Positioning the District for a New Direction

In my experiences as a superintendent, I have come to believe that where a district puts its money, speaks volumes about what it values—this is why I take the budgeting process so seriously. I spend a great deal of time getting very hands-on and really knowing where we are going to spend our tax dollars.

Today, the Atlanta Board of Education approved the tentative FY16 General Fund budget for Atlanta Public Schools, and I thought I would update you. With our budget, we are positioning the district for a new direction— a new direction to increase instructional quality and efficiency to assure successful achievement of our vision and mission.

I want to assure you that we are taking deliberate steps to make certain that not only do we have a balanced budget, but a strategic and more efficient one that drives us to higher student outcomes. Quality budgeting means that the Board members, administrative leadership and I take the appropriate time and steps to work through the finances … even spending our weekends to do it.

The district faces considerable challenges as we restore the organizational integrity of Atlanta Public Schools, employ best practices and position our school district structurally, strategically and financially for the future.

As we embark on the FY16 budget process – in preparation for a new operating model – we find ourselves in a position where we are facing demands for mandatory expenditures that exceed the increase in available resources.

For a quick summary, the Board is working with a planned FY16 General Fund budget of $682.8 million, a little more than a $25 million increase over this year’s fiscal budget of $657.6 million. But, as we begin the process, we have about $31 million in additional required increases for special education, pension funding and teacher retirement contributions as well as increased enrollment in our APS charter schools and a decline in other APS schools.

Last fall, the Board approved parameters for the FY16 budget that directed us to focus on such areas as achieving equitable distribution of resources, funding pension obligations and prioritizing special education and achievement in math and literacy. In addition, as we transition to the new operating model, we have committed to pushing more discretionary money to the school level to increase flexibility and engagement.

As a result, we are forced to make tough decisions in the coming weeks as we tighten our budgets and make strategic investments.

To that end, we are examining ways to achieve a balanced budget while making the necessary decisions to ensure that Board priorities are supported.

As tight as the FY16 budget will be, I am hopeful that we can find additional dollars to push more and more of our available dollars closer to the classroom and to our students.

We have already reduced central administration overhead with a plan that cuts Central Office positions by nearly 10 percent and redirects approximately $5 million to flexible spending at the school-level. And, we will continue to look for opportunities to find efficiencies at all levels in the organization to further reduce overhead costs for the school district.

Furthermore, we will examine other reductions as necessary with the assumption that we do not, at this time, have additional revenues. However, the budget approval process is an evolving one, and constraints may change as we progress and as the Board considers options such as changing the millage rate, using the district’s fund balance and other financial resources due to us, and exploring new creative solutions for long standing challenges such as the pension.

In preparation for FY16, we also have found ways to maximize resources in other budgets.

For example, the Board and I responded directly to the community’s considerable feedback when we reviewed SPLOST dollars and reprioritized $39 million to immediately address ineffective heating and air conditioning systems in schools.

We have been taking advantage of extended carryover federal dollars from Race to the Top and Title I that will serve as down payments for programs and initiatives during FY16, thanks to the insightful feedback of the principal advisory committee and help from the Georgia State Department of Education.

We created a new Office of Partnerships and Development to leverage our business community and philanthropic relationships to explore creative ways to bring in new revenue sources.

As the budget process moves forward, we will do our part to keep the public up-to-date. I invite you to stay informed through budget community meetings or by following budget developments on the APS budget website.

For me, after almost one school year, I am starting to feel the build-up of great things for our district. We are laying the groundwork that we need to improve quality and increase efficiency. Now we need the support of the Board and the community to right size the district and prepare for the new direction.

Our Three New Stakeholder Committees

I am pleased to announce the members of our three new stakeholder advisory and oversight committees: Finance and Budget Advisory Committee, Special Education Advisory Committee, and SPLOST Oversight Committee.

Last month, I announced that we were creating the committees as part of our broader community engagement work in Atlanta Public Schools. We asked individuals who are interested in committee service to submit their nominations to the associate superintendent of their local school and apply online. We received huge interest from parents and community members and took our time to verify all of the nominations and make a final determination in a fair and transparent manner.

The Budget & Finance Stakeholder Advisory Committee consists of 19 members and is chaired by Chuck Burbridge, chief financial officer, Atlanta Public Schools. The Special Education Stakeholder Advisory Committee has 24 members and is led by Tammie Workman, assistant superintendent for Student Services.  The SPLOST Oversight Committee is led by Larry Hoskins, chief operating officer for the district and has 15 members.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit a nomination. We want the committees to begin working after winter break, and we’re on track to meet this goal!

The committee members are as follows:

Finance and Budget Advisory Committee

Dr. Linda Anderson, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning

Dr. Tony Burks II, Principal Douglass High School

Yolanda Carr, Mays High School Cluster Representative

Tammy Dixon, South Atlanta High School Representative

Cynthia Dumas, Therrell High School Cluster Representative

Clay Elrod, Jackson High School Cluster Representative

Buck Greene, Principal – Sutton Middle School

Tye Hayes, Deputy Chief Information Officer

Felecia Josey, Washington High School Cluster Representative

Nicole Lawson, Executive Director for Human Resources – Talent Management

Cynthia Mickelburg, At-Large Member

Marshall Norseng, At-Large Member

Mark Rebillot, Grady High School Cluster Representative

JaTawn Robinson, The New Schools at Carver Cluster Representative

Joseph Salley, Principal – Kimberly Elementary School

Chandra Selles, Charter Schools Representative

Bob Stockwell, North Atlanta High School Cluster Representative

Dr. Clara Taylor, Principal – D.H. Stanton Elementary School

Toni Terry, Douglass High School Cluster Representative

 Special Education Advisory Committee

Chartez Bailey, Student – Therrell High School

Monica Blasingame, Teacher – Price Middle School

Vickie Cleveland, Executive Director for Special Education

Michelle Constantinides, Grady High School Cluster Representative

Don Doran, Principal – Drew Charter School

Christina Edward, Teacher – Sylvan Middle School

Tameka Gilliam, The New Schools at Carver Cluster Representative

Ginger Harbin, Teacher – Grady High School

Lisa Hill, Principal – Long Middle School

Dwight Hutson, North Atlanta Cluster Representative

Kenya Kemp, Mays High School Cluster Representative

Melissa Leontorvich, Industry Expert (Former Georgia State University Special Education Professor)

Josie Love, Principal – Carver School of Technology

Denice Morgan, Washington High School Cluster Representative

Sharron Paige, Douglass High School Cluster Representative

Keyona Revere, At-Large Member

Cassandra Rainey, Therrell High School Cluster Representative

Charlene Salter-Legend, Jackson High School Cluster Representative

Joan Sloan, Industry Expert (Kennesaw State University)

Ashley States, Teacher – Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School

Kara Stimpson, Principal – Brandon Elementary School

Nyree Sears, South Atlanta High School Cluster Representative

Richard Quartarone, Charter Schools Representative

Tammie Workman, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services

SPLOST Oversight Committee

Corey Anderson, At-Large Member

Dr. Danielle Battle, Associate Superintendent of Elementary Schools (Carver, S. Atlanta, & Mays Clusters)

Chris Bennett, Mays High School Representative

Gayle Burnett, Manager of Data & Compliance, Office of Innovation

Kathy Davis, At-Large Member

Michael Everly, North Atlanta High School Cluster Representative

Dr. Timothy Gadson, Associate Superintendent for High Schools

Shawna Hayes-Tavares, Therrell High School Cluster Representative

Melissa Hughley, South Atlanta High School Cluster Representative

Tamera Jones, Grady High School Cluster Representative

Dr. Greg Middleton, Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools

Luana Slaughter, Jackson High School Cluster Representative

Rhoda Spence, Douglass High School Cluster Representative

Valeria Williams, Washington High School Cluster Representative

(Vacant), The New Schools at Carver Cluster Representative