FOLLOWUP: Seattle Public Schools’ brief budget briefing

(Meeting video added Tuesday)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Seattle Public Schools plans to stake its future on “well-resourced schools” – but hasn’t settled yet on what exactly they are.

That’s one of the takeaways from what turned out to be a relatively short online community meeting about the district’s budget woes. Four district executives sat at a table, presenting information and answering questions for about 40 minutes before turning the rest of the hour over to other district staffers for Q/A in a Zoom chat window.

They reiterated that no decisions on school closures/consolidations would be made until spring of next year. One attendee, via onscreen Q/A, complained that’s too late, as enrollment decisions need to be made earlier in the year.

Assistant superintendent Bev Redmond warned attendees at the start of the meeting aBrent Jones gave a short overview of problems he said were causing the district’s $131 million budget gap for next year – declining enrollment since 2017, state funding still not covering the full cost of education.

Chief operations officer Fred Podesta then rolled out the numbers: The current year has a $1.14 billion district general-fund budget, and money from the levy-generated capital fund can’t be transferred to it.

The district has to show the state a balanced budget by August. To cover the $131 million gap, he said they’ll throw in almost half that much from district reserved, and will also make some notable cuts – including $33 million from the “central office.” But, he added, this is not a “one-time problem” – he said state funding covers only about half the price tag of special education and transportation, and barely a third of multilingual education.

Meantime, on the enrollment front, low estimates show the district could be down to 43,000 students in 10 years. (Three trajectories of enrollment estimates were shown but not explained.)

Then that phrase “well-resourced schools” took centerstage again. Associate superintendent Dr. Concie Pedroza listed some attributes:

From there, the four at the table answered a few questions:

Why now? They’ve been covering budget gaps for years with various forms of one-time funding, so the underlying problem is not new.

Will my student’s teacher lose their jobs? The executives said they expected minimal job losses because hundreds of educators leave the district every year, and so even if a specific job is cut at a specific school, that teacher should be able to be placed somewhere else.

Why are you building/expanding schools if enrollment is dropping? Podesta said rebuilds are more efficient than modernizations for older buildings, and that they’ll improve safety. Plus, he said, the city continues to grow and the district must “take the long view.”

How are budget-cut decisions being made? Podesta reiterated that the district is trying to minimize cuts at schools by cutting more from the central office.

Why is enrollment declining? The contributing factors that were listed did not include any potential dissatisfaction with the district; the number of households with children isn’t rising at the same rate as the city population in general, they noted, also citing the housing crunch, lower birth rates, and changes wrought by the pandemic. Overall, Dr. Jones suggested, “we’re doing a pretty good job … I don’t think we’ve been telling our story.” The district plans to start doing that via an “enrollment campaign.”

After the four executives signed off and invited attendees to keep asking questions in Zoom (written) chat, several brought up the issue of the district lacking solid data on why families have left the district – or declined to choose it in the first place. One suggested a “simple exit survey” would be in order.

The only answer we found of note in the onscreen chat: “School consolidation does not typically affect class size,” said SPS budget director Linda Sebring.

WHAT’S NEXT? “Engagement” will begin in earnest in fall, said Redmond. Here’s the rest of the timeline:

As noted in our previous coverage, West Seattle was part of a wave of school closures in the late ’00s.

30 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Seattle Public Schools' brief budget briefing"

  • Mel March 21, 2023 (5:40 am)

    How many kids have left for homeschooling or private school? That’s what I’d want to know as a soon to be kindergarten parent. I know a handful who left for private school following the pandemic. Parents weren’t pleased with how the district did with remote learning and their kids were behind. 

    • WSresident March 21, 2023 (9:51 am)

      We moved my child to private, because there was no work from home option for is. We are far more happy with the public school we just put my kiddo into this year. She is song better, thriving and way happier. 

    • Brian March 21, 2023 (9:59 am)

      I can only relay my anecdotal experience but we put our 2nd grader in a nearby private school last year because of the issues you pointed out but ultimately re-enrolled him this year because the private institution honestly wasn’t any better. 

      • Frog March 21, 2023 (2:30 pm)

        The core mission of public schools is getting students to grade-level competency, as indicated by a score of 3 on the SBA.  The schools in West Seattle mostly do an OK job at that.  Bright, talented, bookish students who have the potential to do much more — unfortunately don’t get much.  Parents of those students are undoubtedly depressed and frustrated by the whole situation.  But there are no private schools in West Seattle who specialize in those students, and none that serve them any better than public.  I have known a few parents who put their kids in private schools, but never met one who was especially happy with it.  Learned helplessness is the by far the most cost-effective parental response to education these days.

        • josh March 21, 2023 (9:51 pm)

          I dont know.  If you care that much and your kid is so bright then there are things you can do to promote that in house.  Music, Sports, Arts exposure to start.  Make a little extra effort on your own if you feel like your kid has potential to explode beyond the norm, why should everyone else have to do it for you?

    • WSEA March 21, 2023 (10:58 am)

      Mel, I’ve not done homeschooling but another option over private is on-line school.  This assumes you have someone home.   I’m really not sure how this works for younger kids but my teen used connections academy in 2021 since SPS remote learning technology was bad.  They did a really good job with the learning plan and keeping him engaged.   He went back to the local high school in 2022 to present.   We also did the private route in grades 4-6 (long story) and went back to public school for many reasons.   My son did extremely well in SPS and got accepted to very selective Universities so the system does work.   I’m sure your kids will be fine with any decision as long as you’re vested in the entire process.   Just wait till you see how much college cost.  Wow. 

  • WSEA March 21, 2023 (6:55 am)

    I had to check enrollment for some of the west seattle schools and noticed the drop seems to be happening at the elementary school level.  I remember when my kids went to a local elementary and they were packed.  West Seattle is still packed but might drop over time.  Helpful link:

  • grimjaw March 21, 2023 (7:49 am)

    so who can explain to me the general fund expenditure graph? I thought percentages had to add up to %100….

    • GHill March 21, 2023 (8:59 am)

      It does, the 94% includes salaries and supports and 6% central office. Look closely at the line around the graph.

    • JB March 21, 2023 (11:35 am)

      This is a savvy marketing trick from SPS. First, notice the 94% is larger than the rest trying to emphasize that almost all of of the budget goes to student services and only 6% to central administration overhead. In reality only 59.5% go to direct teaching activities and the 40.5% is admin, staff, support…Another factor for the budget deficit not addressed at the meeting was last years strike and salary raises and how much did this contribute to the gap…

      • Nicole March 21, 2023 (12:29 pm)

        Technically, the 59.5% you’re talking about is from the 94% bracket making it 59.5% of the divided budget, it’s closer to 56% of the total budget. JB said “In reality only 59.5% go to direct teaching activities and the 40.5% is admin, staff, support…” but those numbers aren’t from the total 100% making that incorrect. They’re using 59.5% of the 94% of funds.

      • SLJ March 21, 2023 (3:25 pm)

        The teaching support is likely instructional assistants, who are critical for kids who need extra help. The office staff is also necessary. So those two groups are not a marketing ploy, those people are important for every school. But I’m not sure what “other support activities” means. Either way, the central office is not a large part of the budget, which actually surprised me.

    • Lauren March 21, 2023 (9:28 pm)

      This is a very intentional — and intentionally misleading — graph design. Frustrating to say the least. 

  • MikeinSea March 21, 2023 (8:34 am)

    No specific information was given except they are lobbying hard for more funds from the state.  Minimal cuts announced.   Engagement plan by Bev was a joke.  More surveys and questionnaires.  113million in debt on a 1.4 billion/year budget.  They were bailed out the past few years from the Federal Covid dollars.  They should be ashamed on how far they let this go into the red.  

    • The King March 21, 2023 (6:44 pm)

      With the McCleary decision the courts warned this wouldn’t work and that reform was needed. Legislature decided pouring more money on schools was easier and they’re back at square one. Once it was decided the money could be used for teachers raises it was over. I’m not against paying teachers but when the unions touted “historic pay raises” it was a bad look. At the same time seattle spends 155,000,000 on homeless, Inslee wants to bond another 4 billion for homeless. Education is taking a back seat to a lost generation. 

  • Kyle March 21, 2023 (8:36 am)

    The state funding doesn’t cover transportation for Seattle, because SPS spends two times as much per student contracting out to private bus companies than any other district in WA. It is obvious that if central office staff have influence over what to cut, they will cut and consolidate elsewhere besides the central office.

  • Plf March 21, 2023 (11:00 am)

    Private schools like public schools have great ones and those that are just okcant assume that if you send your kiddo to private they will thrive and it’s the best setting/option.  Got to do more research on what’s best for your child For my daughter it was private school 

  • Millie March 21, 2023 (2:09 pm)

    I’m sorry but even if you add just the 94% staff salaries and services for students and the 6.4% for central administration – you are over 100% of budget.    Perhaps, the three RRRs (reading, writing and arithmetic ) should return to the Seattle Public Schools curriculum.

    • Math Teacher March 21, 2023 (3:54 pm)

      If you look at the graph carefully, you’ll see that the given staff salaries and services add to 93.6%.    Someone thought that rounding that to 94% would make it easier to understand. 

    • snowskier March 21, 2023 (3:57 pm)

      Sum the 4 components, 59.5 + 5.7 + 12.3 + 16.1 = 93.6.  Add in Central Admin 93.6 +6.4 = 100

  • CarDriver March 21, 2023 (2:15 pm)

    Speaking of private schools. How are they spending their money? Is all their income wisely spent and fully accounted for? Are they all going to be around for the long haul?

    • Plf March 21, 2023 (4:36 pm)

      Again you have to do the research around each school for my daughter holy rosary has been around for 100 years, holy names for high school hundred years, both prepared her for Stanford private schools can be a great option if you do the research and honesty can afford it ( did receive help with tuition)

    • Joy March 22, 2023 (12:38 pm)

      As PLF said, you need to do your research when looking at any school option, public, charter, independent or private. But as a parent of a student at private school (Hope Lutheran) I can say that this school is very careful about spending money and makes sure that their dollars stretch. But they aren’t afraid to invest in curriculum and tools that meet the needs of their students so they are prepared for high school and college. I believe Hope has been around over 60 years and plans to stick around for some time to come. I was also on the meeting as I have a senior at WSHS and had many of the same questions that were brought up here and during the meeting. 

  • Brad March 21, 2023 (2:35 pm)

    I am very interested in better understanding the details of where the current funding is being spent. While 6.4% for central administration looks small, that amounts to nearly $73 million.

  • WSB March 21, 2023 (3:50 pm)

    For anyone interested, we’ve added the SPS meeting video above.

  • bolo March 21, 2023 (4:18 pm)

    Something confusing me about one of the reasons stated for declining enrollment, “the housing crunch.” Are there less family-appropriate housing now then before? My observation tells me there is more housing being built over the last several years but maybe I could be wrong?

    “Why is enrollment declining? The contributing factors that were listed did not include any potential dissatisfaction with the district; the number of households with children isn’t rising at the same rate as the city population in general, they noted, also citing the housing crunch, lower birth rates, and changes wrought by the pandemic. “

    • WestSeattleBadTakes March 21, 2023 (5:41 pm)

      I really struggle with the level of intellectual honesty here. You ask a question about family-appropriate housing, answer with “more housing is being built” which doesn’t answer the first question.

      Are there less family-appropriate housing now then before? My observation tells me there is more housing being built over the last several years but maybe I could be wrong?

      • bolo March 21, 2023 (7:22 pm)

        Thanks, that does help me understand what they are saying. “The housing crunch” in this case means lack of family-appropriate housing.

        As far as intellectual honesty, I was not being dishonest, but will admit to lack of good writing skills. Probably not enough practice.

    • DC March 22, 2023 (9:26 am)

      People don’t sell their houses as soon as their kids leave school. Most ‘family appropriate’ housing is owned by people without kids in school and the building of new ‘family appropriate’ housing is too slow to keep up with population growth, and too expensive to encourage families to have more children earlier. 

Sorry, comment time is over.