Class sizes preserved, counselors cut in Seattle schools budget

Jul 7, 2011

Despite facing the steepest budget shortfall in the past 3 years, Seattle Public School officials say class sizes will not get any bigger next fall. The district's school board unanimously approved a plan last night to close a $45.5 million gap with considerable cuts to school supports and jobs, but teachers were largely spared.

Elementary school counselors weren't so lucky. If your child needs to see one next year for help with schoolwork, stress or other problems, chances are the room will be dark and the door locked at the following schools:

  • Arbor Heights Elementary
  • Concord Elementary
  • Dunlap Elementary
  • Gatewood Elementary
  • Greenwood Elementary
  • Highland Park Elementary
  • Kimball Elementary
  • Loyal Heights Elementary
  • Lowell Elementary
  • Laurelheights Elementary
  • Lawton Elementary
  • South Shore K-8
  • Schmitz Park Elementary
  • Wing Luke Elementary 

The district won’t be funding elementary counselors next year in its $577.7 million budget. Only about a third of Seattle schools have found other ways to pay for them.

What other differences will families likely see?

School Board President Steve Sundquist says he’s not happy about ditching counselors, but it’s one of the few changes he thinks will be really noticeable:

“Can I look a parent in the eye and say there is no impact to this? Absolutely not," he says. "I can’t make that blanket statement.  What I can make a statement about is that I’m personally confident that we’ve done a good job under extraordinarily trying circumstances to minimize the impact on kids.”

Now that doesn’t mean kids won’t have to get up a little earlier. Part of the plan requires staggering school start times so one bus can serve as many as three schools.  

Students could also have fewer supplies and tutors, depending on how each school wants to handle a cut of a third of its discretionary dollars. 

And while kids will have textbooks, they’re likely to be pretty ratty.

A 'no' to pay cuts could mean no new textbooks

Even though voters approved a levy to buy new instructional materials, the district is holding onto the money in case teachers and other school staff won’t agree to $4 million in pay cuts passed down by state lawmakers. The legislature reduced funding for teacher salaries by 1.9% while docking 3% from principals and other K-12 staff.

Employees represented by unions can refuse salary reductions under their collective bargaining agreements.

Those reductions are smaller than the hit to central office, though. After slashing 90 jobs, remaining staff will take furloughs for the first time ever in the district.

It's not all doom and gloom

One challenge the district isn't facing is a shortage of students.

Duggan Harman, the district's executive district of finance, says a jump in enrollment since last fall is one of the only bright spots in an exceptionally difficult budget year.

“As a district, we’re growing, and that’s a good problem to have," he says. "We have more kids coming in, which means we’re having to hire more teachers to fill more classrooms. So, this budget did not impact the classroom from a teacher hiring point of view.”

The district will actually spend $12.2 million more on teachers next year than it did in the 2010-2011 school year. Officials attribute that to the enrollment increase and negotiated raises.