Monthly Archives: April 2015

Pay Raises For Metro Atlanta Teachers

After years of education budget cuts, Georgia school districts are getting an infusion of funding and rewarding teachers with significant raises.

Metro Atlanta area school systems are proposing to give teachers pay raises up to 8 percent or more starting next fall, the biggest jump in years for many educators following furloughs, stagnant pay and increasing class sizes.

“I feel like this is a positive first step,” said Patrice Dawkins-Jackson, a teacher at Dunwoody Springs Elementary in Fulton County, who’s expected to get an 8 percent raise. “Teachers feel like … they’re severely underpaid. For the amount of work and the importance of the work we do, teachers overall say they feel like we should be compensated at that level.”

With state funding and local property tax revenue on the rise, school systems are choosing to put the extra money toward teachers’ and other employees’ pay. The raises are welcome news after nearly a decade of cuts from the state, though education leaders say the pay bumps are still not enough considering the pressure teachers face with increased accountability standards and responsibilities in the classroom.

Fulton is proposing some of the biggest boosts — upwards of 10 percent when “step” increases for years of experience are added. Superintendent Robert Avossa told board members at a recent meeting that the district — the fourth-largest in the state with close to 96,000 students — is not competitive enough on teacher salaries. He said Fulton is losing talented educators to Cherokee, Forsyth and othermetro counties that pay more.

Fulton’s current teacher salary range is lower than several surrounding metro districts. For example, Atlanta Public Schools currently pays new teachers with a bachelor’s degree $44,312 a year, while in Fulton it’s $40,308.

Among all metro Atlanta workers, of all education and experience levels, the average annual wage is $48,750, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From 2009-11, teachers in Fulton saw no salary increase or bonus. From 2011-13 they received one-time payments. For 2014-15, teachers received a 3 percent one-time payment.

“It’s a very significant raise, and they deserve it,” Avossa said. “This is a really good start.”

Even after the raises, however, Fulton still lags behind other metro counties. And Avossa, who will be leaving to take a superintendent post in Florida, said he hopes teacher pay is boosted even more down the road. In next year’s school budget, he is proposing to give teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience the biggest raises – 8 percent — because he wants to retain them.

“Those are the teachers we want to keep,” he said. “It takes a couple of years to really start mastering your craft. You start hitting on all cylinders … usually about your fifth or sixth year.

“That level of experience, if you walk out the door, you have to start over again.”

In DeKalb, leaders are proposing 4 percent raises for teachers with more than six years on the job, and 3 percent for those with 0-5 years.

The average pay for current teachers in Gwinnett is slated to rise by about 4 percent. In Cobb, teachers will see a 4 percent raise.

Atlanta Public Schools, with one of the highest pay scales in the metro area, does not expect to give raises. APS’ proposed $695 million budget for the 2015-2016 school year includes increased spending due to charter school growth, and cuts to teaching and support staff in schools and in central administration.

In Cobb, teachers will see a 4 percent raise, after years of furloughs and increasing class sizes. The district also wants to hire 100 more teachers in an effort to reduce classroom sizes.

The district recently held its first job fair in nearly 8 years and received about 1,900 teaching applications. The district is looking to hire about 700 total teachers for the next school year – including the 100 new teachers, according to John Adams, deputy superintendent for Cobb schools.

“We think we can make an impression on class size,” he said. “We think we owe it to our teachers. We are all competing for teacher applicants. When the economy picks up … it does get more competitive.”

“Pay is a huge issue,” he added. Cobb currently pays new teachers with bachelor’s degrees $39,347 a year, among the lowest of the metro school systems.

The average teacher salary in Georgia for 2013-14 was $52,924, compared to the national average, which was $56,610, according to theNational Education Association. Georgia ranks 24th in its average teacher salary, compared to other states.

Between 2003-04 and 2013-14, the average salaries of teachers in Georgia dropped 8.7 percent, according to the education association. Teacher pay nationally also declined nearly 3.5 percent during the same time period.

Georgia’s first austerity cut to state funds for education came in 2003. In the years that have followed, the state’s 180 local districts have collectively been shortchanged about $8 billion, based on the state’s funding formula.

While the state has given more to school districts in the past two legislative sessions to try to make up for the cuts, it still hasn’t come close to filling the $8 billion void.

Like a number of other states, Georgia is grappling with a dearth of teachers and is trying to attract more qualified applicants into the profession. Enrollments in teacher-preparation programs have fallen dramatically in some states in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Education proponents say teachers need more pay to keep up with the cost of living and because the pressure of their jobs has increased due to more rigorous academic standards tied to high-stakes testing.

“A lot of these new teachers come in and they’re just overwhelmed because so much is required,” said Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators. “It’s (a pay raise) better than nothing, but it’s going to take a lot more to catch up.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Yearly salaries for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees in metro Atlanta:

Atlanta — $44,312

Cherokee — $41,915

DeKalb — $41,262

Clayton — $40,742

Fulton — $40,308

Forsyth — $39,990

Cobb — $39,347

Gwinnett — $38,383

Proposed pay raises:

Atlanta — none

DeKalb — 4 percent raises for teachers with more than six years; 3 percent for those with 0-5 years.

Cobb — 4 percent

Gwinnett — 4 percent

Fulton — 8 percent for teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience


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Parents say ‘no’ to state milestones test

Some students may sit out Georgia Milestones test beginning this week

It’s arguably a question of parental rights.

The Georgia State Milestones Assessment exam begins Wednesday in Hall County, but a growing number of parents don’t want their children to take it.

These parents have notified the Hall County School District of their refusal, but the district is required by law to administer the test to every student in attendance, according to Eloise Barron, Hall County assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

“We have a state law and state board policy that requires every system to present a test to every child who is present at a school on testing day,” Barron said. “And that’s what we do.”

Gainesville City Schools’ Superintendent Wanda Creel agreed, saying it was her understanding a district must administer the test to every student in school.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said the system has to follow the law, but he is “certainly not going to pick fights with folks over taking a test.”

The Milestones are a comprehensive assessment for grades three through 12 that were implemented for the first time this school year. They will not affect student grades or retention this year. In the future, 20 percent of a high school student’s grade, and whether a student in any grade level can move on to the next grade, will be determined in part by the Milestones.

Many parents were not specific about the reasons they opposed the test but agreed they didn’t want their children to take it.

Christy McDonald is one of several Hall County parents who does not want her child taking the Milestones. She sent a letter to her child’s principal last week with her request.

“I sent in a first refusal letter just stating my rights covered under the 14th Amendment asking them to let my son sit out and do other work,” McDonald said. “I stated the reason why I don’t agree with the test and don’t think he should be subjected to it.”

Hall County parent Lisa Farmer also requested her children not take the Milestones.

“It’s been a very confusing process,” Farmer said. “I did a lot of research and I discovered that there are federal laws that protect a parent’s right to speak for their children.”

Hall parents Amanda Davis and Carie Corry also tried to refuse the test being administered to their children.

Davis said she feels like her son is being used “as a tool to get a statistic.”

“I just want the best education for my children and I feel like we don’t have a say-so anymore,” she said. “We’re not being heard as parents.”

Corry said she objects to the test because it is “experimental at best.”

“We are not able to see or know any of the questions our children will be asked on the test, and that’s not right,” Corry said. “We should know what our children are being exposed to. The reason I am refusing is I have that right as a parent.”

McDonald said she and several other parents received a response from Wayne Colston, director of assessment, stating the district has to administer the test to all children, but the child can choose not to answer any questions.

“Basically, my 8-year-old child has to stand up to an authority figure and tell them, ‘No,’” McDonald said. “That puts him in a bad situation.”

Davis is one of several parents who said she plans to walk her child into his classroom Wednesday and ensure he is not forced to take the test.

“I have printed off refuse cards for my kid to take to school next week when the testing takes place,” Davis said. “I and other parents plan on meeting Monday, coming together as parents to speak up for our children.”

Colston was not able to comment Friday, but Barron said while the schools cannot force a child to take the test, they do have to administer it to them if they are present.

“At their school, if they sit there and draw a Christmas tree instead of take the test, then they can do that,” Barron said. “But as a system, we do not have the authority to say that someone does not have to take the test.”

Corry said many parents want the schools to offer an alternate location for individual study while some students take the Milestones. Farmer suggested students be allowed to sit in the library while testing is underway.

But Barron and Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said the system doesn’t have the manpower to provide another option for students during testing.

“Every hand in the school is busy administering tests,” Barron said.

A Facebook group called Opt out Hall County has formed, in which about 60 parents have discussed their concerns and desire to refuse the Milestones. All the parents said they believe it is their right to make this decision for their child.

“There is no guideline or protocol that would require a child to refuse,” Farmer said. “In everything we do in our country, parents speak for their children.”

Schofield said he recognizes that the parents are still the ultimate decision-makers in their children’s lives.

“We certainly know that ultimately parents can say, ‘Well my kid’s not coming,’ and that is certainly within their rights,” he said. “And if a kid shows up and says ‘My mom said not to take that test,’ then we ask they bring a book and be quiet. We’ll code that test as ‘present but did not test,’ and the state will have to figure out what to do with it.”

By Kristen Oliver
Gainsville Times

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Filed under Georgia Education

Georgia’s public universities raising tuition up to 9 percent

The cost of higher education at Georgia’s public universities will jump by up to 9 percent next academic year.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents (USG) Tuesday approved a series of tuition hikes for the 2015-16 academic year. The increases will range from 2.5 percent at 20 of the system’s 30 institutions to 9 percent at The University of Georgiaand Georgia Tech, two of the four research universities.

USG noted Georgia Tech and UGA “require more investment to provide the academic programs, offerings and student services that are essential as leading and nationally ranked research universities.”

Tuition will rise by 5.5 percent at the system’s other two research institutions, Georgia State University and Georgia Regents University.

The tuition increases will maintain the balance in the costs of public higher education in Georgia at roughly 50 percent from the state government and 50 percent from tuition.

“To ensure we can continue to offer quality public education, we must continue to invest in our institutions,” system Chancellor Hank Huckaby said. “We have carefully assessed the tuition rates for our institutions to make sure we are balancing the increasing costs of providing public higher education while keeping tuition and fees as affordable as possible.”

Students attending Atlanta Metropolitan State College and Middle Georgia State University also were hit with tuition increases of 9 percent.

Several other universities will experience larger tuition hikes than the base 2.5 percent because of special circumstances.

Students at Kennesaw State University will pay 4.4 percent more in tuition to help cover the costs of KSU’s upcoming consolidation with Southern Polytechnic State University. Tuition at Georgia Gwinnett College will go up by 8.3 percent to bring it more in line with the system’s other four-year universities.

Dave Williams
Staff Writer-
Atlanta Business Chronicle

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Filed under College Tuition