Meeting Minutes, January 28th, 2011

Emory Lavista Parent Council Meeting January 28, 2011
Legislative Update
Nancy Moore, 404-728-4427
Marshall Orson, 404-378-9116
Ellen Schwartz
Donna Toulme
Lisa Brown

Part I—2011 Legislative Update including the DeKalb BOE size proposal with Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, HD 83 and Senator Fran Millar, Senate District 40, Chair of the Georgia Senate Education Committee.
Part II—That pesky 450 Count: How State Funding for Schools Really Works. Critical Information for the Redistricting Plan and Related School Budget Issues with Joe Martin, Executive Director of the Georgia School Funding Association and co-author of Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) law.

Nancy Moore welcomed DCSS, BOE members Womack, McChesney, Jester, and Mr. Segovis and other administrators in attendance. She noted that ELPC was attempting to organize a broad community meeting before or after the next ELPC meeting.

Mr. Singh on behalf of all his staff, faculty and parents who presented a lovely breakfast, welcomed all to Hawthorne Elementary School.

Marshall Orson thanked all for participation in public input process noting the involvement of so many for the good of the DCSS students. He welcomed our elected officials, Scott Holcomb, GA HR, District 82 and two of today’s speakers, GA HR Mary Margaret Oliver, District 83 and GA SS, District 40, Fran Millar who has been recently appointed by the new governor as the Chairman of Education Commission. Additionally, he welcomed former Democratic Candidate for State Superintendant of Education Joe Martin who had served to the APS BOE and co-author of QBE formula which has been one of key discussion points in redistricting.

Representative Oliver who values her DCSS education as a graduate of Fernbank Elementary School and DHHS began with the issue of DCSS BOE governance and asked for audience opinions. She noted that DCSS is not performing as well broadly and that while the district leadership was on a more positive path and emerging from a “bad time” this was an opportunity to examine governance issues because of high community engagement. In 11/10, Representative Oliver pre-filed HB 22 to address DCSS BOE membership at 5, 7, or 9. She noted a controversial bill that since then has been filed, HB 63, statewide legislation to set the DCSS BOE at 7. Representative Oliver believes that size matters and that a smaller board works more effectively and she wants to hear from the audience and her constituents. From the audience, a show of hands supported 5 over 7.

Senator Millar discussed local redistricting noting that when a school has a minimum enrollment of 450 students it would be in solid financial shape and when a school was under-enrolled it would need to close. He advocated for keeping decision making at the local level and added that any student relocation would need to be justified by cost savings. He highlighted the reliance of the present education budget on Stimulus Funding. He reported that Dr. Barge, the current GA State Superintendant of Education is examining the math curriculum and believes in rigor. Senator Millar asserted that the purpose of public education is to help students become productive citizens. He summarized that the current educational priorities as:

1) The revision of QBE for education funding which he noted was a two year project;
2) Increasing student engaged in dual enrollment programs such that students are connected to meaningful work experiences.

Question and Answers for our legislative representatives:

Q: From former ELPC President and longstanding educational advocate, Ms. Faye Andreason who noted the historical significance of increasing the DCSS BOE membership from 7 to 9 to increase involvement and representation. She asked, “Do we have county votes or is that the state bill to reduce the DCSS BOE to 7 was introduced?

A: Senator Millar suggested that the state legislation was introduced as a back-up and continued by questioning the value of the DCSS at-large roles. He wondered whether the same lines could be drawn for the DC BOC and BOE and later a discussion noted that the City of Decatur Schools and City of Atlanta Schools make the lines different.

Q: The next question addressed the calculation of Full Time Equivalent counts noting the Georgia Student Information Systems (GSIS) website presentation on calculating FTE for dummies was informative. The audience member noted that last year the state was audited for accountability in statistics and proceeded to ask “Where are we going to get accurate data?”

A: Senator Millar agreed noting the overestimation of the graduation rate and stating that we need to use a uniform measure. Senator Millar stated there was “no easy answer” to the question but noted the involvement of Mr. Martin in revising the QBE formula. He noted that the Southern Regional Education Board is a valuable source of information. He noted that this organization can provide strong resources for longitudinal tracking of K-12 student progress. He expressed concern about the school size in the current DCSS proposals with elementary schools at 900, middle schools at 1200, and high schools at 1600. He highlighted the facility costs that would be associated with schools of this size.

Q: Ernest Brown asked about the Hope Scholarship.

A: Both Representative Oliver and Senator Millar noted that changes must occur to the Hope Scholarship program and that several were under consideration such as establishing a national threshold of SAT/ACT scores in lieu of the 3.0 GPA. Another option was establishing a flat dollar amount per student and/or unhooking the scholarship from the institution to the students. Other options discussed included eliminating the book fees and establishing a means test component to the award of the scholarship.

Q: A Medlock Elementary parent asked about the significance of the DCSS BOE size between 5 and 7.

A: Representative Oliver and Senator Millar discussed this noting the benefits of 7 as historically consistent and consistent with DC BOC but noting that 5 would “shake things up.” Representative Oliver was undecided and Senator Millar would like 7 for uniformity.

Q: Henderson Mill Elementary parent asked about the high mobility of their student population such that calculations made in October did not reflect spring student enrollment and vice versa leaving principals in a situation of letting go valued teachers and then having to select new teachers.

A: The legislative representatives noted that this is an important trend to account for in funding and stated that this should be addressed in the revision of the QBE and would be elaborated on by Mr. Martin in Part 2 of the morning’s presentation.

Q: Henderson Middle School parent asked about the attendance policy not specifying policies for Central Office Staff.
A: Senator Millar encouraged the audience to remain engaged in important government issues and county legislation even after the DCSS issues are resolved noting there are very important issues be determined at this point in time and voter apathy is concerning to him at times.

Part 2:

Mr. Martin thanked all involved and stated his intention to be apolitical in his discussion. He admired ELPC’s vitality, consistency of leadership and commitment to well-being of all students. He noted that he was a member of a small group of individuals appointed by Governor Harris in the early 1980s to author legislation which resulted in the 1985 Quality of Education Act passed in the GA General Assembly by unanimous vote of both houses which reflected a yearning to do better for our children.

Mr. Martin had a detailed handout and highlighted the vast component of education funding to the state budget noting $39 million, of which nearly $18 billion came from state revenues. He noted that 43% of the education budget was local funding and 14% was federal funding primarily from Stimulus funding. He noted that state dollars are allocated according to the QBE formula which is the engine that drives the train. He noted that the formula is a logical framework but that the components have not been updated and gave the cost of textbooks as an example. He highlighted that the integrity of the state funding is compromised by randomly enforced austerity cuts. Please see Mr. Martin’s handout for a detailed review of education funding in GA.

In addition to the detriment of austerity cuts, there has been no adjustment for inflation such that funding per student has decreased by 18-21% over the last decade. With inflation increases, enrollment increases, funding decreases he asked “who pays the difference?” and replied, “Local government with a 50 -60 % increase over last 10 years.”
He noted that more state funds are allocated with smaller schools (appointment of principals and assistant principals) but that the cost of operating small schools is higher.
He stated that as citizens we need to be informed, account for needs, costs, inflation, and enrollment and that we should not stand for austerity cuts which are an easy way out. He stated that as citizens we should demand following the updated formula so that we can be efficient and effective in our schools. He asserted a moral obligation to provide an adequate education and suggested that the state has been passing the burden to local government such that there is unevenness across the state.

Q. Are there magic numbers?

A: Except for principals, the funds are allotted per students and there are complications with respect to facilities cost which are not included. There are provisions in architectural guidelines that dictate school size. He noted that most of school construction funding is from SPLOST in DeKalb County and that state funding is minimal.

Q. What is the significance of 450 student enrollment?

A: 450 is the school size in the funding formula for the principal’s salary. If a school has lower enrollment, they still receive the same funds proportional to the student enrollment.

Q: Why has it taken so long for the formula to be readdressed? Will there be a component of updating in future legislation.

A: When written in 1985 there was a suggestion was for 3 year review which was at the discretion of governor.

Q: Please discuss equalization and address the impact of the DCSS vacant buildings and state funding.
A: There are two forms of equalization. Every school system in GA is required to make a local match of 5 mills of the tax rate such that those schools districted within a community with a greater tax base pay more with the funds being appropriated on a per student basis. The second form of equalization occurs in communities were the property tax is below 75th percentile rank and such that there is a greater allocation of funding in poorer communities. There is no state penalty for empty buildings. FTE formula is used to allocate funds in local schools with two counts per year. Local school can appoint teachers as they wish so long as class size requirements are not exceeded.

Q: Are there any capital funds appropriated?

A: Funds flow per student. Capital expenditures have a life longer than a year versus the operating expenses we’ve been discussing. State funding does not incur a penalty except if enrollment is below 250.

Q: How do you suggest we oppose austerity cuts as DCSS has had a lobbyist as do other constituencies and the cuts persist?

A: All schools are being cut by austerity cuts. We need to argue for the importance of public education to fulfill legal and moral obligation.

Feb 16th Laurel Ridge Curriculum

March 16th Lakeside TBD

April 13th Druid Hills Middle School State of the System- Revisited

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Respectfully Submitted,