Raises for Atlanta public school employees get preliminary approval

Atlanta’s 7,000 public school employees would get 3 percent raises next year and furloughs would be eliminated under a budget given preliminary approval Tuesday.

Atlanta Board of Education members voted unanimously for the spending plan, signaling their intent to fulfill campaign promises to increase educators’ pay for the first time in six years. Voters elected six new representatives to the nine-member board last fall.

The budget is scheduled for final approval next month.

School board Chairman Courtney English said educators and their families have endured hard financial times since the recession without receiving annual or cost-of-living increases to cope.

“This is something that has been a long time coming. Our employees deserve this and more,” English said.

Teachers have continued to work hard, and a pay raise shows appreciation for their efforts to prepare children academically, said Kelly Trotter, an Atlanta parent of a kindergartner and second-grader.

“They’ve had to do more with less. Their class sizes have increased steadily but they haven’t seen any compensation for that,” she said.

The tentative Atlanta Public Schools general-fund budget calls for spending $658 million in the 2014-2015 school year, which represents an 11 percent increase over this year’s $595 million budget.

The improving economy has led to growth in property tax collections for the school system, boosting its general fund revenue to $633 million. To balance the budget, the school system plans to spend $25 million from reserves.

The pay raise will cost the school system $15 million, and the elimination of three furlough days will cost $4.5 million.

“The best thing we can do for morale purposes is to tell employees they’re appreciated,” Superintendent Erroll Davis said. “Our workforce has worked five or six years without an increase. We can make it work.”

Besides spending on employees, APS is dedicating more money to a variety of other areas as well.

Charter schools are set to see their allocation increase by $29 million because of rising enrollments and tax revenue. Instructional budgets are going up by $8 million, and additional amounts are also going toward technology, pension payments and other areas.