(NEWEST UPDATE: Adding fifth school, West Seattle ES)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Seattle Public Schools says “approximately 25 teachers are being pulled from” schools around the city now that it has actual enrollment counts for the start of this school year, with overall district enrollment up, but not as much as expected.
At least five elementary schools in West Seattle are affected, according to what we have found out so far from information that includes, in two cases, letters sent by principals and forwarded by parents, some of whom are furious.
The district checks enrollment in early October every year and decides whether schools have appropriate staffing levels. Last year at this time, you might recall, Gatewood Elementary was told it would lose a teacher, and raised more than $66,000 in a frantic fundraising campaign to keep the position, one week after getting the initial word.
We asked district spokesperson Stacy Howard for a list of the schools affected this year; she told us that’s not available, but also added that no teachers are being laid off – just being moved.
Since there’s no list, all we know so far is what we have learned from parents – letters sent by the principals of (updated) Schmitz Park, Alki, Roxhill, and West Seattle ES, plus information from the PTA president of Highland Park.
SCHMITZ PARK ELEMENTARY: Losing one teaching position, according to e-mail that principal Gerrit Kischner sent last night to the school’s first-grade parents. More than a dozen parents have forwarded it to us.
He began, “Every year, the Seattle School District reevaluates enrollment on October 1st and makes budget adjustments accordingly. I am writing tonight to share some very unfortunate news: because of significant shifts in enrollment District-wide, Schmitz Park has lost funding for one of our first grade classrooms.” That means, he went on to write, that one class will be “collapsed” with its students reassigned to the remaining four 1st-grade classrooms. He had notified that class’s families directly, but added that “we know that the impact of this staffing reduction will be felt throughout the first grade cohort and across the school. Schmitz Park is not alone. In fact, enrollment is lower than projections by over 600 students districtwide (although we have grown overall in our total enrollment), and approximately 25 elementary schools (nearly half) will be losing one and, in some cases, more than two teachers. This news comes as much as a surprise to us as it is for you, and I am very sorry to have to bring you this news. In fact, I maintain a glimmer of hope that this budget decision can be reversed, but at this point it is extremely important that we plan rapidly to ensure that students can make a smooth transition to their new classroom.”
Kischner’s letter also quoted Schmitz Park’s enrollment at 643, one above projection, but “a drop from the 663 students we had on our rolls at the end of August.” First grade is at 114, up from the 99 at which the cohort ended kindergarten. He also noted the district’s end-of-September headcount as 52,399, 411 students more than last year, but 675 below what was projected, citing “budget pressures at the District level” for leading to the loss of what was the last teacher hired there before the school year began. “Unless new information comes our way very soon, our plan is to introduce students to their new classrooms Friday afternoon, ahead of starting Monday in the new classrooms.”
This information from the letter was attributed to the district:
Annually, at the beginning of the school year, Seattle Public Schools undergoes a staffing adjustment process to monitor enrollment at every school and to adjust staffing levels relative to actual student enrollment. Staffing adjustment decisions are made to match student needs with limited staff resources. In this process, adjustments are made in staff levels at schools to reflect the number of students actually enrolled in a program, grade and school, as opposed to forecasted/ projected enrollments. While our enrollment projections are historically very accurate at the district level, a wide range of factors can influence the final number of students enrolled at a grade, program and school level.
Once receiving student enrollment counts for each school, the district then reevaluates staffing across schools, making adjustments up and down based on each school’s enrollment. Please know that our best efforts are being made to assess all factors for staffing adjustment decisions at all schools. Staffing adjustment recommendations are developed by a team composed of members from Budget, Human Resources, Enrollment Planning, School Operations, Capital Planning, Special Education, Advanced Learning and English Language Learning departments, who use current enrollment numbers in determining staffing adjustments.
Additionally, Enrollment Planning also takes into account other factors in staffing allocations, including projected changes, expected attrition, historical trends in enrollment for each school as well as unique factors affecting each schools’ enrollment. Each school is carefully reviewed for any factors which could impact the classroom.
A change.org petition has been started by parent Rachel Lazar – see it here. She also shared her initial reaction: “What kind of screwed-up educational system gets kids back to school two weeks late after a strike, lets them settle into their classes, then decides to cut a beloved 1st grade teacher because their counts were off and cram her students into the other classrooms, letting them hit nearly 30? Add to that a school who has been forced to expand its boundaries again this year BEFORE our new facility opens, leaving it bursting at the seams. Oh, and do this all in 48-hours time so there is little time to work through it with the kids, and no time to try and address or fight it. This makes absolutely no sense to me and I’m fired up. Our kids deserve better. This phenomenal teacher deserves better. How the hell do we fix this mess our school system is in in Seattle!?!”
ALKI ELEMENTARY: Scheduled for a 1.5-position cut, according to the letter, forwarded to us by multiple parents, sent by principal Shannon Hobbs-Beckley to her school’s community. She began, “Earlier this week, I was informed by Seattle Public Schools that we are one of several schools that will experience a staffing adjustment based upon our current school enrollment. Last year, our adjustment resulted in adding staff to our school. This year, our adjustment results in a reduction of staff to our school. … This is not an easy adjustment to make, by any means. And some questions remain unanswered, so I consider this letter the first communication about the changes we are about to embark upon.” She quoted the same district information that Kischner’s letter did, and said that with Alki Elementary having “lower enrollment than projected,” its budget was cut “by 1.5 full time teaching positions (1.0 from a general education classroom and .5 from the specialists of PE/Multi-Arts/Technology).” She went on to write that the staff was still “determining all of the impacts of this change” and thinking they might be able to cover the half-position specialist reduction, but, “What we are still working through is the 1.0 reduction from a general education classroom.”
Parent Nikki Eisenhut, who has three children at Alki, shared her letter of concern with WSB; it talks about her children’s experience at the school and concludes, “These teachers have worked hard to create a safe, inspiring learning community in the last month. I cannot support a ‘staffing adjustment’ that is going to interrupt these communities. I do not see the benefit of interrupting student learning to create larger classes and less support for the students who need it the most. I want you to know that the ‘1.5 FTE’ that you will take from Alki is removing a human being and impacting countless students. It will create larger class sizes and interrupt learning. I know that at Alki, we will weather the change, our students are resilient, our teachers are inspiring and our leader is our foundation. These staffing changes are unjust and our community is strong and resilient.”
(2nd update, 3:40 pm) ROXHILL AND HIGHLAND PARK: Thanks to the Roxhill Elementary who scanned the hard-copy letter sent home by principal Sahnica Washington; she quotes much of the district explanation excerpted above, before saying her school has “experienced lower enrollment than expected” and therefore has had its budget cut by 3.7 teachers: “As a result of the loss of teachers, we will be consolidating classrooms.”
Earlier, after this story’s initial publication, we heard from Highland Park Elementary PTA president Holly Briscoe, who says that HPE is slated to lose one teacher: “The 4 kindergarten classes will be combined to create 3 classrooms and the kindergarten teacher will then be moved to another grade level and displacing the least senior teacher, and affecting upward of 90 students, or approximately a quarter of our total population.”
(added) WEST SEATTLE ES: Thanks to the parent who sent an image of the letter sent to some families, in which principal Vicki Sacco said a lower enrollment for first grade than expected had led to the loss of one teacher.
THURSDAY NIGHT P.S. Some of the concerned parents at Schmitz Park suggested we cover tonight’s Curriculum Night for the first- and second-grade families, and so we did. The cuts were a hot topic, to say the least. We will be writing a separate story about it for tomorrow morning. No revelations but some insight, and also a spirit of bringing together the wider West Seattle community to fight for the state to fix education funding.