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Decatur Board of Education retreat focuses on student data and teacher pay

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Decatur Board of Education retreat focuses on student data and teacher pay

L to R Board Member Tasha White, Superintendent Dr. Gyimah Whitaker, Board Member Hans Utz, and Board Member Jana Johnson-Davis. Photo by Sara Amis

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur School Board held a retreat Nov. 28 with new Superintendent Dr. Gyimah Whitaker. Along with best practices and budgeting, the board discussed student performance data and how to allocate school resources based on that data, including hiring and retaining teachers.

The board heard a presentation on Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) data from Chief of School Performance Karen Newton-Scott.

Newton-Scott said that the data provided answers to previous questions asked by the district, about how students perform based on socioeconomic status, disability status, and feeder patterns.

Students who receive free or reduced lunch have a lower percentage functioning at a high level in reading and math, and a higher percentage functioning at a low level.  

“This is the problem we’re here to fix,” Board Member Hans Utz said.

Utz asked about the overlap between students with disabilities and those receiving free and reduced lunches.

“What we know about the pandemic is that it impacted students of color, students with disabilities, and students of low economic status more significantly,” Whitaker responded, adding that as time passes students are showing recovery.

Performance data can also be broken down by grade level. For students overall, the only group not functioning at or above expected growth from fall 2022 to fall 2023 is second grade. 

Whitaker pointed out that the next step is figuring out whether it’s a problem with second grade teaching, or a problem with that particular cohort of second-graders. Those require different solutions and different allocations of resources.

“From a governance standpoint, what does this mean for our budget? What does this mean for equity?” Whitaker asked.

Chief Information Officer Eston Melton said that his department has revived the district’s use of Tableau in order to provide answers to complex questions about how students are doing in an interactive format. Currently, that data is only available internally, but the district plans to create a public-facing version that parents and community members can use. 

In addition to student data, Whitaker is anxious to nail down information about how the district is spending money and to close any gaps between what it budgets, what it receives in revenue, and what it spends.

“We are going to be taking a modified zero-based approach, which is new for our district,” Whitaker said.  

Whitaker’s attention to the relationship between budget and what happens in the classroom extends to scheduling. Because state funding is based on “full-time equivalent” (FTE) counts done on specific days, Whitaker said the district needs to be more canny about how it schedules things like WIN (What I Need) time when students may be attending extracurricular activities rather than in the classroom.

Chief Human Resources Officer Adena Walker presented a first look on teacher and staff salaries for Fiscal Year 2025.

Options include keeping pay structures essentially the same but giving raises every year instead of double steps, which would not add any additional cost to the district’s budget. Other possibilities include increasing entry level pay and increasing scheduled pay raises. The most expensive option for salary alone would cost an additional $2 million per year.

Currently, City Schools of Decatur ranks eighth or ninth in teacher pay for most categories on a list of nine metro school districts, including Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Rockdale counties, Atlanta Public Schools, and Marietta City Schools.

CSD’s benefits are better, said Board Chair James Herndon, but it’s hard to convince people that a better pension is worth a lower monthly salary.

“If I’m 50 I’m excited about that. If I’m 20 I don’t care,” Herndon said.

The district is hoping to raise teacher pay enough by FY28 to be in the top quartile of area schools, but will start with a cost assessment to be presented in January.

“What would it take for us to be in the number one or number two position for both salary and benefits?”  Utz asked.

In the meantime, Board Member Tasha White suggested Marietta City Schools as the most nearly comparable, similarly sized.district.  

“If we use Marietta City as a benchmark, what would that number be?” White asked.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the superintendent’s name. The story has been updated with the correct information. 

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