By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.netAtlanta’s public school system announced March 12 a proposed 2010-2011 budget of $588.6 million, down $47.4 million from this year’s budget. The proposed budget would increase class size, but would not cause a loss in student instructional time.

The budget proposal calls for two mandatory furlough days for all employees and a district-wide freeze on cost-of-living and step increases to offset state cuts to education and sluggish property tax revenues.

According to information provided by Atlanta schools, the new budget would cut spending across the district’s departments by an average of 10 percent and dip into the system’s reserves to the tune of $9.5 million.

“These are tight financial times for all of us,” APS Superintendent Beverly Hall said. “All areas of the district are being asked to use our dwindling financial resources judiciously by prioritizing spending for those areas that are associated with teaching and learning and student academic performance.”

Meanwhile, Caveon Test Security, was hired March 12 by a blue-ribbon panel formed by the Atlanta Education Fund to oversee an investigation of possible cheating on state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 58 Atlanta Public Schools.

At the request of the Atlanta Board of Education, the Atlanta Education Fund formed the blue-ribbon panel to commission an independent investigation into the possibility of cheating to raise student scores on the CRCTs last spring.

Caveon Test Security, a small Utah-based company which is considered to be expert in the type of analysis called data forensics, is known nationally for the same type of testing analysis used by the state to identify the suspect schools. The firm was expected to begin its work during the week of March 15.

Atlanta Education Fund was commissioned by the Atlanta system’s administration to retain an investigative team to analyze student answer sheets and attempt to determine what caused erasures reported by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. The panel will report its findings to the school board and recommend any changes it believes are needed for future tests.

The oversight panel expects to have the firm’s recommendations on how to improve Atlanta’s testing program by April 20, well in advance of the state’s deadline for a final investigative report of May 14.

The state reported that 191 Georgia schools required investigation because they showed unusual patterns of erasures on the tests. The largest number of schools in a single state system were in the Atlanta’s system. However, no Buckhead school was considered to be suspect of any major problem in the testing scandal.

The tests are taken by students in the first through eighth grades and are used to help determine whether schools meet federal benchmarks.

The blue ribbon panel is chaired by Gary Price, market managing partner of business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, who said it studied several firms before selecting Caveon, which had had experience working with 14 states, which gave references on the firm’s behalf.

As part of the investigation, the company will travel to Indianapolis to view Atlanta’s CRTC test answer sheets, which are secured in a warehouse controlled by CTB-McGraw Hill, the testing contractor.

The panel may hire a second firm when Caveon’s data-based analysis comes to a close to conduct in-depth interviews at schools, which is not Caveon’s expertise.

“It is essential that this process be above board and transparent, and that’s why we have asked a respected group of civic and business leaders to oversee the process and report their findings,” said Bill McCargo, president of the education fund. “This will be a thorough investigation.”


Members of the Atlanta Education Fund’s blue ribbon panel:

LaChandra Butler Burks, chair, Atlanta Board of Education

Jack Capers, partner, King & Spalding

Curley Dossman, president, Georgia Pacific Foundation

Ponder Harrison, part owner, Allegiant Air.

Gail Hayes, associate director, Annie E. Casey Foundation Atlanta Civic Site

Milton Jones, managing partner, Integrated Capital Strategies LLC.

Ingrid Saunders Jones, vice president of the Coca-Cola Co

Susan Pease Langford, partner at Peck, Shaffer & Williams LLP

Dennis Lockhart, president, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Helene Lollis, president, Pathbuilders, Inc.

Thelma Malone, vice president, Atlanta PTA

Penny McPhee, president, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

John Rice, vice chairman, GE

             Beverly Tatum, president, Spelman College