20 Aug 2014
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"Here's the new boss, same as the old boss"

"Here's the new boss, same as the old boss"
The blog title is from The Who's song, Won't Get Fooled Again.

Unfortunately, I think that is exactly what is happening. I am deeply disappointed with the current budget. The only notable difference with this year's budget cycle is the new Board put up less of a fight, and passed the administration's budget quicker than last year. 

The budget is the main tool the Board can use to implement its vision and to control the direction of the school district. The Board only gets 4 opportunities each term. As much as I was hoping the new Board would affect positive change, they have completely whiffed on their first try and as a result many children will have a year of inadequate education. 

The Board is set to vote on the proposed budget tomorrow (Tuesday). It includes a $25 million spending deficit, and it does nothing to reduce class size. To the contrary, average class size will increase by as much as 30% in some 4th and 5th grade classes. APS will increase spending by $60 million, and they could reduce class size in elementary school for 1/10th of that amount.

Below is an email I sent the Board. If you care about class size, if you care about fiscal responsibility, if you care about reducing the bloated bureaucracy, please contact your Board members and voice your concern. They should be receptive, after all, they all campaigned on the promise of fixing these very issues. 

Dear Board Members,

During the campaign, each one of you said something to the effect that "children come first," and "all of my decisions will be made based on how does this improve the educational outcomes of our students."

Unfortunately, the FY15 budget falls far short of your stated ideals. The budget process involves the allocation of scarce resources, and how you allocate these scarce resources is a reflection of what you believe is important.

We can debate whether class size or teacher effectiveness is more important in increasing classroom achievement (hopefully you know where I stand on that issue), but that debate is irrelevant under the current budget. The budget does nothing to increase teacher effectiveness over and above what is currently being done (more money does not a better teacher make). The budget does nothing to reduce class size. In fairness, the increase in SST might improve student performance in the lower performing schools, but it needs to be implemented properly.

What the budget does do is maintain a $2 million communication department that is designed to communicate what a great job you are doing. Most of this money should be channeled to actually doing the great job rather than telling people about it. Children don't read better or learn math quicker just because APS' PR machine is in full gear.

There is no doubt that APS has a communication problem, but the communication problem comes from (a) not communicating at all, or (b) communicating falsely. You don't need to spend $2 million to figure out how to communicate honestly. You do need $2 million if you want to figure out how to spin things to make yourself look good. It occurs to me that the job of "spinning" APS performance could be done best by the Chamber of Commerce, and perhaps the Mayor's office, since their job of recruiting business becomes easier if they can tout a strong public educational system.

Nearly every elementary school in the district has at least one grade level that will be at the maximum class size next year. However, the Title 1 schools receive money that allows them to alleviate this problem by hiring teachers, an option that is not available to the 23% of elementary school children that attend non-Title I schools. For those who desire "equitable" treatment of all students, I think we should start by not ignoring 1/4 of our young students. In addition, what do we do about the Title I schools who either don't receive enough federal money to hire a teacher or have greater needs than reducing class size?

You have missed, or are about to miss a golden opportunity to reverse the trend of larger class sizes. The cost of reducing class size to state max +3 in elementary schools (where smaller class size produces the most results) is around $6.5 million - only $4.5 million if you focus just on K-3. The communication department is just one example of many where cuts can be made to pay for the smaller class sizes. If you are willing to spend $25 million of savings to maintain the bloated bureaucracy downtown, then you should at least be willing to spend $4-6 million to improve the education of Atlanta's children.

I would be embarrassed to tell my constituents I could not find 0.9% in the budget to fund this initiative. What's worse, however, is it doesn't even appear that you have tried. 


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