Dear Seattle Public School Families:
I am writing to inform you of a significant budget shortfall we may face in the coming year unless the Legislature takes action to address school funding.
As the largest district in the state of Washington, we support close to 100 schools and over 53,000 students. Our students collectively speak 143 languages/dialects and represent 147 countries of origin. We are a thriving and diverse community of schools supported by incredible educators, support staff, committed school leaders and many more.
The Washington State Legislature’s failure to adequately address public education funding may result in a significant budget shortfall next school year. In 2017-18, the district’s ability to serve students in the way they deserve will be challenged. Unless the Legislature takes appropriate action to address school funding, the district has a projected deficit of approximately $74 million for the 2017-18 school year. This is the largest budget deficit we have faced since the late 1970s and has the potential to erode many of the programs, supports and services students are currently receiving.
This potential deficit is the result of two key failures by the Legislature. First, the Legislature has restricted how much we can collect from our already approved local education levies. Second, the Legislature has not fully funded education as they are constitutionally required to do.
The Legislature’s paramount duty in the state constitution is to fully fund public education. To date they have failed to carry out this duty. Districts, like Seattle, are forced to make up the financial difference by passing local levies and by asking our community and families to cover the cost of education services. The state only pays 70 cents for every dollar it costs to provide our students with the bare minimum of services. Each school year, our Seattle community provides an additional $100 million to ensure our students have the resources and supplies they need, educators are compensated and that the district can provide basic supports including nurses, counselors, assistant principals, arts and music, and physical education. One example is that the state funding formula only pays for nine nurses in support of our 53,000+ students. Funding from other sources, including our local levies, supports the cost of 53 additional positions.
In 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that state government had failed its constitutional duty (McCleary v. State) and they ordered the state to come up with a plan and to fully fund education by next school year, 2017-18. The State Legislature has not fulfilled their constitutional duty and their inaction has created an unnecessary budget crisis. In addition, they have placed restrictions on our ability to use Seattle voter-approved levy dollars, increasing our deficit by $30 million. Because of the Legislature’s failure to fully respond to the Supreme Court’s mandate and also implementing restrictions on our use of local levy dollars, the district, in partnership with our stakeholders, must now figure out how to close the $74 million budget gap.
If the Legislature takes action, this deficit can be avoided or greatly reduced. Because Legislative action is uncertain, we must plan for a worst-case scenario for our 2017-18 budget. Unless the Legislature takes immediate action to restore our ability to use all of our voter approved levy funds and funds adequate compensation for teachers, principals and support staff, we will need to make significant cuts and/or leave critical positions unfilled. This will impact the entire district including central office supports (maintenance, programs, and services), support for teaching and learning, educators, school leaders and support staff. Most significantly, it will impact our students – the children that we have all committed to serving.
Eliminating opportunity gaps and accelerating learning for each and every student is one of the primary lenses through which the central office and School Board will be evaluating budgetary decisions. Initial reduction recommendations have been made that lessen cuts to school services. These reductions, if approved, could bring the gap down to an estimated $44 million. The budget reductions beyond this point will be challenging for all of us. 85% of our budget is salaries and much of the remaining budget includes fixed costs like utilities and insurance. This $44 million represents over 440 positions within the district.
In December, the Seattle School Board will be reviewing additional areas of the budget to reduce, including non-staff and staff costs. The worst-case scenario budget will be complete on January 11. Budgets will be provided to schools in February to begin the school-based budgeting process.
Seattle Public Schools values our staff, our students and our families. We are committed to educational excellence for every student. Closing the $74 million gap will be the most difficult challenge we’ve faced in decades.
Right now there are many unknowns. These unknowns will cause challenges and disruptions to the good work that our schools, educators and central office staff are doing, and for that I am truly sorry. We will do our best to get through this together, and will be working closely with our labor leaders, the Seattle Council PTSA, the City of Seattle, and community partners to ensure our full community is kept up to date and have opportunities for input. My commitment to you is to communicate regularly on progress and provide information as it becomes available.
Next Steps: Between December 5, 2016 and January 4, 2017 we will continue to solicit feedback on budget priorities from staff, families and community partners. I would like to thank the Seattle Council PTSA for hosting three regional meetings for families to provide feedback on budget priorities.
Community Budget Gap Meetings:
- Tuesday, December 13, Ballard High School, 6:30 -8 p.m.
1418 NW 65th St Seattle, WA 98117
- Thursday, December 15, South Shore PreK-8 School, 6:30-8 p.m.
3013 S Mt Baker Blvd Seattle, WA 98144
- Tuesday, January 3, Franklin High School, 6:30-8 p.m.
4800 S Henderson St Seattle, WA 98118
Interpretation will be available. To request interpretation please contact publicaffairs@seattleshools.
Additional details regarding the budget deficit, budget development timeline, and actions you can take will be posted to the 2017-18 budget webpage by tomorrow, December 2.
If you have specific questions or concerns about the budget shortfall please email the Budget Office at email@example.com
Thank you for the opportunity to support you, your family and student. It is a privilege to serve you.
Dr. Larry Nyland