Funding Our Future

Budget Development and Balancing Process

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is facing a significant projected budget deficit for the next school year.

About the Budget Deficit

Responding to this budget deficit will be challenging. A guiding principle in our response is to prioritize quality instruction and learning. SPS will continue to use the SPS Racial Equity Tool for school-level budget decisions. 

This deficit is the result of several factors: 

  •  District decisions regarding programming and operations in support of our students; 
  •  Declining student enrollment while maintaining staffing levels; 
  •  Increased student and staff needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; 
  •  Persistent gaps in state basic education funding 

The Seattle School Board will receive updates through work session meetings this spring. The board is required to pass a balanced budget and scheduled to vote on the 2023-24 budget on Thursday, July 6, 2023. 

School Board Resolution Fiscal Stabilization Plan

The School Board Resolution No. 2022/23-14 directs the superintendent to present a portfolio of proposed actions to balance the 2023-24 operating budget. This portfolio of proposed actions, called the Fiscal Stabilization Plan, will include reductions to district operations and educational programs.

The Fiscal Stabilization Plan were presented during the May 3 Budget and May 10 Work Sessions The plan approved by the School Board during a Board Special Meeting on May 10, 2023.

School Board Resolution 2022/23-14 Fiscal Stabilization Plan

Frequently Asked Questions

How is Seattle Schools Funded?

School Districts receive their funding based on the number of students and the characteristics of the students they educate each year. All students are general education students first but additional resources may be provided for students with special needs or students identified as financially insecure. The majority of funding comes from the state with other funding from the federal government, local property taxes, City of Seattle programs and individual donors.

What is the school district doing to advocate at the state level for funds?

The district is actively lobbying our state legislature to fully fund education. Our 2023 Legislative Agenda includes full funding of special education and transportation services, both part of basic education. We are legally prohibited from encouraging the public to lobby on our behalf. Our Government Relations webpage has our legislative agenda. It also provides contact information for elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.

Why are you building new schools or expanding schools if you have too much classroom space?

The new schools currently under construction or beginning construction this summer are funded by the Building Excellence (BEX) V Capital Levy, which was approved by the voters in 2019. In putting the measure before voters, SPS made a promise to use the funds for the intended purpose.

The new schools are replacing existing buildings that were in poor condition. Modernization of the existing building would not have been cost effective and would not have resulted in the high-quality 21st century learning spaces that we know our students need.

When we replace a school building, we build the new one to our district school facility standards called Educational Specifications. These standards are aligned with the district’s strategic plan, Seattle Excellence, and include school sizes for the grade levels that will occupy the school.

Following the Educational Specifications sometimes results in added capacity at a school. We believe that the educational specifications set the best possible standards for our schools, including setting an efficient school size, which will result in a school that:

  • Accommodates future growth,
  • Provides flexibility for changing program needs and demographics over time, and
  • Provides students with a safe and positive learning environment.

At SPS, we balance planning for potential future regional and city growth with historical trends. The city is expected to continue growing, so we take that into account in our long-range planning.

We plan our buildings with the intent that new or modernized schools will have the flexibility to support the community for 30 to 50 years until major modernization is necessary for updates to the facility. Although enrollment has decreased over the last few years, it would be short-sighted to ignore the projected growth in the city.

Why Now?

  • Structural deficit has grown to $131 million
  • Fiscal Year 2022-23 current SPS budget is based on $82 million of one-time funding
  • Recent prior year solutions have been one-time state and federal resources – ESSER, funding of enrollment loss, funding of transportation without riders
  • Enrollment has decreased since fiscal year 2013-14 while staff has increased
  • Enrollment is anticipated to continue to trend down

What funding sources do schools have?

Washington school districts are funded by several sources which include local taxpayers, state funding, and federal funding.

Learn more

Persistent gaps remain in state basic education funding: 

  • The state educational funding formula does not fully fund many school staff including school leaders, nurses, and social workers.  
  • The state funds for special education services fall short of what our students need. 
  • The district receives little support for basic functions such as safety and security, facilities and building maintenance, staff and student technology, and more.  
  • SPS depends on local levy funding to pay for these supports. 
  • Without an increase of revenue for public education services, district support will continue to be reduced. 

What are Some of the SPS Budget Planning Strategies?

A multi-year budget approach would help the district develop a long-range fiscal plan to build a sustainable path forward. Watch Interim Deputy Superintendent Fred Podesta define multi-year budget development process in the Jan. 25 budget work session

Multi-year budget planning strategies

  • Spread use of Economic Stabilization Fund (often called rainy day fund) across two years.
  • Identify central office and programmatic efficiencies and reductions (look for different ways to do business that create efficiencies)
  • Identify targeted reductions in schools
  • Identify areas where state assistance is needed
  • Consolidate into a system of well-resourced schools

Draft potential budget deficit solutions table for 2023-24 and 2024-25 is available on page 20 of the January 25 meeting materials.

  • Potential central office reductions are outlined on page 22 and 23 of the meeting materials. Total reductions for 2023-24: $36 million
  • Potential school-level reductions are outlined on page 24 and 25 of the meeting materials. Total reductions for 2023-24: $11 million

Process for Central Office Reductions

  • Identification of non-restricted staffing and activities.
  • Each division has a 15% reduction target.
    • Additional work on program reductions/elimination/pausing of central activities to achieve an additional $10 million cost reduction for 2023-24.
  • Optimization of non-General Fund resources (grants, capital fund, career and technical resources).

Process for School-Level Reductions

  • Identification of resources not constrained by basic operations or collective bargaining agreements.
  • Conversations with leaders of the Principal Association of Seattle Schools (PASS) and Seattle Education Association (SEA).
  • Review of historically underspent resources and extra staffing provided to some programs and not others.
  • Elimination of planned support staffing increases.
  • Use of the Racial Equity Tool for decisions on which schools are impacted (class size and support)

Interim Deputy Superintendent Fred Podesta defines a system of well-resourced schools.

Associate Superintendent Concie Pedroza shares benefits of developing a system of schools with sufficient enrollment to have a broad spectrum of resource and educational choices.

This system would:

  • Plan changes in the 2024-25 school year
  • Support inclusionary practices and services.
  • Optimize resources in neighborhood schools
  • Would be guided by district educational specifications
  • Center policies 0010 Instructional Philosophy and 0030 Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity
  • Be guided by Racial Equity Analysis Tool to assess impacts
  • Work with community and Seattle School board on guiding principles and parameters
  • Apply objective and transparent parameters to identify schools in which to invest and develop
  • Learn from similar processes in other districts
  • Leverage SPS processes for capital planning and attendance boundary adjustments
  • Design engagement and decision-making processes this spring and roll out the engagement plan Fall 2023

Budget Development Calendar

Oct. 12, 2022 School Board Budget Work Session

Nov. 16, 2022 School Board Budget Work Session

Jan. 9, 2023 Legislative session begins

Jan. 25, 2023 School Board Budget Work Session

Jan. 16 – Feb. 3 Central budgets technical process of staffing, line-item budgeting

Feb. 28, 2023 School Board Budget Work Session (rescheduled from Feb. 15 to Feb. 28)

Feb. 28, 2023 Budget allocations to schools

March 1 – 31 Schools build their budget and staffing

March 20, 2023 Budget Information Session

Watch the recording of the March 20 budget information session. SPS hosted a budget information session for families, staff, and community. The information session was hosted by SPS Finance and district leadership to share information about the 2023-24 school year. Future engagements will provide opportunity for additional community feedback for 2024-25 budget planning.

April 29, 2023 Regular legislative session ends. Read the SPS statement regarding the state legislature 2023 session.

May 1, 2023 Final general fund balancing

May 3, 2023 School Board Budget Work Session

May 10, 2023 School Board Budget Work Session

June 21, 2023 School Board Regular Meeting with Board Action Report and Budget Resolution

July 6, 2023 School Board Regular Meeting with action to adopt 2023-24 budget

Recent News and Announcements

Well-resourced Schools Survey and Online Community Meeting

SPS is committed to hearing your voice. The goal for the well-resourced schools conversations—as well as the survey—is to gather community input.