Academic, fiscal realities for metro Atlanta schools

It’s barely August, but students returned to class Monday in three metro Atlanta school districts.

Cherokee, Rockdale and Henry counties were the first systems to begin the 2009-2010 school year.

Most metro systems start up next Monday, including Atlanta City, Fulton, Cobb, Marietta City, Decatur City, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Clayton, Hall and Fayette. Douglas County schools start on Thursday.

It’s a crucial year for teachers, students and administrators alike. School boards are looking for ways to cut costs. Teachers and students are feeling pressure to show headway on standardized tests. And a downturned economy has left its mark with employee furloughs, sluggish to no enrollment increases and generally smaller staffs and budgets.

Here's a snapshot of the major school districts heading into the 2009-2010 school year:

Atlanta Public Schools

Projected enrollment: 47,789, down from 48,147 in 2008-2009 year.

Staff: 3,434 teachers, down from 3,562 last year; and 6,128 total employees, up from 6,038 last year.

New schools opening: 3 – Springdale Park Elementary School at 1274 Ponce de Leon Ave.; Brandon Annex, 2845 Margaret Mitchell Dr.; Smith Annex, 4141 Wieuca Road.

Major changes: Frederick Douglass and Washington high schools become small learning communities. Douglass will offer communications and journalism; hospitality, tourism and marketing; business and entrepreneurship; and engineering and applied technology. Washington will offer banking, finance and investment; early college; and senior school. Hill and Hope elementary schools have merged, and Hope will be host for the newly named Hill-Hope Elementary School.

The single-gender middle school academies – B.E.S.T Academy for boys and Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy for girls – are to move into new facilities in September and January, respectively. APS' Campus Portal for Parents will provide access to class schedules and attendance records.

The costs: Budget is $652.5 million, compared to $661.5 million for FY 2009.

Starting teacher pay: $44,312

Average teacher pay: $61,365. Teachers are getting step raises.

The leadership: Dr. Beverly L. Hall, superintendent; Kathy Augustine, deputy superintendent of instruction; Sharron Pitts, chief of staff; Chuck Burbridge, chief financial officer; Millicent Few, chief human resources officer; Suzanne Yeager, chief communications officer; Veleter Mazyck, general counsel; Dr. Alexis Kirijan, chief strategy officer; Joyce McCloud, special assistant to the superintendent.

Source: Atlanta Public Schools

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Clayton County Public Schools

Projected enrollment: 47,200, down from 51,830 last school year.

Staff: 3,611 teachers, down from 3,819 last year, and 7,956 total employees, down from 8,232 last year.

New school opening: 1 – Charles Drew High School

Major changes: Uniform dress kindergarten through grade 12, new superintendent and new high school.

The costs: Budget is $574.1 million, compared to $613.8 million for fiscal 2009.

Starting teacher pay: $40,624 (bachelor's), $45,438 (master's)

Average teacher pay: $51,655.19. Eligible teachers are getting their state step, but their local supplement is being adjusted so their 2009-2010 salaries remain the same as last year's salary.

The leadership: Dr. Edmond Heatley, superintendent and as yet-to-be-announced leadership team.

Source: Clayton County Public Schools

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Cobb County School District

Projected enrollment: 104,929, down from 105,956, although officials say they believe an enrollment drop seems unlikely.

Staff: 7,632 full-time teachers, down from 7,914; 534 projected part-time teachers, down from 569; 15,229 total employees, unchanged from last year.

New schools opening: 0

Major changes: Hayes Elementary will be divided into a "school within a school," as Hayes Primary and Hayes Intermediate.

The costs: Budget is $907,466,771, down from $940,018,024 last year. Per-student spending will be $8,648, down from $9,036. Full-step salary increases are being delayed half a year for eligible employees.

Starting teacher pay (with bachelor's): $38,958

Average teacher pay range (with bachelor's): From $38,958 to $58,457

The leadership: Fred Sanderson, superintendent; Dr. Steven Constantino, associate superintendent for leadership and learning; Dr. Gordon Pritz, associate superintendent for operational support; six area assistant superintendents responsible for regional administrative support.

Source: Cobb County School District

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DeKalb County School System

Projected enrollment: 99,000, unchanged from 2008-2009

Staff: 6,775 full-time teachers, down from 6,941, and 13,500 total full-time employees, down from 13,944.

New schools opening: 2 – Arabia Mountain High School (only Silver LEED school or energy-efficient public school in Georgia) and Dunwoody Elementary School, serving 4th/5th grade academy.

Major changes: America's Choice Program, focusing on literacy and mathematics in 40 schools with the goal of changing patterns of low performance and of closing longtime achievement gaps. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds of 2009 will be used for this project.

The costs: Budget is $851.1 million, down from $894.1 million in the original FY 2009 budget.

Starting teacher pay (with bachelor's): $41,628

Teacher pay ranges from: $41,628 to $82,104. Teachers are not getting step raises.

The leadership: Dr. Crawford Lewis, superintendent; nine members of the Board of Education.

Source: DeKalb County School System

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Fulton County Schools

Projected enrollment: 90,057, up from 88,184 last year.

Staff: 6,459 projected full-time teachers, down from 7,096; and 12,191 total projected employees, down from 13,134. Nineteen part-time teachers in critical needs, such as speech language and orthopedically/hearing impaired, down from 275.

New schools opening: 6 – Birmingham Falls Elementary, Milton; Ison Springs Elementary, Sandy Springs; Cliftondale Elementary, College Park; Johns Creek High, Johns Creek; Langston Hughes High, Fairburn; and Hapeville Charter Career Academy, Union City.

Major changes: The Fulton Institute of Technology and Project LIFT, funded with a $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, for Banneker, Creekside, Tri-Cities and Westlake high schools to increase the graduation rates and the likelihood of students going to college.

The costs: Budget is $856,442,124, down from $857,388,301 in the last fiscal year.

Starting teacher pay: $39,132

Average teacher pay: $68,536 (this includes the 3-day furlough salary reduction). Teachers are being awarded experience credit for another year of service, but are not receiving a related pay increase.

The leadership: Dr. Cindy Loe, superintendent, two deputy superintendents and six assistant superintendents.

Source: Fulton County Schools

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Gwinnett County Public Schools

Projected enrollment: 158,963, up from 157,219 last year.

Staff: 10,536 teachers, down from 10,587, and total employees are 21,306, up from 20,933.

New schools opening: 9 – North Gwinnett Middle School, Sugar Hill; White Oak Elementary School, Buford; Archer High School, Lawrenceville; Mountain View High School, Lawrenceville; Twin Rivers Middle School, Buford; Starling Elementary School, Grayson; Bay Creek Middle School, Grayson; Couch Middle School, Grayson; Woodward Mill Elementary, Lawrenceville.

Major changes: IE2 being implemented, new schools opening.

The costs: Budget is $2.001 billion, up from $1.859 billion in FY 2009. Starting teacher pay: $38,895 (with a bachelor's degree).

Average teacher pay: $55,795, with 11 years of experience.

About 10,000 or 95 percent of the 10,536 budgeted teachers, are getting step raises that are projected to cost a total of $16.8 million, including $12.1 million that comes from the state.

The leadership: J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO/superintendent; Gwinnett County Board of Education; and Dr. Steve Flynt, chief academic officer.

Source: Gwinnett County Public Schools

*All of these school systems operate on a fiscal year that started July 1 and will end June 30, 2010. The budgets referenced are meant to cover general operating expenses.