Atlanta Public Schools and a local teachers’ union continue to battle over the district’s decision to offer teachers only two-thirds of the raises the state promised them until it gets more funding to pay for them.
The district is giving its teachers only $2,000 of the $3,000 raises Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in May through a bill approved by the Georgia General Assembly in March, until more funds become available, and other staff members are getting smaller pay increases at a varying scale.
But that decision has irked Verdalia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, a union, and president of its Atlanta chapter, for giving teachers only two-thirds of the raises they were promised by the state.
“Shame on the Atlanta Board of Education for using teachers as a pawn against the city of Atlanta," Turner said in a video posted online in May, shortly after the smaller raises were approved by the school board.
In a June 17 letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; district Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Ed.D.; and Jason Esteves, board chair; Turner urged the district to give its teachers the full raise promised.
“The Atlanta Federation of Teachers urge(s) you to rescind the budget at your last board meeting, reprioritize tax dollars and pay teachers the pay raise intended by the governor,” she wrote. “We understand that you have promised the teachers the $3,000 pay raise after the city of Atlanta gives the district another $10 million. If there was no Gulch deal, would there still be a $10 million fight between the school district and the mayor’s office?”
Turner also wrote that the district pays “huge amounts of tax dollars” for charter school companies to manage its charter schools, and some of those funds could be used for teacher pay.
Carstarphen said the reason for the teacher raises being a third smaller than expected to start is the district is awaiting $10 million it claims city of Atlanta owes for an intergovernmental agreement both entities made in January on renegotiating a pact for the funding the district receives from the city’s tax allocation districts (TADs), which the city has reneged on.
“On Jan. 7 there was a signed unanimous vote by school board and city council,” she said in an interview. “The settlement agreement was scheduled and implemented. We were very surprised when the city did not honor that payment.”
The $10 million payment is just the first of many Carstarphen said the district will be owed from the city, but with that one being held up, others could be delayed as well.
“They’re now six months overdue. Now we’re worried about the recurring payment of the Eastside TAD, so it was all in place for us to do it and we believed the city would,” she said of those funds, which are due to the district in January. The reason we can’t make the permanent commitment for the $3,000 is we don’t have the resources do to that. But we don’t think it’s fair to raise the millage rate or taxes (to make up the difference). …
“We believe the city should pay the commitment they made in the settlement agreement. No one has the official digest from Fulton County. Our entire budget is based on growth in the digest at 4%. We don’t want to overspend on any expected growth. That position keeps us steady on some growth because Atlanta is getting economically more healthy with the recession (years in the past), but we’re very hesitant on (implementing) those (full) teacher raises until the funding source is secured.”
The Neighbor has emailed Bottoms’ office requesting comment on the issue, and a spokesman said he plans to email one soon.
In an emailed statement addressing Turner’s concerns, Carstarphen said the district’s 2019-20 budget is “fiscally sound,” but the state did not supply funds for the full $3,000 raises to be implemented.
“It is unfortunate that the state budget does not provide large school districts like ours with the full funding equivalent to the $3,000-per-teacher pay raises,” she said. “School districts have three ways to balance their budgets: cut expenditures by reducing staff or programming, raise taxes or dip into their fund balance.
“In order to pass along the full $3,000 pay raise to teachers that the governor and General Assembly have requested, (the district) would have to either cut positions and programs, increase taxes or pull from our diminished fund balance – none of which are fiscally or educationally responsible options, when there is another funding option available. …
“Additionally, (the federation) is incorrect in their understanding of the (district’s) budget. While we would have welcomed their input at our budget commission meetings, the (federation) has not fully participated in the budget process.