Atlanta schools may cut teachers as budget increases

Eric Stirgus and Jaime Sarrio contributed to this article.

Atlanta Public Schools’ proposed $695 million budget for the 2015-2016 school year includes increased spending for charter school growth, and cuts to teaching and support staff in schools and in central administration.

The budget is about $37 million more than the $658 million approved for the current school year. Interim Chief Financial Officer Nader Sohrab said while local and state revenues for the district are up over last year, budget increases were largely due to charter school growth. APS pays the operating costs of some of those growing charter schools.

“Charter school enrollment has gone up and, basically, APS … has stayed flat,” Sohrab said Tuesday.

The district’s lost enrollment to charter schools cost about $5 million, Sohrab said. That’s because public funds follow charter school students from their traditional school to their school of choice.

Central administration, he said, is taking on a large part of the shortfall – about $5.1 million – by cutting some staff and reorganizing others. About $3.5 million was cut from the budget for teaching staff.

Some schools will add full-time employees in the reorganization process Sohrab called called “right-sizing.”

While schools are worried about their potential cuts, Sohrab said many will benefit from a $9.1 million flexibility allotment that can be used for supplies or teachers, depending on how much of that pie a school receives.

“Even though there was all this conversation about cutting teachers, at a high level, we put more resources in this budget than we did last year,” he said. “Every school is different. This way, we made sure the schools had the option to choose how they’d like to be staffed.”

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen will present the budget to the APS Budget Commission Thursday morning. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the budget at its April 13 meeting.

Some area districts are to begin their budget process soon as well.

Cobb County Schools expects to release a preliminary budget April 15. District officials say they expect to be able to provide a salary increase for all employees and are considering increasing the number of teachers.

DeKalb County’s Board of Education will be presented its proposed budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year on May 4, with a vote on final adoption expected June 17.

Gwinnett County, the state’s largest school district, wants to raise starting salaries for teachers with bachelor degrees by about $3,000, to $41,028. Its $1.86 billion proposed budget, released last week, also includes adding 175 teachers and 15 school bus drivers. Nearly all Gwinnett teachers will get raises and cost-of-living increases if the proposed budget is passed. The average teacher’s salary will rise by nearly 4.4 percent.

The Gwinnett budget is scheduled to be adopted May 28.

Officials in Clayton County have not yet begun the budgeting process.

Officials from Fulton County Schools did not return calls seeking information.