2019-2020 High School Enrollment Issues, Continued

Two items came across my desk about the district's high school enrollment projects for this school year and how many of the comprehensive high schools have experienced problems because of it.

The first is an essay by School Board candidate, Eric Blumhagen, about the high school enrollment calamity. 
This crisis was preventable. In February, District staff issued a preliminary budget that predicted a drop in high school enrollment. In May, SPS presented enrollment data to the School Board based on actual student registrations. This information showed that SPS had registered 1,650 more students than were included in the February budget. That’s an entire high school worth of students!

SPS now has the challenging task of hiring as many as 50 high school teachers district-wide. It’s no surprise that it’s hard to hire good teachers after the school year has started. While all SPS high schools are short-staffed, some schools have a larger gap between their official budget and the start of school enrollment. Rainier Beach should have 4 more teachers than their official budget. Chief Sealth should have 5 more. Roosevelt should have 7 more teachers. Garfield should have a staggering 11 more teachers than the budget allowed.

Additionally, the teacher shortage can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. High school students with flexibility may decide to simply leave these overcrowded classrooms for other options, including online coursework or charter schools. When they do that, SPS loses funding from the state.
The next is an article from Crosscut, highlighting the plight of Rainier Beach High School during this crisis. 

Steven Miller, Rainier Beach’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, said considerations like students’ collective performance in different academic areas went into making the cut. The team decided to eliminate a social studies teaching position, concluding that students would suffer more if they missed math or science instruction.

Now, 10th graders at Rainier Beach are slated to receive just a half-year of history instruction during the 2019-20 academic year. Students will also receive less instruction in visual arts as a result of the cuts.

“The scheduling is like a massive Sudoku puzzle,” Miller said, adding that it’s not yet clear how this will work logistically. “Half the kids might get it the first semester and half the second.”
Mr. Miller's comment about scheduling echoes what parent Kellie LaRue has said for the better part of a decade.  She also believes that the people at JSCEE just don't get how high schools are different from K-8 and the master schedule is everything.
For Rainier Beach, a federal School Improvement Grant had plugged budget holes in prior years. But the grant expired before the start of the new school year and before dollars from the district’s recently renewed operations levy kick in.
Students at the Sept. 4 rally called attention to financial predicaments impacting Chief Sealth International and Franklin high schools, which also serve predominantly low-income students of color and lack parent-teacher association resources. However, neither school is facing staff cuts, SPS spokesperson Tim Robinson said in an email.
Data from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction indicate that spending amounted to approximately $15,424 per student at Rainier Beach during the 2017-18 year — nearly 19% over the statewide per-pupil figure.

Important point here:
The largest factor that goes into estimating per-pupil spending calculations is teacher pay. In Seattle, these expenditures are calculated based on the salary requirements of an educator with 11 years of experience, the district average. To get that number, the sum of teacher pay, federal funding, state money and local dollars is divided by a school’s total enrollment.
However, teachers at Rainier Beach have an average of just seven years in teaching under their belts. At Roosevelt High School, by contrast,  teachers average nearly 16 years of experience. As a result, both schools incur much different costs in reality than they do in district estimates, which misrepresent how much money either school actually receives, Miller contends.
“What this effectively means — and what per-student spending doesn't capture — is that a school like Rainier Beach is effectively subsidizing a school like Roosevelt since both schools are recorded as paying the district average salary for one [full-time employee], regardless of the actual cost,” he said.
But there are also some statements in the story that don't seem to ring true.
Once a school’s needs are assessed, the district issues a budget in the form of staff and the pay they require. Secondary funding sources like grants and money raised by parent-teacher organizations go toward filling funding gaps.
While some high schools certainly raise more money via PTSAs, I doubt very many of those dollars go to fill funding gaps.  Most high schools don't have any staff who are paid for by PTSA dollars.  And, the big money in high school comes from booster clubs for music and athletics. 

What's next:
The Rainier Beach staff plans to launch a fundraiser in October as part of an effort to reinstate the teaching positions that were cut. 

Rainier Beach is currently 33 students over enrollment projections and is among the schools to be allocated additional staff. 
Also of interest:
Students have also urged the district to expedite its plans to construct a new Rainier Beach school building, which is currently expected to be finished by 2025.


Anonymous said…
Staff have the right, per the contract, to refuse to certify a proposed budget. This triggers a union and district representative to come to that building and make their case. If the staff still refuse to certify the budget then the district could impose a budget. How many budgets were voted down? I don't know. Everyone saw this budget was inaccurate, SEA and PASS included, and yet no budgets were shot down.

This push back would have at least informed the district that their methodologies and numbers were totally wrong.

Why didn't staff vote it down over and over? How many knew they had that right? Why didn't SEA and PASS tell them? This was not inevitable.

Theo Moriarty
Anonymous said…
RBHS is not the only high school to offer 1/2 year history to sophomores. IHS 10th grade students are in the same situation and this is not new either.

Mr. Moriarty, I concur.
Anonymous said…
It’s not just high schools and not just FRL schools. It’s EVERYWHERE. Our north end school cut a beloved gym teacher’s position to half time last year. What do you know, enrollment is up, the .5 FTE was reinstated but the staff has moved on. From an HR perspective, you don’t want to hire if you’ll have to lay off, but this scenario is a terrible operational outcome. Can we approach the board to adopt a policy that errs on the side of over projecting enrollment? Staff can be let go easier than they can be hired and the long term implications of what happened this year have far reaching implications, for affluent and especially for FRL schools.

Poor Planning
PP, you'd think the Board would finally get a clue and do something.
Anonymous said…
Today, my high school student daughter shared something concerning. Students sit at tables in one of her classes and get up to 3 points for participation. She learned today that her teacher had given her 2.5 points. She went to the teacher and asked why she hadn't gotten 3 points, pointing out that she pays attention, asks questions and doesn't talk during class. The teacher said she was right and would give her 3 points this time. But, the teacher told her that she won't be able to do that in the future because the other students at her table are black and two of them are not paying attention, but it wouldn't look good if she gave the only white student at the table 3 points.

Is this the direction of the district under the new strategic plan? I'm just speechless. BTW, my kid has gone to very diverse schools since K and has had friends of all colors and backgrounds all her life.

Concerned Parent
kellie said…
Thanks Melissa for posting these two articles. There is a lot to unpack in both of them.

For those that are following this, here are some information sources.

Here is the link to the May 8th Board Work Session where staff presented their enrollment projections and quite vigorously defended why these projections needed to be "conservative" and why they were deliberately choosing to ignore post-open enrollment information, as not relevant to staffing.


The first day of school counts can not be found online. However, you can get a copy by contacting the board office and requesting the 9/5 Operations Committee Packet. That packet will contain the 9/4 enrollment counts for all schools. As poor planning noted, there were some pretty big misses at all grade levels. However, the biggest and most preventable misses were at high school this year.

kellie said…
Eric Blumhagen's essay is very well written and gets directly to the point. This situation was entirely preventable.

Eric's conclusion is also equally clear and illustrates the interconnections of budget, enrollment and capacity. The change we need to make is straightforward. We need to prioritize teachers and students in the budget process.

The phrase "it goes without saying" was practically invented for this situation. It should go without saying that prioritizing teachers and students in the budget is the core work of a school district. However, that simply is not the case with SPS.

I attended the 5/8/19 Board Work Session, and staff make their priorities quite clear during that meeting. It was stated that there was "not enough money to take the risk of over-staffing schools". They repeatedly mentioned that once teachers are in place, they are nearly impossible to remove, because of board and public pressure.

Because over-staffing a school building by even one teacher was so fiscally irresponsible, staff was very clear in their assertion that they only fiscally responsible option was truly to RIF teachers in June and then re-hire in October, if necessary.

That is a plan created by bean counters, not educators. So the "solution" to the problem of "over-staffing" is to create chaos for the start of school process. If staff wanted to prioritize teachers and students, there is a very simple solution.

Every year, we have millions of dollars in underspend for budgeted teaching positions. This is because some positions go unfilled and because new inexperienced teachers are less expensive than the budgeted amount. These dollars that were already budgeted for teachers could easily be converted into a staffing stabilization fund.

kellie said…
Mr. Moriarty makes a great point. While I am the primary person posting on this blog about this budget fiasco, I am certainly not alone in my understanding that this budget was deeply disconnected from the reality on the ground at our schools.

The Board pushed back very hard at the work session on the enrollment numbers. Directors Mack and Pinkham refused to approve the budget because of these enrollment concerns.

SEA and PASS were well aware of the problem.

Dozen of capacity-hardened parents contacted the district. By this point, many parents have been fighting capacity related battles since their high school students, started Kindergarten.

The bottom line here is that downtown developed a plan to create "hiring and staffing stability." That plan was based on creating a building budget in February and then guaranteeing that budget with ZERO CHANGES. Their entire plan to create stability was by promising no changes, so that principals could hire with confidence.

Seattle is a rapidly changing and swiftly growing city. It is simply not possible to accurately staff over 100 buildings, 8 months before the start of school.

For just high school, there were 300 new registrations for high school after open enrollment and before the start of school. That is 10 teachers worth of students, added over the summer. Budget flexibility is a requirement.

kellie said…
I am really grateful that Liz Brazile is drawing attention to the problems at Rainer Beach.

While all high schools were needlessly harmed in this process, some schools are able to bounce back faster than others. Liz's article clearly captures that dynamic.

Eric's article captures all the nuances of the problem, most likely because Eric has served on multiple SPS Task Forces related to capacity, enrollment and budget and has followed this topic for more than a decade. Liz's article captures the situation with fresh eyes but misses many of the more complex and more troubling and longer lasting problems from failing to center the budget on students, particularly Title 1 students.

Rainier Beach's 2018 enrollment was 740. Rainier's Beach's enrollment has been growing every year. Despite that Rainier Beach was budgeted for 685 for the 2019 school year. The projected 55 student drop necessitated removing two teacher from the budget.

The first day count was 806. That number is completely in line with the steady year over year growth that Beach has been experiencing and would require adding two teachers. That makes a total gap of 121 students.

RIF'ing a teacher at Rainier Beach was myopic at best. IMHO, it was just cruel.

"Community based funding" can't help enrollment and budget swings of this size. What can help is the district guaranteeing that the current year's staff at Title 1 schools is continued into the next year. Title 1 schools need some semblance of staffing stability. That should be the budget priority.

kellie said…
So here is the much longer lasting damage to Rainier Beach.

High School is the Master Schedule and the Master Schedule is set in the Spring. A high school can only deliver classes that are on the schedule and the schedule is set by the budget.

Rainier Beach's schedule was set to 685 students. Now you can overload teachers past the 150 mark and stretch that a bit. But you just can't give 6 full classes to 806 students.

That means many students just have holes in their schedules or a lot of TA slots.

So what can a student do? Those with another choice, leave. Some students who were planning to attend Rainier Beach, but don't have the classes they need, leave for charter schools, Running Start or other districts.

The failure to appropriately staff a high school can easily cause the predicted enrollment drop. This then justifies the projection and the chaos is swept under the rug.

Rainier Beach has worked hard to grow their enrollment and their community. They have done this despite the bean counters short staffing the school, year after year.

This is not a WSS problem. This is not a fundraising problem. This is a management problem.

Using the equity lens, Rainier Beach is the only Tier 1 high school. As such, Rainier Beach is supposed to be protected in the budget. Manipulating the enrollment projections as work around to that protection is beyond inappropriate.

Anonymous said…
Many of the other high schools received many more staff cuts and were budgeted for more than 100 less students. Garfield for example was under-budgeted for 350 I believe and 10 teachers cut greatly impacting that school. Rainier Beach was allocated back their two teachers, but they (& all other schools) should not have cut in the first place! Being conservative with projections should mean NOT cutting staff in case you are wrong. I also assume some schools will not gain back all the staff they lost. We cannot ignore the effect this has on all kids but especially FRL students at those schools as well.

Anonymous said…
I can't attend the Work Session today, unfortunately. I implore those who will be attending and testifying to *please, raise this issue*. How can SPS expect parents to believe that it is capable of using MTSS to equitably meet the needs of all students when it can't even manage basic budgeting and staffing? A slide deck full of buzzwords is meaningless.

What's going on with staffing at RBHS, GHS, IHS, and other high schools is a disgrace, but it's the new norm. And as always, schools with more resources, and parents with more resources, will fill the void for their own students. (It's not hard to find and pay for world language tutoring, etc., if you have the money.) Students and parents who don't have access to the resources will lose out. But hey, at least we have a strategic plan with the words "students of color farthest from educational justice" in it at least 25 times.

This likely outcome has been blindingly obvious *for years*. The Board and SPS leadership are failing students on so many levels with this approach.

kellie said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
kellie said…
On the Yoo-Hoo thread, Moving-on commented. “The master schedule “ is a huge revelation. Obviously middle schools don’t have master schedules, do they?

While clearly intended as a snarky comment, this is a common misconception, and is very likely at the heart of the reason why high school funding is always a mess. The middle school master schedule and high school master schedule are dramatically different, because of differences in funding and required variation in course offerings.

I'll start with the easy part. The Middle School master schedule is vastly more efficient than the high school master schedule due to the number of classes that need to be delivered. This matters because the less efficient the schedule, the more money you need to backfill the schedule.

During middle school, student schedules have a lot of shared requirements. Over three years, there are 18 credits/slots on the schedule. 12 of those slots are pre-determined for all students. The day is based on LA, SS, Math, Science and then two electives. While there may be some variation in the electives and the levels of courses, the experience is very structured and very fixed.

High school is a 24 credit experience. Only a handful of those slots are pre-determined as graduation credits. Every student has the right and opportunity to design their very own pathway. By high school students arrive both many years ahead and behind. The variation is extraordinary and the complexity is orders of magnitude different from middle school.

But yet, SPS attempts to fund high school is a very similar manner as middle school and this just doesn't really work without either mitigation dollars or very efficient cohorts.
kellie said…
There are drastic differences in the way that The State of Washington funds middle school and high school.

All of K-8 Education is funded on a homeroom basis. The State of Washington will use the October 1st headcount to determine the number of students and then will provide teachers based on a grade level ratio. The ratio varies by grade level and FRL status but the net effect is that there is very good funding for middle school and most importantly all students are funded. There are small adjustments for partial homeschooling but by and large, every student enrolled on Oct 1st is fully funded for the year.

This is critical because you hire teachers for the full school year. So while enrollment may vary up or down after Oct 1st, you have a nice tidy fixed budget for middle school.

High School is radically different. Funding is doled out in .17 increments. In other words, students are only funded for the classes they are assigned. If a student has a hole in their schedule, .17 vanishes. Thats why there are so many TA slots on the high school schedules.

In a utterly tone-deaf move to "prevent the drop out rate," high school is funded by attendance and not the October 1 headcount. The net effect of this policy is the approximately 5% of high school students enrolled on October 1st, receive ZERO DOLLARS.

Yes, you read that correctly. The "logic" is that since those students won't be there by the end of the year, you shouldn't bother to hire enough adults to actually provide instruction.

So the net effect of this double whammy is that the high school master schedule is both complex and systemically underfunded. Most surrounding districts use their levy money to backfill high school because that is the right thing to do, but not SPS. SPS
passes along this underfunding.

I am constantly amazed with how much our high schools actually accomplish with so little support from both the State and downtown.

Anonymous said…
"Most surrounding districts use their levy money to backfill high school because that is the right thing to do, but not SPS. SPS passes along this underfunding."

So how *is* SPS spending the levy money, compared with other districts?

kellie said…
On the Yoo-Hoo thread, "Franklin update" said

Franklin teachers were calling attention to class sizes:

Pre Calc: 36 students
Algebra 2: 35 students
US History: 36 students
World History: 35 students

I think this is critical information as Franklin is a Tier 2 school and is not supposed to have anything close to those ratios.

Last year during the "levy cliff budget crisis," Staff divided all schools in to 4 Equity Tiers. The stated intent was that Tier 1 and 2 (Rainier Beach, Franklin, etc) schools would be held harmless and Tier 3 and 4 schools would take drastic cuts. (Roosevelt, Ballard, etc)

I think most reasonable people can agree that is the appropriate plan, in an uncertain budget. While nobody likes drastic cuts, it is self-evident that a Tier 4 school can bounce back from cuts must more swiftly than a Tier 1 school.

So this means that all last Spring the narrative was that Ballard and Roosevelt should prepare for drastic cuts, in order to protect Tier 1 and Tier 2 schools. Roosevelt and Ballard did take those hits. Teachers were RIFed for no reason and enrollment was precisely as predicted during the boundary conversations.

But downtown FAILED to provide the protection that was promised. Teachers were also RIFed at Rainer Beach and Franklin, based on a narrative that enrollment was dropping. This was done despite the fact that downtown had information to the contrary. They had enrollment receipts that showed growth in SE Seattle.

This issue was serious enough that Directors Mack and Pinkham refused to vote for the full budget. That's unheard of. But yet even that action did not cause any changes to staffing.

This is an equity issue. If the budget doesn't even try to protect Tier 1 and Tier 2 schools, how can we trust downtown to do anything they say.

As far as I can tell, this real issue is being swiftly swept under the run. Juneau should have publicly apologized to school communities and made a public statement about doing better. But instead she praised the 98% accuracy.

Anonymous said…
Where is the floor? At what point does the district say: we are going to shift funds from school X to school Y, but we won't let funding at any school go below Z? There are low income students at all schools, and all students, regardless of family income, need some basic level of services.

Anonymous said…
@Wondering -Yes a "baseline of equity" for all public schools should clearly be outlined.

Fed Up
Anonymous said…
Franklin's numbers seem like a dream to me. When my kid had Calculus at Hale, there were 45 kids in their class. They were all crammed into a portable. All the Calculus classes were packed.

Anonymous said…
Bandying about the term "equity" without defining what it means, by what yardsticks you're measuring it and what "equitable" looks like at the finish line is meaningless.

If SPS professes to be so concerned about equity, put the above cards on the table. Name it. Measure it/track progress toward it. Know what the finish line looks like/what you're driving toward. And be 100% transparent about it. Period.

This enrollment mess sure smells inequitable. So, what gives?

Concerned Parent
kellie said…
@ wondering,

Here is the link to the adopted budget.


it is often challenging to parse out which money goes where, because there are so many restriction on which dollars can be spent on what.

That said, every district chooses how to prioritize spending and the priorities become very clear in the full budget.

kellie said…
@ Wondering,

Where's the floor? That can also be found in the budget. In theory the floor is provided by the WSS (Weighted Staffing Standards). In the official budget, that is the floor.

Until about 5 years ago, that floor truly was a floor. When "enrollment was less the projected" but still increasing, SPS violated that floor every year. For at least the last five years, during the October adjustment process, multiple schools were pushed below the floor, mostly by refusing to add staff that would have been required under the WSS.

This is entirely within the pervue of the budget office, and has no board oversight.

So where's the floor? It is wherever the budget office says it is.

kellie said…
@ HP,

Unfortunately, that is not a direct comparison.

Hale is well known for packing advanced classes in order to provide more bandwidth elsewhere in the master schedule. That is planned and well known and the overall teacher:student ratio is still within the 1:150.

The situation at Franklin (and multiple other schools) is caused by teachers having ratios between 1:175 and 1:200.

In some cases this will be temporary as SPS attempts to hire over 30 additional high school teachers. In other cases, this could the situation for the rest of the year. There is very little transparency.
kellie said…
@ Concerned Parent,

There is a decided lack of measureable goals, with one notable exception. There is a goal around 3rd grade reading that is measurable and for which resources are being allocated.

If I had it all my way, there would be a goal around "accurate enrollment information." Bellevue has all families do an online confirmation that they will be returning next year. When families don't reply online, this is followed up by a phone call.

As a result, schools have very high confidence in their staffing and are rarely surprised on the first day of school. But more importantly, this builds a culture where everyone values accurate enrollment information.
Apparently, in Highline, there was some of this underenrollment planning and it has backfired on them. So SPS is going to have some competition to find those teachers it now needs.

Kellie, tell the Board what Bellevue does; it sounds good.

Yes, that 3rd grade goal (which, if the Superintendent meets it, she gets a bonus) may be the reason for the uber-specific racial distinctions that one reader brought up. They want to find not every black male student but every American black male student.
kellie said…
@ Mel,

It is not really what Bellevue does. There are hundreds of things that can be done to improve accuracy and most cost nothing. As you well know, it organizational silo problem.

SPS behaves as if enrollment is something that happens to them. Every year, "we are shocked, so shocked to discover that enrollment is not what we projected."

That statement all by itself is the problem. Projections are NOT supposed to be accurate. The art of projections is the art of getting it wrong.

Back in the dark ages, my boss asked me to estimate the growth of the internet. I came up with a number was mathematically ludicrous. And yet, my projection was off by over 1000%. The point wasn't how accurate I was. The point was that you did a variance report where you measured what you "thought would happen" against "what actually happened". When we ran the variance, the conclusion was that the internet was growing faster than anyone could reasonably measure or predict.

SPS simply has never engaged in this basic analytics 101 exercise. "Tell me where I'm wrong" is the bread and butter of a good analyst. If someone can point out what you got wrong, you can make it better. If nobody can find the error, you are just going to repeat it.

I come from a business culture where someone telling you how you got it wrong, was mark of respect and a validation of your ability to get closer next time. But SPS shuts down those conversations with press releases and declarations of victory with their 98% accuracy and then hands out promotions and accolades for the work.

How do you fix that???

And Kellie, going out even broader - this issue keeps happening over and over. If it were one time and they said, "We got it 98% correct", then maybe.

But it's not just one time.
TechyMom said…
They need to budget and schedule for 80% of contract maximum, not 100%. Then reward everyone involved in hitting 80%, and punish people where things tick above 90%, and commit to no schedule changes, unless requested by a student, after school starts. Fund this by laying off central office staff and hiring more teachers instead.
kellie said…
@ Mel,

Yup, it's not one time. It's every year.

To be fair, it is a challenging analytics job. Trying to predict the grade by grade enrollment over more than 100 schools and multiple program is an impossible task. You will never get it right and you are not supposed to.

But ... this year, they didn't even try. This new policy of zero changes between Feb and the start of school is just pandemonium inducing. It means that they were deliberately ignoring their very own data.

It's one thing where there are surprise registrations in Septembers. It is quite another when you have had contrary enrollment information for more than six months.

While Middle and High School were severely short-staffed, Elementary was all over the map with some very over and some very under projections. I have heard of a few schools that hired over the summer and are removing staff at elementary. That could easily have been managed by just updating the budget with current enrollment data.

Anonymous said…
kellie - In my opinion, a huge part of the problem overall (which is getting obscured by this year's wildly inaccurate predictions from the refusal to update projections), is that the predictions will ALWAYS be wrong.

It isn't that impossible to get the overall picture pretty close, and the district does again and again. But to get those predictions accurate at the school level and then by class? It's just not going to happen. If we actually cared about equity and student experience vs just speaking the current right code words, we'd create a budget with some flexibility, not one that requires all classes be at basically max capacity. If we planned for classes at 1-2 kids below ratio, we could handle small blips better AND we'd have classes for all kids who show up. If we updated projections too, we would also be less likely to have as many no shows.

NE Parent

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