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APS budget cuts forces school to scrounge for funds

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By Shaun Kleber

For more than a decade, social studies teacher Lou Sartor has walked around school with a little piece of plastic, sometimes loaded with enough money to buy a small house. This year, the school credit card started with less than a fifth of the value it had in previous years.

Every year, Atlanta Public Schools issues each school in the system a credit card loaded with money to be used for supplies and other teacher and department expenditures. This system has been used since 1999, and since its inception, social studies teacher Lou Sartor has been the keeper of the card, entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring Grady’s credit card and placing orders with it. Sartor explained that several years ago, it was common for APS to put as much as $100,000 on the card. This year, however, they started the school year with $15,000, and after just a few months, it is down to $4,000.

“The real concern for me is not where we start at the beginning of the school year but how much money we have left as we get to the end of the second semester,” Sartor said. “I’ve been getting kind of concerned that we’re going to run out of money in February or something.”

The credit card is used for teachers to buy necessary supplies at the beginning of each school year, when each teacher gets a stipend for purchases, Sartor explained. He added that faculty members such as counselors and the registrar can make purchases throughout the year, and teachers can also make special, emergency purchases. For the most part, however, teachers only have their initial stipend to use.

“We used to say to teachers at the beginning of the school year, ‘You can purchase $150 worth of stuff to kind of start off, and if there’s any money left over in the second semester, maybe you’ll get some more too,’” Sartor said. “And then it went down to $100. And this year it’s down to $50, and that’s not much. A couple printer cartridges.”

Sartor added that purchases made for the whole school, such as paper and Scantron forms, also “deplete the card in a big way.”

Art teacher John Brandhorst said he cannot get the “critical things” he needs because of the budget. Every department in the school—including science, social studies, the arts and others—have suffered budget cuts, he said.

“Our art budget is lower than it has been, especially for the purchase and repair of musical instruments, which is of dire need,” Brandhorst said. “There are people who want to play, but they don’t have an instrument to play … It chops us off at the knees a little bit when we’re trying to buy the necessary materials to do our jobs.”

Brandhorst added that he also tried to buy patch cords to work the speakers and microphones during school shows because the cords have been broken or stolen over the past few years, but the school didn’t approve the order.

“We have very, very few to throw even a basic show,” Brandhorst said. “We’re really in a shortage … and we can’t get them.”

Brandhorst said it is maddening that the system is making budget cuts across the board while continuing to purchase and implement new technology, such as Promethean ActivBoards in every classroom, iPads for the academy leaders and many computers and printers.

Sartor is especially concerned about depleting the credit card because there are certain things that need to be done next semester to close out the school year. He is hesitant to place new orders until he knows what the budget will be for next semester. He won’t know that, however, until the beginning of second semester. He is hopeful more money will be allocated to the card, but he does not know how much it will be. Sartor said he needs between $15,000 and $25,000 to get through next semester.

Sartor explained that administrative assistant Quinnette Rhodes-Igherighe helped determine how much money to allocate to the credit card at the beginning of this school year, but Brandhorst believes the card is controlled solely by Principal Vincent Murray. Murray, however, explained the card is loaded by APS officials.

“They load it for us [downtown],” Murray said. “I think when we get down to it, Ms. Rhodes-Igherige can transfer funds from other accounts if we have it, but we try to be frugal. We try to not be too extravagant.”

Rhodes-Igherighe said she is unsure about how much money, if any, will be allocated to the credit card next semester.

If no money is added to the credit card, only essentials will be covered next semester, Sartor said. He added, however, that federal Title I funds will help pay for supplies, even if the credit card is not replenished.

“I’m not sure how much [Title I funds there are] right now, but it’s a lot more than what we have,” Sartor said. “That’s the big saver for us. That’s how we’re going to have paper in the second semester.”

Project Success coordinator Kaye Myles, who has been in charge of managing the Title I funds for the past two years, explained that the money is given to the school based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. This year, the federal government gave Grady $352,000.

The funds can be used to supplement the school credit card but cannot pay for everything because the federal government limits how the money can be spent, Myles said. The money can only be used for specific things, such as buying supplies and books and paying some salaries, and can only go to core classes, which excludes art, music and foreign language.

“The Title I money is here to supplement. That means to help,” Myles said. “But we cannot take the whole slack. There are some things we won’t be able to buy. If the card runs out, I guess we’ll just have to supplement as much as we can.”

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APS budget cuts forces school to scrounge for funds