65% and Class Size Waivers

“Classrooms First for Georgia” – Requires, at a minimum, 65% of a system’s total operating funds to be spent in the classroom.  The statute was enacted in FY2008 and DeKalb Schools has never been in compliance.
Georgia law (O.C.G.A § 20-2-182) limits class size.  For example, Kindergarten without a full time aide is limited to 18 students, grades 1-3 to 21, grades 4-5 to 28, and grades 6-8 to 28.  However, the State Board of Education has the authority to waive these limits and has done so for DeKalb for many years.

Dr. Kaveous Preston

Dr. Kaveous K. Preston is DeKalb Schools’ Director of Allotments Scheduling & Budgets, and Office of Federal Programs. In an earlier post, Dr. Preston explained How the District Funds the School House.
Today, Dr. Preston talks about DeKalb Schools Waivers.
Question: The 65% Rule waiver approved by the board in March 2015 was for the 2013-2014 school year. In June 2014, the board passed a Class Size Flexibility Resolution asking for class size waiver for the 2014-2015 school year. When can we expect these waivers to come before the board for the 2015-2016 school year?
Dr. Preston: [Class size waivers] is on the Board Agenda for September 14, 2015.
Question: Is it not true that the class size waiver for the 2015-2016 school year should have already been presented to the board and approved, as the budget is built on certain class size assumptions, and any deviation from state mandates on this issue must be approved in advance of the school year start date?
Dr. Preston: No, as the waiver being presented is the same as last year and the state requires it prior to the October FTE Count Day. The delay was caused due to the possibility of different district types (i.e. Charter, etc…) and how the class size waiver would be constructed.
Question:  Asking for the “65% budget” waiver is a waiver done in arrears and, in theory, is meant to reflect that an unusual circumstance or factor made it difficult or impossible for the district to comply with this state mandate. Given that tax revenues are quite healthy and have increased significantly, I see a potential problem gaining state approval of a waiver of this rule for the 2015-2016 school year.What are the districts plans regarding compliance with the “65% rule” going forward into future school years?
Dr. Preston: The State Board of Education has adopted rules indicating that systems that have submitted a letter of intent to file a charter system application may be considered for continued class size flexibility from state law in the 2015-2016 school year.
Question: Dr. Michael Bell is the school district’s Chief Financial Officer. Dr. Bell, what contingency is planned if the state does not approve the “65% rule” waiver for the current school year?

Dr. Kaveous Preston

Dr. Bell: As was noted above, the 65% waiver is requested and granted in arrears and is based on unusual circumstances or factors. The DCSD circumstance/factor was the drastic cuts made to class-room personnel/resources as a result of the Great Recession. Additionally if a school district improves by 2% (rounded per the State’s calculation) the request for the waiver is not necessary.
In the past three years the DCSD has budgeted $50 million +in areas that the expenditures of which will assist in getting to the 65% direct classroom expenditure level. The structure of the presently approved FY2016 Budget – if all budgeted funds are spent – would produce a 63.571% level. This would round to 64% and give the DCSD the 2% increment. Under GA law there are sanctions which can be applied by the State BoE such as requiring a local school system to “devise and implement a plan to meet the requirement” and the withholding of State funds under Rule 160-5-2-02.
The substantial changes we have made in our budgets over the last three years are moving us toward the 65%, but it will take time to finally get there.

17 responses to “65% and Class Size Waivers

  1. In other words, nothing has changed. The administration will make no attempt to, you know, actually follow state regulations. Instead, they’ll do the bare minimum to qualify for a waiver to those regulations.
    Dr. Bell is an intelligent, qualified CFO, and his Navy background has, no doubt, helped him navigate through the labyrinth of state and Federal regulations. But he’s also a master at bureaucratic gobbledygook in explaining to the board why certain actions are taken. (His discussion regarding numerators and denominators a couple of months ago would have made an excellent SNL skit). But with increased property re-assessments and the recent school system increase in property taxes, there is simply no excuse for not allocating, and spending, 65% of our budget in the classroom. I hope Dr. Green will be as responsive to this and as successful in achieving positive results as he was in resolving the testing schedule.
    One question I have, is, what happens to the money that was budgeted for classroom spending in last year’s budget and not spent? I know you asked for it to be given to teachers, but since it wasn’t, were these funds simply put back into the general fund and spent somewhere else?

  2. Two things.
    The waivers discussed in this post are separate. One deals with the number of students in a classroom. The other deals with the general funds budget. That said, Stan is correct in pointing out they are related to each other.
    A budget that is based in the classroom, or funds the classroom first, would begin with determining the number of students in each school and class. Then, the schools would be funded before any other area. DeKalb County Schools seems to create budgets using a different system. My poor understanding of how it works is, budgets are based on the previous year’s budget and adjusted to meet the expectations of the administration.
    The fallacy in the Dr. Bell’s reply is the annual difference between what is budgeted and what is spent. For the last three years, the district has not spent what was budgeted for classroom instruction. Nancy Jester is correct when she says (paraphrasing here) DeKalb County Schools’ budgets are a loose approximation of what someone thinks will be spent. This explains why the district has to apply for the waiver after the fiscal year is over. Until all the bills are paid, the calculation to determine if the district met the 65% rule can not be done.
    This leads me to the need for the school district to publicly show the revenues earned by each school when developing the budget. Currently, when budgets are viewed by the public, all that is shown is the estimated expenses for each school. Also, the district should show what was spent for each school the previous school year.
    When I last spoke to Cynthia Brictson, she told me she has compiled the total budgets for each school in order for Dr. Green to see where the district’s resources are going. I asked her to put make that information public. It is part of SACS Required Action #9, “Communicate to stakeholders the differences between programs and financial resources available to schools.” The district has never communicated to stakeholders the differences between financial resources available to schools.

  3. David S, Monies appropriated for instruction but not spent are put back into the general fund balance.

  4. Kirk Lunde, you said that Ms. Bricston has compiled “the total budget for each school.” Do you know what this means? Does it mean the budget for services such as transportation, maintenance, utilities? The only budget for each school that I have ever seen is the salary and benefits for school-based personnel, plus a small amount of funds that each principal manages.
    The budget does show the $325,000 annual cleaning fee for Arabia Mountain High School, but it doesn’t break out maintenance for any other schools.
    Have you thought about filing an Open Records Request for that information?

  5. Anonymous,
    I assume it means the total of all the budgeted money for each school.
    Schools earn revenue in multiple streams such as QBE, Title I, Title II, IDEA, and others. The district’s budget only shows the budgeted expenses, but for items such as Title I, Title II, and IDEA, only the aggregate number is shown. The budget doesn’t show how much each school earns or is budgeted for these funds.
    Based on my experience with Open Records Requests, I expect any request for revenue information, by school, would get a reply stating the cost of locating that information would be several hundreds of dollars. I requested the Local School Priority Request list and was told the cost would be over $400. Perhaps, Stan can ask for that information.
    By the way, the BOE has not voted on a Local School Priority Request list for SPLOST IV yet.

  6. David S.
    I disagree with your assessment. What the board is working with is a budget, and class sizes, set under the previous superintendent. We are seeing the aftermath of what came before.
    Having met Dr. Green, I believe he will follow state regulations. Also, I believe he will hold the central office staff accountable for any failures to follow state regulations. That has not been done in the last five years, or more.
    I agree with what a friend wrote to me. “Here is hoping Dr. Green is up to the challenge and won’t get beaten down by the Family and Friends network.” At the very least, let’s all give him a chance to do the right things before we start assuming things won’t change, again.

  7. Wow, Kirk. I had no idea that the District could charge so much. Thank you so much for all that you do.

  8. Stan, I appreciate your questions of these school administrators and wonder if any of the other school board members are asking any questions. I’m sure that only one school board member of seven showing concern is, at best, amusing to these hardened administrators, but perhaps if three or, better yet, at least four were asking the same type of questions might change their attitudes. Maybe we ought to just give Dr. Green a year, but if we are still having high numbers of teacher vacancies at the beginning of the 2016-2017 year, if we still must resort to asking for waivers of long-established rules set by the State, if we still can’t find it possible to allocate 65% of the budget to the classroom (especially given the significant increase in school system revenues), if we still can’t reduce classroom sizes, and if we continue to have the trust issues with the public, then I’m not sure that we can talk about “another year”.

  9. Kirk:
    I don’t think we disagree. From your comments, you seem to be more aware of the inner workings of the school system than I am. My assessment is not of Dr. Green, but of the central staff, which hasn’t changed. The “aftermath of what came before,” as you aptly put it, was created by people who are still here.
    I realize that the current budget was put together long ago, but based on the responses provided to Stan’s questions above, there seems to be no inclination to do anything differently.
    We have an unwarranted, bloated property tax millage rate and it’s frustrating to continually hear the staff explain that our best efforts in regard to classroom size and spending don’t even meet the state’s minimum standards.
    For once I’d like to hear someone at a Board Meeting pumped and excited about a budget based on classroom needs and developed to provide our students a first class education – one that would go well beyond state standards. Instead, once again, we’re told that we’ve chosen not meet minimum standards, but it’s okay because we’ve gotten a waiver.
    From what I’ve read of what Dr. Green was able to accomplish in Kansas City, I’m optimistic that he’s up for the challenge. He certainly has my support and best wishes.

  10. The class size waiver should be a big concern for every family in this school system. Students get better attention in smaller classes. Teachers are happier because they have a more reasonable workload. I think students learn more in smaller classes. This should be a priority.

  11. Private School Guy

    The bottom line is that the state has set the class size numbers for effective education. To continue with waivers indicates the administration is not pursuing or does not care about the standards set by the DOE. If a restaurant for some reason was given a waiver for one year to continue to operate below health regulations would anyone really want to eat there? But if you’re the only restaurant in town you could get away with it.
    Beyond this the waivers for DeKalb now seem to have become the norm. This is one of the many reasons why HR can’t bring in the best teachers. In addition if they ended some school sites that are near capacity would find themselves in immediate need of additional classrooms. The only solutions would be trailers, new construction or redistricting.

  12. Private School Guy – good comment! I think any restaurant failing a health inspection as many times as Dekalb has sought waivers of the class size rule would have been closed long ag0. If we have a rule, it should be enforced. Otherwise, just drop it and don’t bother!

  13. There is no excuse for short changing the students of our county. I can tell you that schools including my own are going to hit that waiver ceiling, in some cases before Labor Day; if not already. We also have a teacher shortage. I just wonder how we are going to get relief or how long we will have to teach in classrooms that are even above the highest waiver numbers. Also keep in mind that paras in kindergarten were laid off around the same time waivers were given to allow more students. We need to get back to full funding for the school house.

  14. Teachermom,
    If you know of a classroom that is above the waiver numbers, please email your BOE representative and CC Dr. Preston – kaveous_k_preston@dekalbschoolsga.org. They need to know the school, grade, room number, and which hours it is over the limit.
    Dr. Preston and Dr. Green have both said they are committed to following the rules, but they can’t address problems if they don’t know about them.

  15. The penalty for not abiding by maximum class sizes is financial. Schools must meet Class Size requirements as defined in state law and state board of education policy. Local boards of education not complying with maximum class size requirements shall be subject to a complete loss of funding for the entire class or program that is out of compliance. For additional information, refer to Georgia SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.08 CLASS SIZE.

  16. What about averaging the number of students per class. Is that still allowed?

  17. Average class size is not allowed for the purpose of maximum class size. Dr. Preston discussed How the District Funds the School House. The minimum class funding size is an average. I’ll do a very detailed class size post over the next week.