday, May 26

North Atlanta High School, Friday, May 26

Maynard H. Jackson High School, Friday, May 26

Daniel M. Therrell High School, Friday May 26

Aligning Every Penny Toward APS Journey of Transformation

As the Atlanta Board of Education prepares to consider a tentative 2018 General Fund Budget at its May 1 meeting, we have a responsibility to show our stakeholders where their tax dollars are going and how we are striving to push more of those dollars directly to the classrooms where education happens!

APS_CCC2508

Last week, I wrote about the year-long process APS employs to develop its operating budget with a focus on quality and attention on efficiency all without needing a tax millage increase! I also provided a brief overview of the 2018 General Fund Budget, which currently stands at about $777 million, $15 million more than the current budget. The Board plans to vote on a final budget at its June 5 meeting.

With this blog post, I want to dig deeper into the operating budget to give you a greater sense of where our dollars go and how we strive to adhere to the very first tenet of our core values: Put Students and Schools First!

(A note: The General Fund Budget represents just a portion of the nearly $1 billion of resources APS manages. The district also maintains budgets for Special Revenue, comprised mostly of federal sources such as Title I and Title II; Capital Outlay, funded primarily from SPLOST allocations; and Debt Service.)

The General Fund Budget generally comes from local and state taxes and other sources, such as facility rental fees, selling of assets and other payments to the district. For the tentative FY2018 budget:

  • $544.9 million (70%) comes from the local tax digest
  • $197.5 million (25%) comes from the state
  • $34.4 million (5%) comes from other sources

With this budget, we have been hard at work to drive more and more of those dollars to our schools. As I have stated before, we have also found ways to slim down our costs, including about $8 million in cuts from our Central Office budgets.

APS_InmanMiddle__CCC0787Because of that we have been able to create more investments. This includes:

  • $35.8 million in our long-term, over-arching Turnaround Strategy to improve our lowest-performing schools. This includes supplemental and critical support and partnerships with educational organizations with expertise in turnaround strategies
  • $10.8 million for school-based flexible spending dollars that allows our principals to address the unique needs of their schools. Principals will have even more flexibility and autonomy as APS participates in a pilot program called Fund 150 that allows them to combine federal Title I dollars with their general fund school allotment
  • $10.5 million (a $3.5 million increase over this year’s budget) for signature programming such as STEM, International Baccalaureate and College and Career Prep
  • $6.2 million for whole-child development programs and initiatives like athletics, arts and social emotional learning
  • $580,000 for our new Family Engagement Strategy

After this rigorous budget development process, we are also prepared to allocate $6 million for a salary increase of 1.5% for nearly all employees in this proposed FY18 budget.

Specifically for teachers, it should be noted that the state has funded a 2% increase to the state teacher salary schedule effective for the 2017-2018 school year. The increased dollars on the state teacher salary schedule have been added to increase the APS teacher salary schedule for 2017-2018. Because the APS teacher salary schedule is significantly higher than the state salary schedule, the dollars generated from the state’s 2% contribution – coupled with our local investment – will result in a minimum increase of 1.5% for APS teachers.

The 2018-17 salary schedules will be published on the HR Compensation site after the Board’s final approval. I want to thank all of our colleagues, especially members of our Teacher Advisory Council, who worked multiple times with us in the fall to scrub this budget and to land on these recommendations.

In the meantime, the district continues to have budget constraints that challenge us to balance several competing priorities. These constraints include mandatory costs related to unfunded pension and healthcare, the continued investment in our charter schools that have been approved to add grades, an aggressive turnaround strategy, funding our new operating model with fidelity, and right sizing our central office for increased savings, efficiency, and redirection to programs and schools.

Therefore, as part of the ongoing effort to right size the district with the appropriate number of schools to serve 52,000 students, the budget reflects a series of downsizing measures that further enable APS to consolidate some schools, remove more layers from the central office to allow for more school-based solutions and approaches, and transition some of the schools to our turnaround partners.

StaffBudgetMeetings

APS employees engaging in a staff budget work session last fall

On Monday, the Board will also consider a staff reduction plan that would remove 487 positions (438 school-based, 49 in central Office) and create another 152 positions (128 school-based, 24 in central office) to better meet the needs of our students. Given attrition in our district, APS typically rehires about 50 percent of our teachers.

These reductions fall within three primary categories:

  • Reductions related to the downsizing of central office to ensure that we maximizing the resources provided directly to schools
  • Reductions related to our continued right sizing of infrastructure and school-based staffing allocations
  • Reductions related to the phased transition of schools to turnaround partners as part of our larger turnaround strategy

Downsizing of Central Office

Over the past three years, we have been working diligently to push additional resources out to our schools, which has been made possible largely because of reductions to our central office budget.  The FY 2018 budget calls for additional cuts to the central office budget, many of which fall within our Schools & Academics Team. These changes, however, are in alignment with our district strategy, and I am confident will ultimately position our schools for greater success.

For example, as part of the budget, we will:

  • Reallocate resources from the Title I Family Academic Engagement Specialist position to push more resources out to schools to begin implementing their school-based vision for family engagement in alignment with our new Family & Alumni Engagement Strategy.
  • Phase out the role of Core Content Specialists while extending support for content coordinators to ensure we have sufficient capacity to continue to refine the units of study and to build the capacity of our school leadership teams to own the implementation.
  • More strongly align our Social Emotional Learning strategy with the rest of our teaching and learning work by phasing out the current SEL Coach position and creating three new SEL coordinator positions within teaching and learning.
  • Push more responsibilities to our Title I office, including Title II, to ensure that we maximize these shrinking federal dollars and minimize the central office costs associated with administering our federal programs.

These actions are intended to remove layers at the Central Office to allow for more school-based solutions and approaches, the goal being to further empower schools to make more decisions to meet the unique needs of their teachers and students.

Right Sizing Infrastructure and School-Based Staffing Allocations

As I have shared many times before, our school system was built for close to 100,000 students – an enrollment we have not seen since the 1970s. With about 52,000 students now, we cannot sustain such an infrastructure, which is why we have been forced to right size our school infrastructure and school-based allocations in order to become a more efficient, and therefore more effective, school system for our students.

Employees impacted by these consolidations and other school changes come from Adamsville Primary, B.E.S.T. Academy, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Crim High, Harper-Archer Middle School, Miles Intermediate, West End Academy and Whitefoord Elementary School. Fortunately, many of our employees at these schools have already identified opportunities within our district including some of the newly created schools and, therefore, have been rehired in other positions.

Based upon feedback from principals, we are also eliminating the SST Intervention Specialist position that has historically been provided to schools from central office; however, many principals have chosen to use their school-based flexible dollars to retain these positions in their budgets.

Turnaround Partner Schools

The phase-in of our district turnaround strategy also impacted APS employees. Just as Thomasville Heights Elementary transitioned to Purpose Built Schools this school year, Slater Elementary and Price Middle will transition to Purpose Built and Gideons Elementary to Kindezi next school year. While many of our employees will remain in their schools, they will do so as employees of the partner organization. Others, have chosen to transition to other schools within the district.

As we have always done, the district will support all affected employees with interview priority status as we aggressively work to find them other opportunities within APS.

As a result of this strategic and balanced FY 2018 budget, Atlanta Public Schools moves even closer to a more efficient, quality-driven school district. Again, I must thank Jason Esteves (At-Large, Seat 9 Board Member and Budget Commission Chair), the Board and our finance team for the great work so far.

Looking Ahead

Monday’s meeting won’t mean the conclusion of the process.

As I wrote in the previous blog, we have been holding regional public meetings. The remaining meetings are from:

  • 6 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 2, at Burgess-Peterson Academy
  • 6 to 7 p.m., Thursday, May 11, at Long Middle School
  • 6 to 7 p.m., Thursday, May 18, at the main Sutton Middle School campus

The first official public hearing will be held at noon, Monday, May 22, at the Center for Learning and Leadership following a Budget Commission meeting. A final public hearing will be held on Monday, June 5, before the budget is put before the board during its regular meeting.

And if local collections exceed our expectations, the Board and I will consider the unfunded components of transformation, which include reading/literacy, whole child development, an APS talent development program and a district early learning program.

Changes are never easy, and we did not make these decisions without a great deal of deliberation and engagement from our teachers, our staff, our students and families and other stakeholders. Please continue to be involved, and give us your thoughts on the work so far!