Seattle Schools' 2017-2018 Budget: What is the Real Story?

One statement that Superintendent Nyland likes to say is "We can do anything, we can't do everything."  

This week Seattle Schools hosted  two community meetings (which, for some reason, they called "work sessions." Confusing.)  At the meeting I attended on Tuesday, the 25th, there were four community members including me. Here's what staff said in their announcement for the meetings(partial):

Everything You Want to Know About the Budget
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will be hosting two budget work sessions this fall for parents and community members to learn budget background information and to gather feedback on the question, “What Do You Value?” as it relates to potential funding changes for the 2017-18 school year.

Both meetings will provide an overview of the district’s budget and planning process as well as an opportunity for our families to make recommendations to the District’s Leadership Team and School Board regarding what their ideas would be if the district receives additional funds or has funding reductions that affect the 2017-18 school year.

By collaborating with parents and other community partners, Seattle Public Schools can provide a voice for our students and their families. Through this process we hope to better align and leverage feedback from our families to meet school and District goals and to improve student outcomes.
That is fairly benign language for what could be very serious.  The number thrown out at Tuesday's Budget meeting was a $71M gap for next year's budget. And, as was pointed out to me by one director, if the district is going to be in a very serious situation - - is "value" the right word or should it be "essential" or "fundamental?"

I do not have a link to the document handed out at the community meetings but here is what the Board was given at Wednesday's Work Session on the budget. The language there is far more dire.

Although the 2013-15 and 2015-17 biennium Washington State budgets reversed the trend of diminishing State funding for K-12, it did not replace the accumulated reductions of the prior years. The severity of the accumulated shortfall continues to damage programs, infrastructure and student achievement, and extraordinary measures are required to achieve a balanced and sustainable district budget. 
We will work thoughtfully, diligently and transparently to achieve the best outcomes possible for SPS students, while acknowledging that any budget cuts are not in the best interest of our students. Closing the opportunity gap is at the core of our work – a sustainable level of funding for our schools is essential to success and to allow flexibility and innovation.
I find that last sentence seems to not mesh with the situation.  When you have fewer dollars, it's pretty hard to be flexible and innovative.

I believe the district when they say that the "new" money from McCleary has not backfilled cuts that were made.  The Legislature continues to call this "new" money and rather acknowledges the actual realities.

I believe the staff in Budgeting are sincere in their efforts but it was clear to me that this was not really a "get to know your district's budget" meeting. I believe staff in their concern over what money is coming from Olympia.

But I also think it is an effort to lay the groundwork to start cutting back or getting rid of programs that the district no longer supports.  I'm not sure I believe it's just about money.  And I think the district wants this cover of "not enough money" to avoid hard conversations that should be happening. 

I also attended last night's meeting about reopening Lincoln High School (thread to come) and I think it should be clear that this district has a lengthy list of needs and wants.  I believe the hard work is in deciding what is a need and what is a want in this district.  I believe that what parents, teachers/principals and JSCEE staff see as a want or a need may be very different items. 

I urge you to write to the Board ( and/or Budget ( with your thoughts immediately.

Staff made a good point at the community meeting that there is no clarity on when any new McCleary dollars could come from the next legislative session.  That's makes it very hard to plan a budget but that doesn't seem to concern some legislators who I believe want to draw out the process as long as possible.

The key page from both the community work session and the Board work session is the Projected FY17-18 Budget (page 7 of the linked Board work session document.)

What it appears to imply is that we may hit a "levy cliff."  No one used this phrase but I think that's one big issue.  But staff said the main cost is salaries.  They have to pay teachers a negotiated COLA plus the new city law on minimum wages will also kick in.  Naturally there is also the issue of staffing to support both the K-3 class size reductions and supporting the 24-credit graduation.

(At last night's meeting on the reopening of Lincoln High, Hale principal Jill Hudson was there and reassured nervous parents on the 24-credit requirement for graduation, saying Hale was already doing it.  I thought to myself, "That right so how ARE they doing it and is the district going to use them as a model?" )


For this school year, here's a big picture view of the money sources:
Local -     $197.8
State -      $446.3
Federal -  $  53.0
Other -     $  92.6 

However, the district got about $25M from other local revenue via gifts, donations, rentals/leases, school food services, tuition/fees and "other."

That brings us to about $814.7M.  The majority of the budget - about 60% - goes to teacher salaries.  

I will pause here to note that although there is this "local revenue" in the presentation, their total budget does not reflect this money.  Meaning, throughout the presentation they continue to say there is a budget of  $789.7.  I didn't notice this at the meeting; I'll have to ask.

They have one page where they compare their budgeting to other districts.  Some interesting findings:

- SPS spends the highest amount per pupil ($12,899) followed by Tacoma ($12,555) and Bellevue ($12,109.)  The low is Kent at $11,039.
- Seattle again spends the highest amount per Sped student ($14,709) with Bellevue right behind at $14,500.  The low is Spokane at $8,634.
- SPS spends the most on ELL at $3,147 with Spokane at $2, 472.  The low is Kent at $819.

When I asked about how we compare to out-of-state districts of comparable size, no one knew.

Chief of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction,Kyle Kinoshita​, gave a short overview of that work.  Also available was head of Teaching and Learning, Michael Tolley.

But when I asked how much MTSS is costing especially given it isn't even fully implemented, no one knew.  The most important single item that they are implementing in every school and they don't know how much it costs.  (They said the work is "ongoing."  Okay but how much does it currently cost?)

But staff went out of their way to say how much Advanced Learning costs - twice.  They say the state gives them $500K and they spend $1.5M.  All AL does is handle applications and testing.  They have maybe 3-4 staff.  How does that eat up $1.5M?  I'll have to ask to see their budget.

When I asked Mr. Kinoshita about the last Work Session on Advanced Learning (just weeks ago), I mentioned that at least three directors supported the idea that AL become a SMART goal for the strategic plan.  I asked him if he supported that idea.  He demurred saying that was for the Board to decide but I told him, "But I'm asking your opinion."   I was told this wasn't the time to talk about that.   

There is a key page in the Board Work Session document which is page 18, SPS Programs Enhanced with Levy (they mean the Operations Levy.)  Here's the list:

- Advanced Learning programs/offerings
- Bilingual programs  programs/offerings
- Option Schools
  - dual language
  - K-8s
  - Montessori
- Special Education
- Others?

The difference between the page at the community work session and the Board Work Session is this line in the Board's:
Not inclusive list - examples only to generate conversation.

Well, that list certainly WOULD generate conversation.  You can see it's only programs, not departments like Technology.   On another page, they do talk about "general admin efficiencies, reduce fall enrollment adjustments and eliminate funding to reduce school splits."

Other input:

OSPI stats from reader Lynn:
Here's a link to some relevant information on costs: OSPI Staffing and Salary Data 2014-15. You'll need to use excel to see district level info.

The state allocates FTE funding by position but districts choose how to spend the money.

Some highlights:
State funded positions vs actual SPS hiring

65 librarians - SPS hired 58
99 counselors - SPS hired 80
13 health & social services - SPS hired 49
89 teaching assistance positions - SPS hired 18
201 custodians - SPS hired 260
144 principals - SPS hired 180
10 student and staff security - SPS hired 1
127 Learning Assistance Program FTE - SPS hired 63
78 Transitional Bilingual Instruction - SPS hired 237
7 Highly Capable - SPS hired less than 2

The state allocated $110,211,785 for classroom teacher salaries. SPS spent $147,952,735. The state allocated $8,637,087 for principal salaries. SPS spent $20,507,293.

My thoughts:

We could save almost $9M by limiting the principal salary subsidy paid out of local funds to the same percentage of state funding that we give our teachers. At the school level, we can look at Ballard High School. The state gave us $2,325,015 for 42 teachers at BHS and we spent $3,917,810 on 54 teachers. The state gave us $174,470 for 3 principals at BHS and we spent $468,962 on 4 principals.

SPS spent $1.1M of local funds on technology support salaries.

We spent just $3.7M of local funds on MSOC (maintenance, supplies and operating costs).

Our transitional bilingual instruction salaries exceed state funding by over $10M.

Reader 47:

In the 2016-2017 Budget Book on page 33 (they call it page 25) is an org chart listing the number of people in each category of position. Here's some areas of "opportunity" to balance the budget

Under the rather ambiguous heading "Director/Supervisor" there were 84.7 in the 2014/15 year and 100.9 in the 2016/17 budget year....hmmmm...

Under "other District Administrator" there were 34 in 2014/15 and 41.7 in 2016/17 - double hmmm..


Heads-Up! said…
As part of the budget process, the district wants to restructure advanced learning's delivery model. People need to pay attention.

I am not sure why advanced learning is being targeted. Advanced learning is a VERY small part of the budget.
Anonymous said…
Where's the cost analysis associated with restructuring AL? What sort of options do they see as viable alternatives, and what are the costs of each? Returning kids to neighborhood schools would be very costly, unless we have a bunch of free, 4-story portables lying around somewhere...

Melissa, you hit the nail on the head here: "I also think it is an effort to lay the groundwork to start cutting back or getting rid of programs that the district no longer supports. I'm not sure I believe it's just about money. And I think the district wants this cover of "not enough money" to avoid hard conversations that should be happening."

That appears to be the case.

Further, the Supreme Court is highly unlikely to allow the legislature to push districts over the levy cliff, especially when the state is in contempt of court over the McCleary case.

The vast majority of the scary $70m number is levy cliff. SPS's own projections show that they can address the remaining $13 million or so with other funds that don't come out of classrooms or programs. And we should expect the legislature to provide more than enough funding to cover the $70m figure and keep all these programs going.

Therefore, no member of the public should play SPS's game. They want us to fight amongst ourselves and turn on each other's programs. This a prisoner's dilemma situation and the only way out is to not play their game: instead we unite and tell SPS "no cuts."

We then go to Olympia, and especially to our Seattle legislators, and insist they bring home enough money so that SPS never faces this problem again.

SPS is proposing an unusually and unnecessarily aggressive timeline to make these decisions - potentially identifying initial cuts by mid-November. We should completely reject that and tell them they do not need to make any such decisions until the spring.

I've seen situations like this before and the only way we win is by pushing back against this entire exercise. They're not necessarily "crying wolf" but neither are they being straight with us, and they certainly don't need to force us to pick which kids win and which kids lose. Just say no: SPS won't be allowed to cut anything. We stand together as a community.
Heads-Up! said…
"I also think it is an effort to lay the groundwork to start cutting back or getting rid of programs that the district no longer supports."


The district also suggested looking at cutting elementary school counselors. For years, we can not get stable funding for counselors. Schools, repeatedly, state they need counselors.

Anonymous said…
Agree with Robert 100 percent.

It's hurry up and act on budget cuts to things we don't like with zero financial and outcomes data to back up the wisdom of proposed cuts. And it's sit on our hands and do nothing in a hurry about pressing boundary, assignment, and program decisions that directly impact students and families and decisions they are being forced to make (per SPS deadlines) now for next year and beyond.

As a city we must demand no cuts to schools and programs. If this district decides it needs to cut, cut at John Stanford Center and the executive directors who don't seem to do much of anything.

Concerned Hamilton and Cascadia parent
Anonymous said…
I vote for getting rid of standardized tests unless mandated by law.

Nw mom

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