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.