Last Wednesday, APS Superintendent Erroll Davis met with about 30 community members from around the city to discuss the FY2014 budget.
I thought that Davis did a good job of responding to the questions that were asked, and I appreciate him taking the time to sit down with community members.
A couple of the impressions that I left with were:
- Davis feels that the district faces a lot of administrative challenges which take money to address, and he feels it is more important to direct money toward those initiatives than to keep class size low.
- From Davis’s perspective, the central office and administrative spending are reasonable (or even favorable) compared to other urban districts.
- From Davis’s perspective, a primary driver of administrative inefficiencies is having under-enrolled schools.
- There is a disconnect between the information the administration is relying on to make decisions (from the computer systems) and the practical experiences of those closer to the schools.
- From Davis’s perspective, a slow pace of change/improvement is to be expected from a large organization, and he feels like they are moving in the right direction slowly.
I continue to think there are several ways that I see things differently from Supt. Davis, and I don’t think he is closer to coming around to my point of view or that information has been presented which would help bring me around to his point of view. The things I continue to think are:
- Even setting aside assistant principal classification, under-enrolled schools, and the pension liability issues which have been mentioned, the district spends significantly more money on the central office than other districts in the state, whether those districts have higher-needs students or lower-needs students.
- Some of this is driven by inefficiencies in the hierarchy of the central administration. A couple of examples include:
- Karen Waldon’s department has its own budget team rather than relying on the finance department.
- The reorganization of the curriculum and instruction department added lots of new positions. Under Karen, there are 4 associate superintendents, 4 executive directors, and 4 coordinators, all of whom are highly compensated. Yet, what I’ve heard from the experience of principals is that they feel C&I has become less responsive during Karen’s time at the helm. I have heard reaching out to C&I described as sending messages into a black hole. While this is certainly not reflective of all principal’s take, I have heard it now from multiple people in four different clusters.
- The 4 leaders of the reform districts are highly paid (and most say they’re talented people), but they are not vested with authority, and therefore they do not contribute meaningfully.
- While I agree that large organizations are hard to change, we can’t be resigned to slow improvements. We may need to look closer at the possibility of moving faster to a decentralized model where clusters or quadrants of the city are responsible for decision making, and change can be implemented at a faster pace.
- Even in the depths of a recession, we have significantly more money per student than other Georgia districts ever have in a booming economy. It is challenging for me to reconcile that with a need for class sizes of 33. It seems to me that if we were more strategic with our use of money and planned better, we could have smaller classes and still have funds left over to fund investments in the administration which Davis sees as needed.
- The data Davis relies on to understand the finances of the organization is compiled with a lot of assumptions, which it seems to me make the numbers reflect something different than he (or any other user) would initially assume based on the summary descriptions of the expenses.
- We have to plan holistically. It is perfectly appropriate for certain funds to have restricted uses, but that shouldn’t be used as a reason for us not to plan ahead for how we will use those funds. I’m not aware of any regulations which would prevent planning the use of Title I funds or other special funds. I also don’t think the fact that discretion is provided to the principals should prevent this process from taking place. The principals should be asked to work with the administration to put together a plan for next year as part of the budget cycle.