Garfield High School
Garfield High School is still slated to lose a teacher. District administration says Garfield’s enrollment is under projections, and the building is overstaffed. As of Curriculum Night, the Garfield community was under the impression that they were comfortably over projections.
There are a lot of conflicting and confusing numbers. Since this is a long post, I’m going to tell you my conclusions right away. I think district administration made a mistake. It’s likely they made more than one mistake. I came to this conclusion after examining the (sparse) enrollment data available on the SPS and OSPI websites. I thought that if the district’s other enrollment data was consistent and normal, the counting difference was probably a mistake on Garfield’s part.
SPS enrollment data is riddled with anomalies, conflicts and inconsistencies, leading me to conclude that district administration made an error with Garfield’s count – and possibly in other enrollment calculations, as well.
Spring 2014. The district creates enrollment projections for all schools. High school staffing is usually based on this projection; high schools often create student schedules for the following year before the current year ends. Projection for Garfield (available on the district website): 1,612, budgeted for 61.2 teachers.
Summer 2014. Budget approved by board. Later in the summer, district administration allegedly revises projections (revised projections not available to the public). Garfield’s new, undisclosed-until-October projection: 1,653. Unknown if additional staffing was budgeted.
September: waitlists! Students can move around until the end of September if there’s space available at the school they wish to attend. Garfield always has a high wait list, with 117 general education students hoping to get in this fall (9th: 71, 10th: 24, 11th: 14, 12th: 8).
End of September: the Garfield building is too full for the waitlist to move much.
October 2nd: Curriculum night at Garfield. Long-time building leadership states that building enrollment is 1,688.
Mid-late October: District administration announces that Garfield is under-enrolled and should plan on losing or ransoming a faculty member (for about $90K). District calculation of Garfield
enrollment: 1,586. Teaching staff to be reduced from 60 to 59 teachers (somehow less staff than they were budgeted for at 1,611 students.
Mid-late October: Garfield revises enrollment, likely according to “new” guidelines from JSCEE, estimating building enrollment at 1,622.
Late October: District administration insists 1,586 is correct enrollment, and that Garfield will lose a teacher. Administrators seem to feel pulling a teacher from a core class will have less of an impact on students if they do it at the end of the semester, apparently failing to realize that the overwhelming majority of core classes are full year.
There are a lot numbers that don’t really correspond. How does one make sense of it?
* Garfield’s enrollment is usually over 1,600 students. The district’s 2014-15 count for Garfield is unusually low, but not completely improbable.
* Staffing appears to have never reached the level projected for 1,611 students and is being reduced further.
* The school was too full in September to move the wait list, but so under-enrolled in October a teacher needs to be pulled.
This is all strange, but not quite enough to conclude that district administration made a mistake.
Would it help to look at what happened at other schools?
* Gatewood was projected for 429 and came in at 405. They ransomed their teacher for around $90,000.
* Stevens was projected for 401 (in the spring), came in at 405 and still lost a teacher (uh, what?). They were given an opportunity to ransom their teacher.
* Hazel Wolf K-8 was projected for 763, came in at 711, and… JSCEE agreed that it wouldn’t work well for their program to have a teacher removed. But, those are conflicting numbers.
District administrators were in possession of enrollment numbers in September (because the district is required to file enrollment numbers with the state every month of the school year), and would have been able to provide early warning to schools in danger of losing staff due to under-enrollment.
Despite failing to do this, the district is asking us all to trust that staffing changes are simply based on reconciling projections with actual enrollment. But the numbers the decisions are supposedly based on are not available to the public. Spring projections can be found on the district website. But the summer projections that informed the decision to pull teachers are unavailable.
Detailed enrollment data is unavailable to the public without persistent public records requests, and even then, not all requests are filled.
There's no explanation of why schools within projections have to pay a ransom or lose a teacher, while a school 52 students under projections keeps a teacher.
The rationale for decisions is utterly opaque. From the outside, decisions about whether to pull a teacher or not could as easily be made by a game of drunk darts, horoscope consultation or checking with the octopus at the Seattle Aquarium as it is by data.
So, to recap: Garfield and district administration don’t agree as to how many students are in the Garfield building. District administration decided not to fill the school with students from the waitlist, then decided to pull a teacher.
Maybe Garfield’s building miscounted and district administrators caught a mistake. It’s possible.
Garfield leadership has been in place for many years, and is experienced with the ins and outs of counting high school students, but that doesn’t make them infallible. But Tracy Libros, who as long-time enrollment director spent many years looking over the enrollment data, retired in June, so it’s possible that the district administrators working on calculating enrollment are taking on the full responsibility for the first time, and also may not be infallible.
End of Part Two.
Press release from Garfield Staff and PTSA, November 6, 2014
Garfield High School staff, students, and parents are still facing the loss of a full time teacher, even after a walkout and protest by students, staff, and parents. The district has only delayed the action until the end of the semester. Since the vast majority of high school courses are year-long rather than one semester, the effects of the cut may still be devastating to the 150 students whose schedules will be altered. Popular Latin teacher, Wayne Miller, learned that he has been named as the teacher to be cut through a district announcement before he, the Building Leadership Team, or the rest of the Garfield High School community were notified.
The Garfield faculty and the PTSA are requesting an opportunity to discuss the budget shortfall and possible solutions in a meeting with the superintendent. The faculty and PTSA are seeking a less disruptive solution to the budget shortfall. The letter points out that the Seattle School District has the most lopsided distribution of funds in the region, with $306 million of the
$689 million budget spent at the district office, and only $386 going directly to schools.
The letter also asks the superintendent to explain how the decision to cut Garfield’s budget in the middle of the term was determined. Garfield appears to have met all enrollment projections, and has a waiting list of over 100 students, which the district has refused to allow to be enrolled.
Letter to Superintendent Nyland attached to press release dated Nov. 4, 2014
The staff and parents at Garfield High School appreciate your letter, sent to us on October 27, responding to our concerns. We realize that you have many pressing issues in need of your attention and we respect the fact that as a new superintendent there must be great pressure on your time. However, we have found your reply leaves many questions unanswered and concerns unaddressed. We ask that sometime in the near future you meet with representatives of the Garfield community so that we can clear up any misunderstandings and collectively determine how to offer the greatest support to our students.
Here are some of the concerns we hope to discuss with you.
When the Seattle School District originally notified Garfield we would be losing a teacher, we were told this teacher would be from a core subject class (math, language arts, history, or science) and that the displacement would happen by October 27. This would have left 150 of our students without a core class, some nine weeks into the school year, and would have had the potential to threaten the graduation of many students. The original timeline of the loss of a teacher was untenable and was not in the best interest of students. In the second letter you sent, the timeline was adjusted to three months later with no explanation about the change. Given that there is no means of open communication about this very serious decision, the stress level of teachers and students was and remains very high. Students had first worried that they would enter the building the next week with no teacher. While that worry was alleviated, another replaced it – will they lose a teacher after working with them all semester? And, if so, who?
Further adding to the mistrust and stress is the apparent lack of understanding of the reality of high-school student class schedules. Communications from the district, and comments you made at the community meeting, imply that there will be very little disruption to student schedules now since the proposed teacher loss will not happen until semester two. This ignores the reality that most core classes, including all AP classes, are full-year rather than single semester classes. It was frustrating to learn that perhaps the district administrators do not understand this basic fact of high-school schedules.
Students have the right to feel safe that their educational choices will be honored, and that their district won’t eliminate a class when they have already committed time and energy. Our students had this trust and now it is gone. We have had many questions from our students but can offer them no assurances, as we are as much in the dark as they are about future decisions.
Additionally, communication regarding budget decisions made at the district level has been shrouded in secrecy and confusion. As near as we can tell, a change was made to the method whereby students are counted in the enrollment numbers; these changes were not made clear and are still not clear. As employees of a publicly funded school district, we have the obligation to make sure that monetary decisions are transparent, readily available, clearly communicated, and made with input from the correct people. In this case, the Building Leadership Team (BLT) was not consulted as is called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. While the district asserts that the enrollment numbers are too low to support 60 FTE, we also wonder why the approximately 100 students who were on the Garfield waiting list in September were unable to be accommodated at that time.
Furthermore, a disconcerting intimation exists: that the PTSA could fund the position if concern for the loss of the position was extreme enough. This solution is unacceptable and it sets a bad precedent for the future; it is the job of SPS to fund teachers, not the job of hard-working PTSA members. This option, which was offered to schools, reinforces economic inequality and sidesteps responsibility for the primary task of the district – hiring and maintaining excellent teachers to staff stable schools. Some PTSAs will be able to raise the funds, and some will not; success or failure to keep a teacher becomes dependent on the amount of money readily available to those families living in the enrollment area – not a fair basis for school funding.
We also believe that the school district has an obligation to make every effort possible to keep staffing displacements or layoffs as far from the classroom and direct services to students as possible. Here we have a few ideas. The 2014-2015 proposed budget for Seattle Schools is $689 million. The central district offices consume $306 million with the schools receiving the balance of $386 million. These figures reinforce the reality that administrative costs in the district are inordinately high compared with comparable districts (Tacoma, Spokane). Additionally, Garfield students receive less per pupil funding than any other high school in the district and the cost of funding a teacher through the school year would be .003% of the district’s budget allocation; surely a better use of funding than more administrative costs which may or may not directly benefit students. Moreover, the district has a “rainy day” fund totaling in the many millions of dollars, and often ends the fiscal year with a surplus budget in the many tens of millions of dollars. We realize that it can be difficult to run a school district when the state legislature breaks the law with regard to school funding—and we hope that the district will join with the Garfield community in raising our voices for the funds we deserve during the upcoming legislative session. However, the undeniable truth is the district has the funds to stop this massive disruption of student learning at Garfield High School.
Finally, it is completely unacceptable that a teacher was publicly identified at a community forum by District officials as the one slated for displacement at Garfield without any consultation from the BLT. At a District sponsored public meeting at the Yesler Community Center on Monday, October 24, 2014, it was made known that the Latin program—and therefore the one Latin teacher, Mr. Wayne Miller—would be displaced from Garfield. This announcement was made before staff, students, or even Mr. Miller himself, had been notified of the decision. Personnel decisions are a private matter protected by the union contract. This Latin teacher, an excellent teacher dedicated to his students, heard it “through the grapevine,” the morning following the public announcement that he was losing his job at Garfield. Not only does this violate the contract, it is emblematic of a lack of caring, concern, or courtesy - all qualities that should characterize our dealings with one another.
The quick back-pedaling from this announcement was also concerning. Students were naturally talking the next day about the announcement and the naming of Mr. Miller. Some were chastised for “spreading rumors” and “speculating.” These students and/or their parents had attended the community meeting and heard first-hand from you the name of the teacher to be cut, yet were made to feel they did not have any basis for repeating information provided at the meeting.
The District’s actions and communications have left the staff, the students, and the parents of the Garfield community confused, disheartened, and lacking answers to the basic questions raised by recent events.
In order to work toward a mutually agreeable solution we ask that you meet with representatives from the Garfield staff, the Seattle Education Association, the Garfield Associated Student Government (ASG), and the PTSA. Our goal in such a meeting would be to clarify the funding mechanisms whereby displacement decisions have been made and will be made in the future, to elucidate protocols for acceptable ways to deal with urgent personnel decisions, and to establish a model of communication that honors students, staff, and parents. Please contact Kit McCormick, Garfield SEA Union Representative, at firstname.lastname@example.org to find a time that would be mutually agreeable for all. Thank you.
The Staff of Garfield High School and the Garfield High School PTSA