‘We cannot endorse a budget that puts our students further at risk’: Genesee Hill Elementary staff rejects planned cuts

(Seattle Public Schools photo)

As Seattle Public Schools prepares to offer some in-person learning to students after a year away from classrooms, one local school’s staff has concerns beyond safety. Genesee Hill Elementary is the most populous elementary in West Seattle. Its staff has taken an action that they and the Genesee Hill PTA want you to know about. PTA co-presidents Michelle Comazzetto and Scot Duffield sent us a letter that they explain “was written by the Genesee Hill staff to officially notify the Seattle School District that they reject the proposed 2021-2022 budget.” This is the budget that was specifically proposed for their school for next year. The PTA co-presidents asked us to publish it, adding, “The Genesee Hill PTA would like to bring more awareness around school funding, and the difficult choices that school leadership has to make because schools are still not properly funded . As part of our PTA mission, we need to advocate for our school’s staff and teachers and help them amplify their voices.” Here’s the letter in its entirety:

Dear President Hampson and Superintendent Juneau,

The Genesee Hill staff, with consideration for the fiscal challenges faced by the District in the coming 2021-2022 school year and with respect to our leadership team for their efforts to stretch the inadequate funding they were handed, have decided not to approve this year’s proposed budget for the following reasons: it does not support students’ physical safety; it does not provide the social and emotional supports needed by a potentially fragile student body; and it does not equitably address the wide disparity in learning that our students have experienced during remote instruction. We are hopeful that an amended budget can be implemented that returns funding to a level that supports these essential functions.

After a full year of remote learning, students and staff are understandably excited to return to the classroom, but we must not let our enthusiasm obscure a mandate that is even more critical now in the COVID age: the physical safety of our students. Protocols have yet to be fully established, but it’s clear that reducing the already inadequate allocation of .6 FTE for our school nurse down to .4 FTE does not support the increased focus on safety required during a pandemic. Couple this with the loss of half of our office support staff (Elementary School Assistant position reduced from 2.0 FTE to 1.0 FTE), who monitor our nurse’s office when the nurse is off-campus and who tend to students with serious conditions like diabetes as well as the common illnesses and injuries concomitant with a school of around 600 K-5 children, and you have a dangerous situation. With the increased need to train staff and students, along with monitoring for COVID compliance and treating existing and emergent conditions, cutting these critical positions is flirting with negligence.

Ensuring the physical well-being of our students is paramount, but the need to prioritize their emotional well-being in the coming school year cannot be overstated. With currently no funding in the budget at all for a school counselor, we are faced with the uncomfortable choice of either ignoring those emotional needs or “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” funding a counselor by shifting resources away from critical academic supports as we return to in-person learning. We certainly anticipate growing pains as kids readjust to (or experience for the first time, in the case of our Kindergarteners!) peer interactions and the emotional intensity of learning outside the home. In fact, never in recent memory have we had a more dire need for SEL support than we will in the coming year, and yet the current budget ignores this reality.

Not only does this budget erode safety protocols and social/emotional supports for this vulnerable cohort of young learners, but it also cuts deeply into our core academic programs. We are projected to lose 3.0 FTE for classroom teachers; our PCP staff stands to lose .5 FTE; our library position is being reduced from 1.0 to .5 FTE (making it unfeasible to both maintain the library and teach lessons, putting even more pressure on our overworked PCP teachers); and finally, this budget cuts 2.2 FTE (down from 3.4 to 1.2 FTE) from our academic interventionists, who should play a pivotal role in ensuring that this year’s “learning gaps” are bridged, particularly amongst our students who are furthest from educational justice and who may have a hard path back to grade level performance without targeted interventions.

Given the financial hardships that many of our families are facing, not to mention the difficulties of raising money in the current social and economic climate, this isn’t the year to bridge the shortfall with private funds. However, this also isn’t the year to strip the budget in March only to return staffing and funding over the summer, undermining public confidence in the District’s ability to transition back to the classroom without compromising students’ physical and emotional well-being, not to mention their continuity of learning. Whether or not this year’s lower enrollment projections are a reflection of community mistrust, there is no doubt that the past year has been one of uncertainty for all, and downright instability for many. Our schools can and should be part of the recovery. And while we all anticipate “tightening our belts” a bit, it cannot be at the expense of our students’ physical and emotional safety, nor can it ignore learning gaps that will persist into high school and beyond if inadequately addressed. We do not oppose this budget lightly, as we know that these are hard times and that the District has been hamstrung by a very difficult school funding model, but we cannot endorse a budget that puts our students further at risk, and we hope that decisions can be made that restore and even augment the core supports that are so needed at this time.

Genesee Hill Elementary School Staff

Most other local schools are facing cuts for next year, according to the Genesee Hill PTA leaders, but no other school is facing as many cuts as theirs.

So what does the staff rejection of next year’s budget proposal mean? It’s supposed to trigger a process in which a representative of the district and one from the Seattle Education Association union meet with the staff to try to work out the issues. The PTA leaders say that while the budget-rejection letter was sent last Friday, no mediation meeting has yet been scheduled.

13 Replies to "'We cannot endorse a budget that puts our students further at risk': Genesee Hill Elementary staff rejects planned cuts"

  • B. March 25, 2021 (5:15 pm)

    This is crazy. Having worked in the district for 17 years the choice of cutting nurses and office staff seems crazy. District needs to fix this not only for Genesee Hill but the entire district. It will only take one lawsuit to make this right. 

  • Kimball March 25, 2021 (5:17 pm)

    This occurs every school year that a school is projected to need less teachers!  But in the long run after being in school for many months more students will move into the school and the school will end up needing to hire another teacher.  Lots of schools in the past had teachers give a student a disposable thermometer to take their temperature before allowing them to go to the nurse. Some students want to go to the nurse just to get out of the classroom for a few minutes. But due to our world dealing with COVID-19 it is unbelievable that any school system would not have a full time nurse every day! Shame on the Seattle Public School for not using common sense again! Not sure if I would trust a school system in providing full time nurse in a building  and enough cleaning supplies for the teachers to use due to Covid-19 germs when  in past years their students bathroom are not stocked with toilet paper and soap and paper towels all the time.  I knew of a teacher who kept toilet paper in her purse and coat pocket because the teacher bathroom was always out of toilet paper on a daily basis.

  • Cogburn March 25, 2021 (5:54 pm)

    Good for Genesee. The district needs to cut a few downtown positions, like they have done to the schools year after year. They mostly just sit in meetings all day anyway. Or, at least have downtown staff be required to spend 1/3 of their time actually helping in the schools.

  • Flivver March 25, 2021 (6:52 pm)

    SPS is out of control. My wife  retired after 36 years. Wanting to work a little she’s on “sub finder” She could work EVERY school day. The district is CHRONICALLY short teachers. 

  • teacher March 25, 2021 (8:34 pm)

    PTAs are fed up with having to fund teaching positions in SPS schools with yearly auctions. They would much rather fund programs, field trips and other needs of the teachers’ classrooms. I work at another WS school and we are losing  classroom and special ed teachers and  instructional assistants too. And just like another poster above said, we are likely to need at least some of them back in October when the student counts are completed because our student count in some grade levels are already close to going over the class size limit, then we will be scrambing to hire. We would rather keep the great staff memebers that we already have; the ones that already know our students well. And the gap widens for some schools that do not have PTA funds to help fund what SPS did not. Those schools also happen to be the schools with higher numbers of people of color and disadvantaged economic backgrounds. I am glad GHE staff and PTA are taking a stand. 

  • S March 25, 2021 (11:24 pm)

    Thank you Genesee Hill staff and PTA for shining a light on this issue. Our elementary school is also facing many cuts for the next school year. 

  • Me March 26, 2021 (6:06 am)

    SPS gets more funding than most districts in our state. This is ridiculous and they should not be losing teachers. Downtown needs to reevaluate how they’re spending their money and make this a priority. 

  • wsresident March 26, 2021 (7:19 am)

    Is this because they are expecting a lower population this year? Chances of full time in person for all students seems highly unlikely at this point. The school does have 3 principals right? I’m surprised they had 1.0 librarian – our WS elementary never had a full time librarian, in fact, only the choice schools that go through middle have them. Seems a PTA that raises $150k a year can figure our how to fund programs AND necessary cuts, our elementary does with half the money. SPS is a mess, I agree but always seems like GH has what they’ve needed and then some and we are never going to change the mismanagement of money/allocation that this city has been dealing with for just about ever. I grew up in an area that had some of the best public schools in the country. We had archery, swim, planetarium, photo lab/dark room, olympic pool in our elementary schools, equity was addressed,  great sport programs and master level teachers with teaching certificate in every grade – there were fewer people  density wise and the taxes were less than here, it baffles me -how we can have so much money coursing through this area and not appropriately fund schools.   It’s a top down issue that seems to plague all parts of the way this city is run. 

    • funding for all March 26, 2021 (9:03 am)

      The problem is that a PTA should not be funding any positions at all, no matter which school we are talking about. All schools should be fully funded. GH doesn’t have 3 principals anymore. A full-time librarian is triggered when there are more than 600 students. GH will have slightly less come next fall, which triggers a .5 librarian. 

    • wsres March 26, 2021 (9:08 am)

      It is also a state tax structure issue. 

      • Me March 26, 2021 (12:55 pm)

        SPS is receiving $19,000 per student in an article I just read. It seems like less of a funding issue and more of a mismanagement issue on the districts part.

  • BILLY March 26, 2021 (8:35 am)

    Genesee Hill, you rock!! Thank you to the authors of this letter. The cuts listed are negligent, especially now. We cannot lose a nurse and our dear librarian! And this is why I am not sending my kids back in person right now. No trust for the district. Every time they have a chance to step up they fail beyond comprehension. 

  • Gerrit Kischner March 26, 2021 (1:04 pm)

    As Principal at Genesee Hill, I want to express my deep appreciation to the teachers for taking this nearly unanimous stand and to the Genesee Hill PTA for their steady support.  While some of the reductions we have seen over the last few years (i.e. reducing to one assistant principal) have been the impact of our 2018 boundary change, the cuts that were announced by the District reflected a projection of 2,000 fewer students than our current 20-21 enrollment (which was already lower as a result of the closure).  We know that families have been faced with many difficult decisions during this COVID pandemic, and these budget cuts are especially frustrating because the cuts impact the very people who are going to be most important to reopening our schools now and in the fall.  Twenty-six schools have even lost their only assistant principal (or .5 of their time) in these cuts! Multiple nurses and counselors have been impacted. We have heard clearly that the Legislature intends to hold schools “harmless” to enrollment drops for the next two years so that we can rebuild and ensure that we are re-opening better than we were.  That’s our commitment, and we are taking this stand together.

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