Jarod Apperson

A local accountant claims that Atlanta Public Schools spends too much paying top administrators, compared with school districts in the rest of metro Atlanta.

Forensic Accountant Jarod Apperson said a reordering of priorities could reduce class sizes and boost student achievement across the district.

Apperson on May 9 presented his findings to a receptive audience at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting. Apperson urged residents to become more involved with APS as it crafts its budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins July 1. The proposed general fund budget is $615 million.

APS is looking for ways to fix a projected $60.9 million budget gap in Fiscal 2014. Apperson said parents should scrutinize where the school system spends money. In Fiscal 2013, the current budget year, APS had a $574 million general fund budget.

Apperson drew his conclusions by studying the actual expenditures from Fiscal 2012, saying he preferred to use numbers from a completed budget year. Budgets are estimates, and spending can vary depending on the circumstances.

Buckhead parents are organizing to create a charter school called Atlanta Classical Academy, and there’s still a lingering distrust of APS after an overhaul of leadership at North Atlanta High. Apperson gained notoriety during that scandal after he provided data refuting many claims made about North Atlanta used to justify the leadership changes. He currently has a blog, called “Grading Atlanta,” where he writes about APS finances.

Apperson told the BCN that parents could get more bang for their buck if APS would reduce expenses elsewhere.

“It’s not unreasonable, with the amount of money we have, to expect we would have class sizes extremely low,” Apperson said, saying class size ratios could be as low as 16 students to a class from kindergarten through high school.

Editor’s note: Apperson produced this video outlining his observations about the APS budget.

In the 2012-2013 school year, APS class sizes were set at 26 students per class in the first through third grade, 33 students per class in fourth through eighth grade, and 35 in ninth through 12th grade, according to the “Talk Up APS” blog.

Apperson said APS spending patterns are out of line with other metro Atlanta school districts.

Atlanta Schools’ central office employs 61 central office administrators making $100,000 a year or more, Apperson said. Other districts like Clayton, Henry, Forsyth and Cherokee on average pay nine to 21 central office staff with six-figure salaries, Apperson said.

The school system also spends the lowest percent of its budget on teacher salaries in the metro area, a number which should not be confused with the average teacher salary. “Because we have so much more money, our additional portion of money is disproportionately going to things other than teachers,” he said.

For example, APS spends 30 percent of its budget on outside vendors – such as consultants and software purchases – while the other metro systems spend 20 percent, on average.

Apperson said parents should demand the budget process begin earlier in the year, and request a denial of a waiver to increase class sizes.

“All of this goes into what priorities we want to set as a system and how we think we can best raise student achievement,” Apperson said. “There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about how we get there.”

Editor’s note: this post has been updated to clarify remarks made by Apperson regarding the salaries of central office administrators.