Monday, March 06, 2017

Superintendent Nyland's Letter on Budget

I assume that many of you may have seen this but in case you have not, here is
Dr. Nyland's March 2 Letter to Families Regarding Budget Update.
(The highlighted area in red is mine indicating where I think the most people will see the impact.  I will have to ask about the class size reduction situation as I thought K-3 was protected.)
2017-18 Potential Budget Deficit Update

Dear Seattle Public
Schools Families:

This is an update on next year’s budget situation. As you know, due to the state’s delay in fully funding education, Seattle Public Schools faces a $74 million budget shortfall for 2017-18.

As a district, we must advocate for both short and long term funding solutions. It is important the Legislature’s proposed solutions address our 2017-18 deficit as well as ensure we can offer our students a 21st century education for years to come.

Short Term Solution

Most of the 2017-18 budget shortfall is related to salaries and compensation, something the state should be fully funding, but $30 million of our deficit is because the state has reduced how much we can collect from already approved local levies. Unless the state Legislature takes action, our local levy authority will reduce before the state has provided additional funding to backfill for the decrease.
This misalignment of state activities is called the Levy Cliff. Our Seattle Legislative delegation has been working diligently to obtain temporary relief from the Levy Cliff. I want to thank our delegation for their good work and we remain cautiously hopeful there will be a positive solution for Seattle, but it is unclear when relief may be provided and how much funding will be restored. While a Levy Cliff bill has passed the House of Representatives, the Senate has not acted upon it.

Long Term Solution

There are four state education budget plans on the table right now: the governor’s education plan, House Democrats’ HB1843, Senate Republicans’ SB5607, and SB5825 sponsored by Senator Mullet. The good news is all policies and or plans recognize that addressing school funding should be done this legislative session. The bad news is, so far, none of the proposals would cover more than half of our 2017-18 budget shortfall. The current plans or policy recommendations do not fully address the state’s constitutional duty to amply fund public education.

Timing creates additional uncertainty for the district. Currently, there is a lull in legislative action. From this point, legislators will need time to review the four different plans and begin working toward a compromise. Without clarity from the state, we must move forward with delivering the worst-case budget to schools.

Impacts for Seattle Public Schools

Each school receives funding based on the projected full time student enrollment, with schools receiving additional funding for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

On February 28, because the state did not address the Levy Cliff in time, schools received reduced budget allocations that reflect our worst-case scenario for next year’s budget. Over the next few weeks, school leaders will be working with staff to make the required reductions and a prioritized restoration plan for when we get our final budget from the state.

We have been actively preparing for this scenario. The School Board has held nearly a dozen work sessions trying to minimize impacts of budget cuts to schools and the budget office, with support from the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Association (SCPTSA), has held numerous community meetings. Out of $74 million in budget reductions, $16 million will come from schools’ budget formula.

Without new funding from the state, impacts families will see in 2017-18 include:

Larger class sizes: We will need to go back to the contractual ratios outlined in the Seattle Education Association contract except for grades K-2 in schools with a high number (sic) families experiencing poverty.

Reduced mitigation funding: Every year, we have been able to offer mitigation funds, funds outside the per student allocation, to support unique school programs and needs. For example, mitigation funds were provided to reduce multi-grade classrooms last fall. This funding has been reduced from $7M to $2M. While we will be able to provide some support, it will be significantly reduced.

Loss of unique positions and disruptive movement of staff: While we don’t anticipate many teachers or school-based staff will lose their jobs because of typical turnover, there will be close to 200 displacements and shifting of teachers across the district. The staff changes will most likely take place at the start of school when enrollment is confirmed. Central office staff, administrator positions, including assistant principals, counselors, and specialists are at greater risk of job loss because of the unique aspects of their positions.

Meanwhile, we will continue to work with legislators to convey the gravity of this funding crisis and to prepare as best we can for various scenarios. District leaders, the School Board, and others including many families have made numerous trips to Olympia to share the severe impact these cuts will have on Seattle Public Schools and our students. The Seattle Education Association, SCPTSA, Washington Paramount Duty, and Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools continue to partner and help us advocate for full funding of education in Olympia. I am deeply grateful to our partners and their unwavering commitment to our students and public education.

I know these are difficult times. I truly wish the budget reductions were not necessary. Please share a little extra gratitude and kindness to our school and central staff over these next few weeks and months. The uncertainty is weighing heavily on many of our staff.

I do remain hopeful that at least some of our budget shortfall will be restored for the 2017-18 school year and my commitment to you is to continue providing regular budget updates as we learn more.

If you have any questions regarding the budget, please email or You can also learn more by visiting the SPS 2017-18 Budget webpage.

It is an honor and privilege to serve you, your family, and student.

Dr. Larry Nyland


Watching said...

I'm watching Olympia and I'm not feeling hopeful.

Seattle Public School's budget process begins one month before other districts. Seattle's February 28th timeline came and went. Other districts will deliver budgets to schools in March. Perhaps we will see movement in March???

My hunch: On April 30th , the legislature will INTRODUCE legislation regarding the levy cliff. What that legislation looks like is anyone's guess. Then, there will be a vote. What will the vote look like?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Watching, there IS a stand-alone levy cliff bill, voted out of committee and passed by the House. It's the Senate that will not allow a vote.

This weekend me and another activist, Jennifer Pinkowski,sent out letters to editors of newspapers around the state, explaining how much money their region's school districts will lose if the levy cliff bill is not enacted.

We named names (GOP senators in those regions who have not acted). Here's hoping some get printed. (Some newspapers only print letters from readers in their region.)

And, here's the latest on "work" on McCleary:

Oh NOW, legislators are getting down to business on McCleary. Good to know.

"A small group of lawmakers will gather Wednesday to begin the difficult negotiations on a plan for fully funding public schools.

Eight legislators, two from each of the four caucuses, will hold the first of several scheduled meetings this month to hammer out an approach that can pass muster with the Supreme Court and win backing of a majority in the Legislature, plus the governor.

In addition to Sullivan and Billig, the other Democratic negotiators are Rep. Kristine Lytton, of Anacortes, and Sen. Christine Rolfes, of Bainbridge Island. Rivers will be joined by Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, and Reps. Paul Harris, of Vancouver, and David Taylor, of Moxie."

Not happy to see Billig there.

kellie said...

The whole "levy cliff" problem can seem quite esoteric. However, schools have just gotten their budgets and some of them are quite draconian.

I have been hearing from a wide variety of schools that they are needing to cut teachers, despite expecting larger enrollment next year.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Yet Nyland won't fire the Executive Directors or make more central staff layoffs. Surely we can all agree that JSCEE staff should be cut to the bone before a single teacher is laid off. I'd like to hear from our school board members about this. I think the "worst case scenario" budget needs to be revisited.

As to Olympia and the levy cliff...we have only just begun to fight. Expect pressure on the legislature to ramp up considerably in the next few days and weeks.

kellie said...

Thank you Melissa for sending out all of those letters. I hope it makes an impact.

ConcernedSPSParent said...

Cutting central staff to the bone would require strong leadership from Nyland, so no go on that...

Outsider said...

Considering that "billig" means cheap or inexpensive in German, a guy named Billig could only be destined to be a Republican legislator. He is definitely not the one you would want on the committee if you hoped for generous funding. Is there a legislator named Teuer?

Anonymous said...

How about all the schools who no longer have a vice principal next year? Who but SPS keeps those ridiculous middle management executive director positions but leaves one administrator to oversee 500-600 kids lead the teachers and deal with parents? If I were a principal I'd hightail it out of this 2-bit district and head straight for the suburbs. Any suburbs and that includes Coogan's Tukwila. It's that bad.


kellie said...

DistrictWatcher highlights a major challenge. Nylands reference to unique positions and disruption of staff is severely understated.

SPS has been hiring about 200 new teachers every year to keep up with natural staff attrition and enrollment growth. While there won't be a lot of people directly laid off as a result of the levy cliff, there are 200 teachers (that we are still going to need) who are not being interviewed and placed for next year.

Neighboring districts, even ones facing similar challenges, have prioritized their budget cuts differently and will be able to make offers to new teachers and staff.

We have this problem every year where neighboring districts are able to offer employment contracts while SPS is still working on the budget. We lose a lot of great staff each year because of this timing issue. We start every school year with long term subs and often don't find a full time teacher until Nov, Dec or even January. This problem is much worse at Title 1 schools.

Anonymous said...

Kellie--if we know this is a problem, why don't we change the timeline?


Watching said...

A Seattle senator felt we should not protest in Olympia. This individual felt we should organize, testify in Senate meetings etc. We did. Did our efforts help in relation to the levy cliff? NO.

Other districts will send their budgets to school buildings in March. It is time for us to bring our children to rally in Olympia. It worked for charter schools and we need media attention.

Kelly- We can't always compare other districts to Seattle. Other districts are smaller. Their reserves are large enough to absorb levy cuts.

Mullet has a bill that would prevent Seattle from loosing levy funding. Seattle residents would send levy funds to Olympia and Olympia would send the dollars back to the district.

kellie said...

@ Watching,

I agree. Other districts are not always a good comparisons to Seattle.

In this case, I was referring to other districts, not so much as a comp, but because that is where staff and teachers are most likely to find other jobs. I think this is important because every year, Seattle loses very capable staff and teachers to surrounding districts. This is because of how the WSS works and how staff is allocated at the building level.

Despite year over year growth in the total number of teachers, every year, buildings are handed incredibly conservative budgets, with numbers SMALLER, than the current year, with the "plan" that staff can be added to the buildings up until August.

Tracy Libros was particularly adroit at ensuring that building staff was allocated a little more generously. After she retired, the budget process became even more restricted, where school that are positive about their incoming numbers would still be begging for staff allocations in August.

Many folks might remember that Immediately after she retired, Charles Wright requested over $1M to hire a consultant to try to improve the start of school process. IMHO, that was money needed to try to replicate what Tracy did quietly in the background because of all of her institutional knowledge around staffing.

This gets more challenging when the school in question needed to release staff in the Spring only to be begging to get them back over the summer. Few people are willing to play this staffing allocation game, particularly when surrounding districts make their building level employment commitments so much earlier in the year.

With just my limited knowledge as a parent, I have dozen of examples of this from other parent reports. This has been a big problem with High School math and foreign language teachers, who are now practically impossible to replace, after so many years of spring lay offs and fall re-hires.

Schools like Emerson are completely dependent on the hiring of first year teachers. The ability to keep and retain this teachers is critical for Title 1 schools to build community and connections and stability over time.

Prioritizing teacher hiring and retention is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to make a real impact on education and the opportunity gap. This is always a challenge in Seattle and the levy cliff makes this far more challenging.

kellie said...

@ Baffled,

I am also baffled about this. I had thought this might be a "new" problem related to growth, but once on a thread Charlie Mas added some historical information that made it clear that this "same" hiring and retention problem went back decades.

There are some shockingly simple "textbook" budget practice changes that could easily change the way we hire teachers but none of them ever seem to be in the conversation.

To be clear, I am NOT commenting on the practices of anyone who works in the budget office. Every time, I have ever worked with SPS' budget office, I have always gotten very good information and tremendous confidence that they know their stuff very well.

The changes would need to be made to the budget cycle and the budget process and that can only happen at the top levels.