A Message From Jan

The Rest of the Story on School Systems Cuts

Here is an evaluation performed following AJC articles regarding proposed teacher and teacher salary reductions and class size increases by Gwinnett and Atlanta Public Schools.  It demonstrates that even in these difficult economic times, Georgia students and teachers would benefit significantly if school districts with large central office staffs would redeploy funds to schools where actual learning takes place.

The evaluation is based on information contained in AJC articles; federal, state and local expenditure data reported by school districts and compiled by the Georgia Department of Education; Georgia Department of Revenue millage rate, tax digest and SPLOST data; and other information compiled by the Georgia DOE, such as K-12 capitol construction bonds and graduation rates.

Gwinnett Example

The AJC recently published an article with the headline, “Gwinnett schools to furlough teachers again and increase class sizes.”

The article said these two budgetary efforts would result in $43 million in savings to the Gwinnett district.  The district intends to continue eliminating two days of pay for teachers through furloughs and maintain larger class sizes by two students each.  Additionally, the school system will save $7.8 million by eliminating raises that teachers earned based on training and experience. 

These raises, called step increases, are funded in the state budget.  About 60% of all teachers qualify each year for three percent step increases based on training and experience.  Gwinnett has the authority to exercise flexibility in state expenditure controls on items like step increases because it sought and was awarded flexibility by the state board of education through a contract. Most school districts exercise flexibility in certain state expenditure controls.

The projected savings to the system for all three measures will total about $51 million.

Here’s the rest of the story and a suggested alternate budget scenario for Gwinnett School System as it adjusts to difficult economic times.

Gwinnett County School System's superintendent and school board could support teachers and students by cutting the district's spending level on central office (also called General Administration) to the state per-student average.  Gwinnett spends 26 percent more per student ($579) than the state average ($460, not including Atlanta, which is an extreme outlier). 

Or even better, Gwinnett could reduce its spending on central office to Cobb County School System's per-student average.  Gwinnett and Cobb rank first  and second out of 180 school systems in student population size serving 160,000 and 108,000 respectively. 

If Gwinnett would trim its $579 per student spending on central office to Cobb's $228 level, Gwinnett could afford to reduce class sizes by two students, eliminate the two-day teacher furloughs and pay the $7.8 million its teachers earned for training and experience increase.*

Larger school systems can achieve economies of scale that smaller school systems cannot achieve as supported by ranking school districts according to the amount spent per-student on central office.  Of school districts that rank in the top 20 percent of all districts (37 districts) in per-student spending on central office, 31 districts have total student populations below 3000 students.   Of districts that rank in the bottom 20 percent (37 districts) in per-student spending on central office, the inverse is true; three districts have student populations below 3000 students.

 Central office expenditures do not include costs associated with instruction or school-level services and management, such as teachers, counselors, bus drivers, principals, asst. principals, media specialists, school custodians, school nurses, or textbook costs.

As the largest school system in Georgia (and serving 10 percent of the state's public school students), 10 percent of Georgia's teachers and students alike would benefit if Gwinnett Schools put teachers and students first, not its central office.

Atlanta Example

The AJC recently reported that Atlanta Public Schools has decided to eliminate 350 teacher positions and furlough its remaining teachers for two days to reduce spending by $47 million.

Here’s the rest of the story and another option for Atlanta Public Schools to consider during these difficult economic times:  

APS could reduce its central office spending of $2969 per student to the state average of $460 (state average, excluding Atlanta, which is an extreme outlier).  Atlanta spends six times the state average per-student on central office.  APS in and of itself raises the state average per-student spending on central office by $13 per student.  

 Central office expenditures do not include costs associated with instruction or school-level services and management, such as teachers, counselors, bus drivers, principals, asst. principals, media specialists, school custodians, school nurses, or textbook costs.

If Atlanta reduced its spending on central office staff to the state average per-student spending on central office, APS would save $123 million.**   This would allow APS to restore 350 teacher positions and eliminate two-day teacher furloughs ($47 million total, according to AJC).  The district would save enough to also reduce its millage rate by two mills ($47 million).***  The district could additionally provide each of its 3577 teachers with a $5000 raise ($18 million).  

And finally, APS would have $11 million leftover to target students most at risk of falling behind or dropping out.  By targeting $11 million to one-quarter of APS students, each of these students would receive $900 in additional tutoring and recovery efforts.  With a four-year 52 percent graduation rate, who needs the funding more, central office or at-risk students?

In an even more productive alternative, APS could reduce its per-student spending on central office to the $371 average of the largest 10 school districts in student population (excluding Atlanta in the calculation).

APS exercises local decision-making, or what is often termed "local control," by spending $2969 on central office for each of its 49,032 students.  This leads one to ask:  Is this budgeting in the best interests of APS students and teachers?  Is this in the best interests of 500,000 Atlanta citizens and taxpayers and 10 million Georgia citizens and taxpayers that fund an average of $13,944 per APS student?  

Note:   APS central office expenditures represent 21 percent of APS's total operational budget, or $145 million total.  Next in ranking statewide is Baker County Schools, which spends 16 percent of its operational budget on a per-student basis ($1753) on central office, or $582,000 total.  As distinct, though, Baker County has only 332 students to spread the costs over.


*Gwinnett- $579 minus $228 = $351 per student savings
$351 x 160,000 students = $56,160,000 in savings

**Atlanta- $2979 minus $460 = $2514 per student savings
$2514 x 49,000 students = $123,431,000

***Each mill in Atlanta Public Schools is valued at $23.6 million.  APS levies 21.64 mills, has the 4th highest school district millage rate and has one of the highest value per-capita tax digests.


Posted by Beth Green in Uncategorized on 6/8/2012