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Seattle Public Schools Budget Shortfall FAQs

By Jake Vela, LEV Senior Policy Analyst

  • Rear view of class raising hands - League of Education VotersHow big is the budget shortfall for the 2017-18 school year?
    • Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has recently announced that they have an expected budget shortfall of $74 million for the 2017-18 school year. The $74 million shortfall would be about 10% of the $790 million budget recommendation adopted by Seattle Public Schools in 2016-17.
  • Why is Seattle Public Schools expecting a $74 million budget deficit in 2017-18?
    • The expiring of a temporary increase in how much the state allows Seattle to raise through local levies (levy lid) accounts for $30 million of the shortfall. The other $44 million is because the staffing levels agreed to by the district and the unions in the most recent contracts exceeded the funding levels they knew would be available in the 2017-18 school year.
  • Why is the state levy lid being reduced starting January 2018?
    • In 2010 the legislature temporarily increased the amount of money school districts could raise through local levies (levy lid). This increase was intended to be a band aid to allow districts, who were able to pass additional levies, to make-up for the reduction in state funding for education due to the economic recession. This temporary increase is set to expire at the end of calendar year 2017 as specified in the original legislation in 2010.
  • Is SPS expecting a budget deficit in 2016-17?
    • Yes, the 2016-17 budget adopted by SPS expected to spend $35 million more than they anticipated to get from the federal, state, and local sources. SPS was able to do this because they spent $35 million in reserves they had remaining from previous years.
  • Is this approach to budgeting by SPS sustainable?
    • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recommends that districts end each school year with reserves equaling at least 5% of their annual budget to be able to address unexpected changes in costs or funding support from local, state, or federal funding sources. To meet the 5% goal SPS would need to maintain a reserve of $39.5 million to remain in good financial health. According to the 2016-17 adopted budget Seattle is expected to end the School year with an ending fund balance of $39.9 million which would be just enough to meet the 5% reserve fund goal.
  • How has the level of state funding changed since the beginning of the recession in 2008?
    • Adjusted for inflation the state is contributing 14% more per-student for K-12 education in fiscal year 2017 than they did in fiscal year 2009.
  • When did Seattle Public School agree to the salary and staffing levels that created this budget deficit?
    • Seattle Public Schools agreed to their most recent collective bargaining agreement in September 2015 after the state had passed their most recent budget in July 2015. The district agreed to this budget following the strike at the start of the 2015-16 school year. The recent and future salary increases and staffing levels agreed to by SPS and the unions in their 2015 Collective Bargaining Agreements set district staffing levels and salary increases through the 2017-18 school year
  • How much of a school district’s budget is dedicated to staffing costs?
    • Over 80% of the average school district’s budget is from staffing costs.
  • What is a reduction in force (RIF) notice?
    • It is the notice a district sends out to existing staff that may need to be laid off if the district will not have sufficient funds in the following school year. Receiving a RIF notice does not mean an employee will be losing their job, but it does mean they will be in a pool of employees that may be laid off.
  • What determines who will receive a RIF notice?
    • The district will send out RIF notices to teachers, support staff, and other staff positions based on the district’s plan to cope with the budget shortfall.
  • What determines which employees do or do not receive a RIF notice?
    • Who does and does not receive a RIF notice is tied to the level of experience an employee has, so teachers with less experience will be more likely to receive a RIF notice than more experienced employees. New and beginning teachers are more often found in schools with higher levels of low-income students. Teachers, staff, and students in these schools will experience more uncertainty in their school building than other schools.
  • Will the budget deficit be solved before the district would need to send out RIF notices?
    • The legislature is expected to invest more money in basic education in the 2017 legislative session, but a final budget isn’t expected to be completed before the district completes their budget preparations for the 2017-18 school year.
  • How much does $74 million mean on a per-student basis?
    • $74 million translates to a budget shortfall of $1,407 per SPS student. The state would need to increase education funding by approximately $1.5 billion for the 2017-18 school year, one-year before the court mandated deadline of 2018-19, for Washington to experience a funding increase of $1,400 per-student statewide.
  • Are other districts experiencing similar budget shortfalls?
    • In the future other districts may communicate to their communities that they are expecting a budget shortfall because of the levy cliff or other budgeting challenges, but as of December 15, 2016 we are not aware of other districts publically stating they expect to have a budget shortfall in the 2017-18 school year.

Posted in: Funding

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Rainier Prep

As our students prepare to head back to school, the League of Education Voters is highlighting a few of the new public charter schools opening this fall. We recently sat down with Rainier Prep’s founding leader Maggie O’Sullivan to hear about the school’s opening.

Students work with a teacher. Photo courtesy of Rainier Prep.School begins at Rainier Prep on September 1 for students in grades 5 and 6. Based in the Highline area of Seattle, Rainier Prep’s mission is to prepare all students to excel at four-year colleges and become leaders in their communities. At full capacity, Rainier Prep will serve grades 5-8.

Rainier Prep will use a model of inquiry- and project-based learning that complements college readiness curriculum. It all comes back to the people, however, according to school founder Maggie O’Sullivan: “The number one difference at Rainier Prep is our teachers and our staff.” (more…)

Posted in: Charter Schools

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Seattle Public Schools honors LEV-South Shore partnership

At the school board meeting on February 6th, Seattle Public Schools honored the partnership between the League of Education Voters Foundation and South Shore School in south Seattle. South Shore Principal Keisha Scarlett, LEV CEO Chris Korsmo, and LEV Board Member Chris Larson were there to accept the honor.

While being recognized, LEV CEO Chris Korsmo said, “[South Shore] is a great lesson about investing in our earliest learners [and] prioritizing our scarce resources…we’ve accomplished a lot over our 3 years.” Many of the school board members agreed. Director Martin-Morris said that whenever he travels and meets with people in the education field he always brings up South Shore, stating, “Thank you for creating a model that I know a lot of people are looking at nationally.” Director Carr sees great potential in the South Shore model as well, stating, “We have a terrific opportunity [to take] what we’ve learned and leverage that and replicate. It’s a good opportunity for us to do more.” Director DeBell added, “[South Shore] demonstrates how all children can learn given the right circumstances.”

Read more about the LEV-South Shore partnership here.

Posted in: LEV News

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A motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom

This blog post is written by Connie Gerlitz, one of LEV’s key activists and longtime education reform leader and activist, in response to the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday.

We cannot confuse our love and respect for good teachers with the fact that their efforts are not universally replicated in our classrooms, and our children are suffering the consequences as evidenced by their inability to pass required standardized tests, graduate from high school, or take a college-level course.

Teachers and school communities need our help and support – collaboration time, clean and safe classrooms, continued monetary incentives, mentorships, remediation plans, praise and heart-felt thanks.

But students need so much more and one of those things (please notice that I said “one of those things”) is a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, and effective teacher in every one of their classrooms. We can’t fix ineffective parents. We can’t fix severe disabilities. We can’t fix poverty. We can, however, move toward providing them with teachers that prove that they have the ability to educate them. One of the ways (please note that I said “one of the ways”) is to measure student progress and use that progress as a means (please note that I said “a means”) of determining whether a teacher is effective or not.

I for one have really had it with the rhetoric that says that unless we are in a classroom we don’t understand what good teaching is. It is like saying that unless we are the chef in a restaurant we don’t understand what good food is or that unless we can wield the scalpel ourselves that we don’t know whether our appendix was removed successfully or not. Our food is nutritious and tasty. We no longer are the owners of an infected appendix. Our kids can read.

I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.

Here is a quick story: My mother taught school for 40 years and one of her first students was a blind child (also a neighbor). Blind children were not allowed at the time to be in normal public classrooms in the Franklin Pierce School District, but the parents really wanted him to be in my mom’s classroom. First she learned how to Braille. Then she went to the school board and petitioned to allow his entry into her class. When that was allowed, she brailled all of his needed reading material for 10 years. She opened the classroom doors in that district for blind children. He is, to this day, a highly respected and productive member of our community. That was not a part of her contract, by the way. I could go for days with the countless students our daughter has mentored in and out of foster homes, out of gangs, out of drugs, out of lethargy, out of anger management problems. Her kids move along and she would not have a problem with a test that proves it. She would welcome any help she could get if the test showed she was making no progress.

When I complained once to my mom about not liking to teach students who didn’t care about learning, she took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, get out of teaching. They are the ones that need your help. The others will do it on their own.”

We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.

And, I have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher’s effectiveness should not be judged on the actual educational progress of her students. What is it we don’t understand about a test that tells us what a child knows at the beginning of the year and what a child knows at the end of the year? Do teachers not give students tests to figure out if they learned a subject? Is there not a test that can tell us, in part, (please note that I said “in part””) if a teacher is successfully imparting the substance of a subject to his/her students?

I love and admire good teachers and I want to pay them and help them and honor them in every way possible and have spent almost 40 years working to improve the lot of teachers so they could properly educate our kids. The system is not working. Our kids are failing. We need change and we need it now but not the change that says that we will install an accountability system that has no teeth. Why, please tell me why, the union is not in favor of finding a way to reward effective teachers and get rid of the also-rans with a system that has some teeth – a test is just one tooth but it is one of the front ones and is noticeable and harmful when missing.

Posted in: Teachers

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