May 22, 2009
Dear friends of Seattle Public Schools:
The weather this month has been typical of Seattle in the springtime: warm and sunny one day, then cold and rainy the next. We know it will lead to summer, but sometimes it is hard to remember those bright, sunny days when it’s the middle of May and the skies are gray.
Perhaps mirroring the weather outside, we’ve had a mixture of sunshine and rain clouds here at the Seattle Public Schools this month as well. On the bright side, more than 900 people showed their support for our schools by participating in the Alliance for Education’s 2009 Community Breakfast. But that good news has been tempered by the difficult decisions we have had to make recently to lay off teachers and other valued staff members in response to the State Legislature’s unprecedented cuts to K-12 funding.
ALLIANCE FOR EDUCATION 2009 COMMUNITY BREAKFAST
Our work in Seattle’s schools would simply not be possible without the support we receive from families, neighbors and community leaders. Those supporters were out in force this week to celebrate our schools at the Alliance’s annual Community Breakfast, raising nearly $240,000.
During my keynote speech, I highlighted the many successes that we have achieved together during this past year, and summarized our progress in implementing our strategic plan, Excellence for All. I invite you to take a look at our 2009 Annual Report to the Community to view some of those accomplishments.
As Patrick D’Amelio, the Alliance’s President and CEO, and George Griffin III, the Alliance’s Board President, noted in a recent opinion editorial, that level of community support combined with exciting improvements throughout the District have led them to feel “confidence and hope for the future.” They shared the success stories of several students, from Cleveland and Rainier Beach high schools, who are heading to college prepared with rigorous AP courses, noting that, “expanding college-ready classes is just one example of how Seattle Public Schools is committed to bringing outstanding curriculum to every school, in every neighborhood.”
I know how much our students depend on all of us working together to ensure their success. Thank you again for your ongoing support, and special thanks to Patrick, George and the Alliance for serving as a focal point for community support for our students.
CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS UNDERWAY
This spring and summer, the District will be negotiating new contracts with a number of our labor associations, including the Seattle Education Association and the Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools. Because these negotiations are so important, we have developed guidelines that express our commitment that the negotiations process will be:
* Respectful. The District and Unions will negotiate in good faith and with a common goal — ensuring the success of our students.
* Transparent. We will post the current contracts and the District’s key proposals for the negotiations on the SPS web site.
* Fair. Our greatest resource is our staff, the people who make learning happen. Our negotiations will acknowledge the dignity of their work and the value of their contributions to our schools and students.
* Informed. Our negotiations will incorporate up-to-date studies from local and national experts. In addition, to ensure that we are sharing accurate information and to preserve good faith, ONLY members of the District’s bargaining teams will speak about the ongoing negotiations on behalf of the District.
To keep our community informed about our current contracts and the District’s proposals for negotiations, we have posted current contracts and negotiations proposals at our web site. You can visit www.seattleschools.org and click on Labor Relations.
2009-10 BUDGET AND REDUCTION IN FORCE
Like districts throughout Washington state, Seattle Public Schools has been greatly affected by the current economic crisis and the State Legislature’s recent budget cuts. In our case, these factors have led to a projected $34 million budget shortfall for 2009-10.
To close this gap, we have cut central office expenses by $3.8 million, implemented operational efficiencies, streamlined transportation to save $2 million, frozen cost of living salary adjustments, implemented a hiring freeze, and made difficult decisions about closing schools. Savings from school closures will amount to $50 million over the next five years in operating and capital costs, including nearly $4 million for 2009-10.
We will also use $10.2 million of reserves to address the budget shortfall. This action will leave us with a reserve balance equal to 3.8% of our general operating fund — within the range specified by board policy.
Although we worked extremely hard to keep budget cuts away from the classroom, it was necessary to implement a Reduction in Force (RIF) earlier this month, which resulted in notices to 172 certificated staff members (approximately 5% of the District’s total certificated work force) as well as 59 classified staff members (instructional assistants and office support workers). RIF notices for our represented staff are determined by provisions in our contracts including seniority and category of employment. Earlier this spring we informed 29 non-represented management staff (about 8%) that their jobs would be eliminated.
Our teachers are at the heart of this District. They make a difference in students’ lives every day and are vital to our success. And staff who do not work directly with students in the classroom are also vital to student achievement because everyone at Seattle Public Schools is here to support our students.
I am hopeful that many of the staff members who received RIF notices will be able to be called back for next year in response to retirements and resignations. However, I recognize that retirements and resignations may be lower than normal this year as people hold off on making decisions until the economy stabilizes.
I have been deeply saddened to have to make decisions that may result in the loss of wonderful teachers and other staff members. They are valued members of our community, and I want them to know how much our community appreciates their service.
Earlier this year, I made a number of principal appointments in response to decisions about school closures and moving programs. I recently announced an additional series of principal appointments. Accountability for the performance of our schools is one of my most important responsibilities. In making these important decisions, I take a number of factors into account including individual principal’s skill sets, the needs of the school, individual principal’s requests, and the districts commitments to our principal corps.
In some years, the principal appointment process has incorporated extensive involvement by school communities. This year, however, in light of District budget reductions, school closures, and a significant number of principal requests, we simply didn’t have the opportunity to incorporate more extensive community engagement in the process.
Some people have asked whether community involvement is required in the appointment of principals to alternative schools. School Board policy C54.00 (related to Alternative schools) describes community participation in the selection of instructional staff, support staff and administrative (office) staff. This policy does not apply to principal selection, however, which is a decision that rests with the Superintendent.
I am proud of the principals who lead our schools, and I am confident that every principal at every school — both those who are continuing and those who have been newly appointed — will work cooperatively with students, staff and families to maintain and create powerful and effective learning communities. I know that staff, students and families at each school will join me in welcoming these new school leaders and will work together to help every student succeed.
While we have weathered our share of difficult storms this year, all of us at Seattle Public Schools remain committed to providing an excellent education for our students so that they all graduate from high school ready for college, careers and life. And I remain, as always, extremely grateful for the dedication of our staff and for the support from the community.
Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.