A post from the APS super…

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.


Reprinted from
The official blog of Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools
Follow her on Twitter: @ATLsuper

You might also be interested in this post by Carstarphen >> Clarifying Class Size Waivers

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12 Responses to A post from the APS super…

  1. Just wanted you all to be better able to envision the possibility of a true school district leader who places children and education first.

  2. I was just wishing the headline was “post from the Dekalb Super,” but then I woke up.

  3. kirklunde says:

    Only words.
    DeKalb issues a similar statement every year and it means nothing.

  4. That may be true, Kirk, but the Atlanta Superintendent maintains this blog all the time – she writes all kinds of posts about the issues on the minds of the Atlanta stakeholders. This is what we have encouraged DeKalb to do for at least 3 years now.

  5. kirklunde says:

    What is interesting is the BOE at APS voted on FY ’16 budget priorities last fall. Meanwhile, in DeKalb, the BOE meets on Thursday to debate budget priorities.

    Board policy DC states the tentative budget is to be presented in April so it is safe to assume the tentative budget is nearly completed if not already done.

    I am curious to see if the Strategic Planning Department is going to have $9,500 budgeted for travel with zero employees, again. Also, which schools are going to have over $200K budgeted for a principal. And finally, after being told the textbook lease was paid off, then seeing million dollar + payments for the last two years, will FY ’16 be the year DCSD stops paying for that bit of malfeasance?

  6. Sylvia Richardson says:

    Oh, what a contrast! Articulate, focused on how to assist schools. Can we borrow her for a few years?

  7. druidhills4 says:

    I wish my children could attend schools in a district where the superintendent was “a true school district leader who places children and education first.” But as long as my children attend schools in DCSD that will never happen. The DCSD Board wouldn’t stand for that. And that’s why Michael Thurmond will be our ‘next’ superintendent.

  8. This is also why business’s are moving back into the City of Atlanta. Atlanta has had a higher percentage of white college educated residents moving into the city over the last 4 years. Look across the country for an Urban area to thrive in 2015 it has to be gaining the white college educated crowd to survive.

    Even looking at the choice of whether to buy North or South of West Weica right now in the Chaistain Park area, The choice of the South side of. West Weica Rd. To get into Atlanta Public schools vs Fulton County right now is the choice. Why? 1.) Sarah Smith , Warren Jackson, and .Morris Brandon are all 10/10’s with the new E. Rivers now a close 8/10 or so. Over 50% of these parents are sending their children to Sutton Middle, which brought that up to an 7/8 out of 10 requiring the new North Atlanta. Then APS wisely approved the ATlanta Classical academy charter with priority for those who live in the North Atlanta Cluster. It is a K-7 going to K-8 school with Latin and foreign language required. Which is what the homeowners of what North Atlanta wanted. They had over 1000 applications for their first yr of 400 students at the old Heiskel school.

    Meanwhile if you live on the Northside of Weica In Sandy Springs, you have been subjected to the broad scholar charlatan Avossan. Who is creating is Charter district empire, taking away the former independence that the indiviadual conversion charter schools has. He has driven out experienced teachers and administrators, he wants his yes men and women. He has Closed the highest academic performing Charters on the Northside of the District. Reason they
    Has some financial accounting issues, but the. So did Riverwood High school, and the cafe at Sandy Spring High Schools. But then it was clear the Riverwood thing was trumpeted up to create a job for his buddy from Charlotte, who didn’t even stay a year. The fulton da didn’t indict the principal Avossa trumpted up the charges on and destroyed his career in his first months on the job. Let’s not forget Avossa is building his big Administrative office palace in Sandy Springs. What for, as soon as the legislature allows city districts Sandy springs is out of FCSD. As their is only one safe school left Heards Ferry, which Avossa is moving out of the neighborhood to right on top of I-285. A traffic nightmare for an elementary school.

  9. howdy1942 says:

    The Dekalb County School System is what it is because of the people we have elected to serve on the school board. The Atlanta Public School System was in dire straits just a few short years ago. Then the State stepped in and the business community stepped in. Unlike Dekalb County, a strong interim-superintendent was appointed and he took charge and cleaned up the allegations, accusations, and issues. That is strongly needed in Dekalb. Governor Deal attempted to do the right thing – I thought that the process to select members of a new school board was good. We had over 400 candidates and we got what we did. On paper, they looked great but reality was something entirely different. I commend the State Board of Education and the Governor – they tried. We had an opportunity to elect people who could and would focus on cleaning up Dekalb’s mess and getting the focus back on the classroom. We didn’t. Now we have another 3 1/2 years of dysfunction.

    I am happy for APS. I am not happy at all with the Dekalb County School System.

  10. So, employment contracts for next year are out but no word of pay increase. Kind of puts teachers in a bind. Could’ve sworn we used to know our pay increase for the next year prior to contracts. Not sure what the holdup is… Wish the BOE would’ve acted on this prior to contracts. Giving even a little hope to those on the front lines goes a long way. They don’t see it sadly. In the meantime, I’ll stay resilient with my single raise in 5 years and keep serving the kids.

  11. Teachermom says:

    The official reason given via an email about our promised increase is that they don’t know because it depends on the budget—which they apparently haven’t gotten around to. Probably because they are spending their time on all the other crap that we keep being apalled by…

  12. howdy1942 says:

    I see where Governor Deal’s Constitutional Amendment to allow the State to take over chronically failing schools passed today and will not proceed to a vote. If that passes, I sincerely hope that those districts where schools are taken over will lose a proportionate share of its clout at the school board.

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