Friday, March 17, 2017

Dr. Nyland's Letter to Staff on the Budget

Dear Seattle Public Schools Staff:

Seattle Public Schools faced a $74M budget shortfall for next school year. Recent bipartisan action in the Legislature reduced that shortfall by $24M. Thank you to the Legislature and Governor Inslee for delaying the Levy Cliff and for restoring dollars, already approved by our local voters, to our 2017-18 budget.

We are extremely grateful for the timely action. I also want to thank the Seattle Legislative delegation for conveying the seriousness of the Levy Cliff and the potential impact in Seattle. Finally, thank you to the Principal Association of Seattle Schools (PASS), Seattle Education Association (SEA), Seattle Council PTSA (SCPTSA), WA Paramount Duty, and so many others for carrying our needs and message forward.

Delay of the Levy Cliff resolves one-third of the budget shortfall we are facing next year. We can now prepare, with greater certainty, school and central budgets for the 2017-18 school year. It also allows us to reduce far fewer staff and provide our students and families some stability in the short term as the Legislature continues to work on long-term budget solutions.

We find ourselves in a unique position, of being extremely thankful and relieved, but still facing a $50M budget shortfall. Without full funding from the state, the district will still need to make painful cuts. We are working with our partners to identify restoration priorities. We will take those recommendations to the School Board on March 29. We expect the restoration plan will restore most, but not all, of the proposed staffing reductions. Updated staffing allocations will be sent to schools after spring break.
As a result of the McCLeary lawsuit, promises to fully fund education were made. Years later, they remain unfulfilled. Extension of our levy authority, while much appreciated, does not address our long-term financial needs, including adequate and ample educator compensation, nor does it address the state’s constitutional obligation.

I continue to remain hopeful. The Washington Supreme Court has set a firm deadline. By the end of the 2017 legislative session, the state must have a plan to fully fund education. I am encouraged by our community’s united efforts to get the Levy Cliff addressed. It is evidence that when we are aligned, focused, and persistent, we can get great things accomplished on behalf of our children.

Thank you for your patience, commitment, and continued support of our students. As more information becomes available, I will continue to share updates. Attached is a document that provides additional details. If you have any questions during the next phase of the budget process, please contact the budget office at or


Dr. Larry Nyland
Seattle Public Schools


Outsider said...

Identical email was sent to "Dear Seattle Public Schools families:"

Outsider said...

Also, I wondered about the basic premise of the last part. "Full funding" of education under McCleary seems certain to increase education spending on a statewide basis, but was it ever guaranteed to increase spending in Seattle and other wealthy cities of the Puget Sound region?

It seems that McCleary would tend to equalize funding statewide, and there was always a risk that places like Seattle -- losing never-say-no local levy authority -- would end up with Centralia-level budgets that were actually a tad smaller than before. Is Nyland bullshitting when he hints strongly that the remaining $50 million deficit would disappear after a McCleary plan is adopted?

Anonymous said...

This letter makes me angry. First of all, Nyland completely forgets to thank the PARENTS AND COMMUNITY for their incredible efforts toward urging legislators to extend the levy cliff. People wrote post cards, publicly testified, made calls and wrote tweets and emails. They rallied when SPS needed them to rally and it made a difference - but they are conspicuously absent from Nyland's gratitude jar. Also, I am really tired of hearing about "painful" cuts. This kind of rhetoric just starts to sound patronizing after a while, especially when executive directors and other central admin positions continue on as normal when it is difficult to see exactly what good they are doing for our kids. I wish I didn't feel so helpless, but it seems like all the sweat equity parents/community members put into our schools doesn't mean that much in the end. We fill out surveys, sit on committees, attend board meetings, vote, write letters, talk to principals - and still so much of our input is shot down or ignored. This district desperately needs a shake-up, but how?


Anonymous said...

We shouldn't allow a single teacher to be cut until they agree to triple (at least) the cuts to Central Offices.

Oh wait, sorry, I confused our school district with one whose Central Office cares about the kids.

NW Mom

Anonymous said...

"Recent bipartisan action in the Legislature reduced that shortfall by $24M."

Two weeks ago the message was $30M. Before the Levy Cliff resolution SPS said, "This has increased our 2017-18 budget gap by 30 million dollars and is known as the Levy Cliff."

Where did the other $6M go??

Also troubling, "Without full funding from the state, the district will still need to make painful cuts. We are working with our partners to identify restoration priorities."

Who, specifically, does Dr. Nyland mean by 'our partners'??


Patrick said...

"our partners": if you have to ask, it's not you.

Anonymous said...

PSED, the shadow JSCEE that's who.


Anonymous said...

Is SPS Superintendent Nyland trying to inspire the parents to become more enthusiastic about Charter Schools and other options in order to avoid ongoing SPS chaos?

-- Dan Dempsey

Watching said...

The district claims the deficit to be $74M with both the $30M and $24M levy figure.

The numbers aren't adding up.

Anonymous said...

Remember when Nyland said that cutting his compensation wouldn't matter in the larger scheme of things, so why cut it? It's that attitude that dooms this district, and every board we elect keeps going along with it.

Little things add up. If you replace this attitude with classroom first, then everything changes, although there are some that argue this doesn't matter.

When my last SPS student was at Sealth, she said that on any day there were absences of four to five kids or more, the class was less disrupted, more teaching happened. These were classes registered with 30 or more students to start. She felt over crowded when everyone showed up and I'm guessing her teachers would agree with her. So, the idea that we must be less teacher focused and more child focused sounds great in theory, but on the ground it's the teacher to student ratio that matters if you're differentiating. It matters if you're not differentiating.

So the salaries for Larry, the regional directors, multiple superintendents and new projects (political or academic), that are trendy but aren't sustainable, all of it ADDS up. It's not merely symbolic. It's cash that should be going to the primary function of schools. Classroom first means you ditch the extraneous budget killers because your goal is to avoid cuts to the primary recipients in the classroom.

Btw, if we continue to elect boards that say one thing and do another, this answers the proposal on whether or not to pay the board. No.


Anonymous said...

The legislature is portraying it like they approved the entire levy cliff, but they only did so for two of the three components that composed the "cliff". I think the remaining part that was not approved may be that missing 6 million. - GH

Melissa Westbrook said...

To explain the difference between the $24 and $30M, there's this from JoLynn Berg in Finance:
"The difference is the $6m attributable to the per pupil inflator, which must be addressed in the budget bill. It's not something that is currently in RCW.

PPI is used to adjust the Levy Equalization (also known as LEA) Subsidy that the state provides to property poor districts. PPI is the inflationary factor used to increase LEA and is generally a calculation. But PPI also increases our levy base (i.e. the amount of levy we can collect). The state artificially dialed down the PPI to keep its LEA costs from going up. This caused us to have $6m less than anticipated in our levy base and in levy collections."

Demoralized, I hear you. I think his thanks - for the huge effort made by parents and community - was weak.

When the district uses "our partners" in this context, it means the unions and usually SEA and PASS.

Dan, I've often wondered if the mismanagement of the district was a ploy to make it look so bad that the City just "had" to take it over.

As for full funding, the GOP is pushing levy equalization which would mean Seattle would see a slight increase but, in order to property-poor districts to have enough, Seattle wouldn't see as much. I don't like this at all. I also note that many more rural areas routinely don't pass their capital levies and seem to want the State to fix their schools while Seattle and other urban areas routinely do pass their levies.

Taxes or services, you can't have one without the other.

FUR said...


would you post a comment explaining the remaining 50 million shortfall? I gather from your first email that we lost 6 million in taxing authority due to a formula adjustment in the LEA. Do you know anything about the cause of the additional 44 million shortfall.



Anonymous said...

Re: Nyland's letter

As the student population is already over capacity and growing by the month, it should be a fair assumption that NOT ONE SINGLE TEACHER will be cut from the district. To do so would be a criminal act worthy of more lawsuits and should be overseen with teeth by the School Board.


Robert Cruickshank said...

Good to see more people pushing back against this. If Nyland believes they can "restore most, but not all, of the proposed staffing reductions" then surely it won't be too hard to get creative and serious and ensure that not a single teacher loses their job. The district and the school need to take, at minimum, the following steps:

• Increase the reductions at the central office. It's inexcusable to keep the Executive Directors (for example) on board while teachers are being laid off. Consider also laying off assistant superintendents, any anyone else not essential to keeping the lights on.

• Look at ways to delay things like expanding the school day. Roll back any testing that is not mandated by federal or state law.

I'd also encourage parents who have some skills in accounting to take a look at SPS's numbers. Those estimates have changed so much that I would not be surprised to see that there are errors there. I know that in 2006 when SPS was looking to close schools, one parent who was a forensic accountant went through the district's numbers and found numerous errors that, when resolved, meant a significant savings to the district. Perhaps SCPTSA can take the lead here?

At times it seems like central staff think that they are the school district. They're not. They are public servants. The district is the teachers, students, and parents, and the bureaucrats at the JSCEE serve them. Surely a senior staffer at the JSCEE would gladly step aside and take the hit rather than have a teacher lose their job. That is, if they're serious about the children being the focus of our work.

I know there are many school board directors who are watching these comments and threads. I hope they see that the public rejects the initial budget they signed off on. The school board must do a better job. This is an opportunity for them to do what we elected them to do - stand up to central staff and fight for parents and kids. Given that this is an election year, I'd hope that the school board understands that parents will not be in a forgiving mood this November if this budget isn't handled properly.

Anonymous said...

They could save a lot of money (and hassle) by going back to the old bell schedule. - Beacon Hiller

Another Name said...

It certainly wouldn't hurt to drop an executive director or two and increase the workload of others. Why does each district need an executive director? Heck, it is time for Tolley to roll-up his sleeves and pick-up a few schools.

Anonymous said...

I'm hearing many, if not most, schools will have splits. My only experience with a split was when Bryant put the biggest known yeller in charge of a 1/2 split. At first some 1st grade parents felt lucky, like their child was so bright and lucky to get exposure to 2nd grade curriculum in a school staunchly opposed to acceleration...but then reality of a terrible teacher choice set in and nobody was happy.

Are there positive examples out there? I have a feeling this, along with bigger class sizes, will be a new reality until heads roll on the board and subsequently downtown.


Melissa Westbrook said...

There's one (mostly) simple answer to the $50M - the teachers contract.

I have no problem with paying the teachers more; they deserve it.

BUT the district was making this deal without truly knowing where the money would come from. I find that inexcusable.

The GOP had been dragging their feet for years on McCleary so this idea that it would get done b/c the Supreme Court engaged in some saber rattling was wrong.

So it leaves the district trying to cut teachers to pay for teachers.

What would be great is if the SEA said they would graciously wait until the legislature got McCleary done and then get their raise. Meaning, you WILL get your raise but please don't allow cuts that will hurt colleagues, students and schools.

But I agree about Central; they need to see some pain and I hope the Board demands that this happen.

Cuts should be largely kept away from schools.

Anonymous said...

Can we start a campaign to furlough the Executive Directors? There are five of them, and it appears their 2015-16 total standard compensation level was $171,400 each. That is $857k that could be redirected to keeping teachers in the classroom right there.

All state employee salary info for 2015-16 is available here:


Anonymous said...

It it pretty clear that the education directors/executive directors have an image problem. They are so isolated/insulated, nothing said on this blog penetrates.

Remember, Nancy Coogan was one of these do-nothings/cost-much people. They're completely unaccountable. Think Sarah P in Central Region.

Seasoned .

Kate (Belltown) said...

I have to respectfully disagree with the notion of teachers waiting for a salary increase until McCleary is dealt with. Teachers are already underpaid and work many, many uncompensated hours. McCleary should have been settled years ago, and still hasn't, but teachers can't wait for a meager pay increase. Teachers, and hence their students, already bear the full brunt of underfunding.

And on McCleary, fining the legislature is a joke. Given the ongoing intransigence of the Republicans in our legislature, I hope that the Supreme Court gets serious and shuts the schools down immediately after the end of this school year. This is probably the only way to force them to meet their constitutional duty.

Anonymous said...


I have been an admirer of your work since I became a teacher at SPS five years ago-- but I am stunned that you would expect SEA to wait patiently until the state legislature financed McCleary before asking for a raise. As a history and politics teacher, I assure you there are not many successful contract negotiations that involve labor sitting on their hands and waiting for capital to treat them nicely when circumstances are a little better.

Next time I have my student read Civil Disobedience in class, I'll make sure to tell my students Thoreau was a crackpot and if you just keep your head down and shut up, eventually the government will listen to your concerns.


Anonymous said...

I don't like the idea of a parent witch hunt against five Executive Directors to save a small proportion of the budget. I have been impressed with Jon in the NW and believe the position may or may not be necessary, but it has been set up as a stepping stone within the leadership pipeline. Whomever have designed the top heavy org chart should pay the piper, not those trying to grow within a system.

Also, I still wonder what the C&I team does and would be asking a lot of questions about the value of those with no meaningful plans to close the opportunity gap.

One opinion

Anonymous said...

I don't see the value of the Executive Directors. Their salaries would pay for several teachers. It's time to cut the overhead at the administrative level.
Cut them

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cut them - I have watched Executive directors being quietly added on while teachers are cut. Also, I think the "leadership pipeline" excuse is pathetic. Instead, it represents a strong reason to cut the Exec positions. The most difficult and troublesome principal I ever encountered in the SPS was on the leadership track. She put her standing the central district administration far above the needs of students and parents at every turn. She is now out of the district, on to new, and more lucrative, private school horizons. And she got there by stepping on the heads and backs of our children. If you are playing the game - you are part of the problem.


Helen said...

I don't think Melissa should be criticized for pointing out where the 50 million dollar shortfall came from. It is that state's fault for not providing enough funding.

Anonymous said...

Our district has its priorities out of whack. Paying teachers more is great, but not if you really can't figure out how to pay for it. Extending the school day is great (for some), but not if you can't figure out how to pay for it.

On the other hand, NOT bothering to figure out how to provide 24 credits worth of classes to high school students who will need 24 to graduate is not a great idea, whether we have extra money to pay for it or not. The requirement isn't going away, so we have to get it done. And we KNEW this was coming, so we should have allocated the planning and implementation dollars for it long ago.

How much progress have we made on this? We kicked the can down the road two years via the temporary waiver process, and now the can is right is front of us. What now? I'm perfectly happy to keep our 6-period day and add some credit-retrieval options for those who need them, but just not making an decisions and doing something like that by default isn't a good plan. HEY SPS, it's time to start engaging the community on figuring this out. You know, like your waiver application said you'd do. (That BS survey doesn't count, because it was...BS.) The task force recommendation acknowledged potential feasibility issues with its recommendations, so let's GET ON looking at those, so maybe we can move on to plan B...

Waiver link

DisAPPointed (not the "Disappointed" from above)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Diappointed and Kate, I made a suggestion. I come from a union town and I know the value of a union. But I'm looking for ways so that teachers DON'T get cut and I would think that is important to all teachers.

In fact, here's a thought: how about the administration show their commitment to teachers by cutting more at the administrative level.

As for a "witchhunt" of Executive Directors, it's nothing of the sort. I have been amazed had how many parents have said that they followed the chain of command and went to EDs after talking with their principal and got no real help. I've seen them at parent meetings where the parents got more frustrated as the night went along, not less.

They cost the district a lot of money and again, I'd rather see cuts at administration and not in schools.

Lastly, yes, the State is to blame for most of this.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Even if we thought the Executive Directors were doing a great job, they'd need to all be laid off before we lay off a single teacher. Nobody can justify an argument that an Executive Director is more important than a teacher. I would hope that every Executive Director would have the decency to voluntarily give up their position in order to save teachers in the classroom.

Of course, because the Executive Directors are not doing a good job, it does make it easier to insist they all be laid off before we consider firing a single teacher. My experience has been the same as Melissa's - the Executive Directors appear to exist primarily to contain and stop parent concerns and suggestions, and to insulate higher level staffers from hearing or having to deal with those parent concerns. I'm honestly amazed this is even a discussion. Seems like a pretty obvious place to cut.

Anonymous said...

Remember when the EDs were added and they reported directly to the Superintendent and it was supposed to be a way to have the schools directly connected to the Superintendent's office.

Then they reported to Michael Tolley, then they reported to a Chief of Schools, so the EDs are now the very definition of "middle management." I have no option on whether EDs are good or bad. However, there are a symbol of just how much infrastructure downtown seems to need for everything.

It would be nice if schools were funded first and then downtown got everything left over and the folks downtown needed to work out their priorities from that budget instead of pretending that everything supports schools. Some things downtown does support schools, but not 3-7 management layers.

- bulldog

Dave said...

Remember that Stanford laid off dozens of custodians and reduced scheduled cleaning in all site and CALLED it a "central staff" cut.

I suspect they will try that again before cutting a single administrator.

dan dempsey said...

Is it the Ed Directors?
Are the individual Ed Directors the problem?
I think it is the current system and its model, which is the problem.

W. Edwards Deming and his theories improved systems first in Japanese industry and then the USA. Innovative improvements originated bottom up and not top-down.
More factory floor less executive office decisions.
The SPS is the reverse of Deming's recommendations.

Administrators follow the top-down plan and are rarely if ever required to produce positive results. Enfield & Tolley pushed bogus statistics to sell New Tech's $800,000 three-year program for Cleveland as a huge need for the new option school.

The SPS remains a Top-Down system that fakes community engagement.
[See construction of middle school math questionnaire for latest example]
To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

The business of school over the last 40 years has seen a huge percentage increase in the administrator/teacher ratio. Also a much larger increase in administrator salaries vs teacher salaries. ... I fail to see a justification for either increase.

It is hard to see an end of the reign of administrator dominance as any hint of rationality disappeared long ago.

Facts said...

"I'm honestly amazed this is even a discussion. Seems like a pretty obvious place to cut."

Under state evaluation law, principals must be evaluated. With 95(ish) school principals and program administrators, I wonder who all should conduct the evaluations? Maybe Dr. Nyland should do all of them? The school board? This is the primary job of the Executive Director of schools, similar to the principal for teacher evaluations.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And who did that work before the EDs? The district has existed for much longer than there have been EDs? Also, I was told by senior management that the main job of EDs is to be coaches to the principals. It would help if this district is going to have high-priced staff at headquarters to at least explain their real function.