Superintendent Nyland's Letter to Families January 12, 2017
Dear Seattle Public Schools families and community:
When I visit schools each week or spend time with central departments, I see firsthand our staff’s personal commitment to ensuring each and every student in our care is thriving. I also have the opportunity to witness students making connections, building their understanding of the world, and becoming life-long learners. This is why, as your Superintendent, I am so frustrated that we are facing such a devastating budget shortfall next year. It is not our fault and yet, we have to plan for a worst-case scenario.
In early December I shared that the district is facing a $74.2 million dollar budget shortfall because of the state’s failure to fully fund public education and fulfill its paramount duty. Our budget shortfall is the result of two key failures by the state.
First, the state has not fully funded education as it is constitutionally required to do.
Second, the Legislature has also made it impossible for our community to make up the difference by restricting how much we can collect from our voter approved levies. This has increased our 2017-18 budget shortfall by $30 million dollars. It is money we have in the bank, and we cannot use it.
You can learn more about the details of the budget shortfall and the Legislative actions we are taking on our 2017-18 Budget webpage.
How we have been preparing
Since August, the budget office has been working with community members, the Seattle Council PTSA, principals, the Seattle Education Association, central staff, and the School Board to develop the budget reduction recommendations. The budget office has also held community meetings to solicit feedback from families, staff, and other stakeholders on both reduction areas and where to restore services and supports if and when the state provides additional money. The budget office and Board have been working through development of the budget in phases, starting with easier cuts (e.g. non-staff reductions) and more recently making tough decisions about school-based reductions.
On Wed., Jan. 11, at a special meeting of the School Board, we came to consensus on how to address the majority of the district’s 2017-18 budget shortfall. Unless the state takes action by February 28, the district will need to move forward with the approved budget reduction plan. There is still an $11.1 million dollar deficit to solve and it will be addressed over the next few weeks.
I want to personally thank the School Board for their hard and thoughtful work during this process. They have consistently kept students and our mission of educational excellence at the center of very difficult and challenging decisions.
Summary of reductions
The School Board reached consensus on how to address $63.1 million of the district’s budget deficit. Initial reductions brought the $74.2 million dollar shortfall down to $44 million and included use of our reserve fund and other non-staff related reductions.
The budget reductions beyond this point have been challenging. Eighty-five percent of our budget is salaries. Cutting almost 10 percent of our budget is very difficult to do. Reductions associated with the remaining $44 million impact every part of the district’s functions including teaching, services, and operations
The second phase of recommended reductions included central office, mitigation funding, 24 credit enhancements for high schools, as well as reductions to the Weighted Student Staffing (WSS) formula. The WSS is how the district allocates funding to schools. The WSS staffing formula, with representative input from principals, teachers and district leaders, was recommended for a $16.6 million dollar reduction. By reducing WSS we will be moving much closer to staffing levels outlined in our SEA Collective Bargaining Agreement and rolling back most of the enhancements provided over the past two years including class size reductions.
You may view the 2017-18 budget reductions, representing $63 million, on the Budget Reduction Consensus presentation .
Schools: Student enrollment numbers will go out to schools in a few weeks and related staffing allocations will go out to schools on February 28. Schools, through their Building Leadership Team (BLT) process, will be asked to develop a staffing scenario and schedule based on the reduced funding allocation and in response to the unique needs of their school. Schools will also be asked to develop a restoration plan for when/if the Legislature either addresses the Levy Cliff, the premature reduction of our local levy authority, and/or provides additional funding. Staff positions will be reduced based on seniority and categories, per our collective bargaining agreement. Most displaced staff (90 percent or more) will still have contracts within the district but may not know about their school placements until July or August. Few will lose their job, typically only in very unique assignments where little attrition is expected.
We remain hopeful that the Legislature will come through with increased funding that will allow us to roll back these displacements. Our local Legislative delegation is working around the clock to quickly address a short term fix to the Levy Cliff. If addressed by February 28, it would significantly reduce our 2017-18 budget shortfall. However, we don’t expect the Legislature to resolve the overall budget challenges until late June or early July. That means restorations and related work would come very late in the summer.
Central staff: The School Board has approved a $4 million dollar reduction of central office. This is 5.3 percent of the central budget, larger than the school based reductions. These cuts will be determined in consultation with the School Board over the next one to two months.
Finally, over the next few weeks, we will also need to address the remaining $11.1 million dollar gap. We need to start next school year with a balanced budget per state law.
In closing, this will be a difficult six months ahead. I wish it wasn’t necessary. Although our Legislative delegation has done well advocating for Seattle, the state has fallen short of their promises made in 2009 and what the Supreme Court ordered. They have not made steady and consistent progress toward fully funding basic education by 2018.
While I can’t legally ask you to advocate to the state on our behalf, I will ask you to share factual budget information with friends and family. It is important our community fully understands the reason for our shortfall and the implications it has for our children, staff, and district. To support our families and community, key budget information and other resources are posted on the 2017-18 budget webpage.
Finally, my commitment to you, students and our community is to continue to communicate regularly about our progress; and in my areas of influence, I will advocate on our behalf. It is a privilege and honor to serve you, your family, and student.
If you have specific questions about the budget please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle Public Schools