(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 a
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.