In this episode of Seattle Hall Pass, we cover the recent teacher reallocations at elementary schools. We explain the upheaval at elementary schools, as Seattle Public Schools shifts teachers and students among classes in order to be compliant with a state law.
For sources on the facts cited in the podcast and other supporting documentation, see our show notes here.
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Episode 6 - The John Stanford Shuffle
[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle public schools. Today we're talking about teacher reallocations at schools. My name is Christie Robertson.
[00:00:11] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel.
So what happened in the last couple weeks is that 40 Seattle elementary schools found out that as a result of the state reporting process, they will have to reconfigure the majority of their classes, moving students to different classrooms so that they can maintain small class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.
Not only will students be shuffled to new classrooms and teachers after one month of school, but the 4th and 5th graders are often ending up in class sizes of 30 students and up, many of them in split grade classrooms.
So there's actually really two things going on.
[00:00:47] Christie Robertson: Yes. so let's just start off calling them the K-3 fix and the October adjustment. The October adjustment happens every year. And the K-3 fix has really had the first big impact this year. And I think that the Seattle Times article that just came out, they confuse the two.
OK, Jane, the K-3 fix. What is it?
[00:01:17] Jane Tunks Demel: There's a regulation that went into effect in 2019, it was a law passed by the state legislature, which requires staffing at a ratio of 17-to-1 for kindergarten through 3rd grade, and if a school district complies with that, they get extra money from the state. And in this case, at Seattle Public Schools, it's $3. 6 million.
[00:01:38] Christie Robertson: The law is RCW 28A.150.260, section 4(b)(i) and the way it's worded is: "Beginning September 1st, 2019, funding for average K-3 class sizes in this section shall be provided only to the extent of, and proportionate to, the school district's demonstrated actual class size in grades K through 3, up to the funded class sizes."
They, as far as we can tell, and we don't know the entire story, but we think they just started enforcing that this year, to get full state funding.
[00:02:16] Jane Tunks Demel: And then we also have the October adjustment that's happening right now.
[00:02:20] Christie Robertson: The October adjustment is something that SPS does every year. OSPI, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is the superintendent of the entire state, gives districts funding based on "butts in seats," as they say, on October 1st.
So then Seattle Schools, and I actually would assume that most districts do this, but somebody let us know. Seattle schools moves teachers at this point, from schools that had lower-than-predicted enrollment to schools that had higher-than-predicted enrollment.
So let's go through the annual calendar of teacher allocations to schools. The main school budgets happen in March, based on enrollment projections that they do in March. In June, they adjust those numbers based on any changes to expectations. School starts in September and then there is the October adjustment and that is when they see who showed up at school.
They never let teachers go at this point. And that's why they tend to underestimate enrollment rather than overestimate, because they don't want to be left with paying for teachers that they didn't need to pay for
[00:03:40] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, my understanding is that once a teacher is hired for the school year, that the district is obligated to pay for that teacher's salary for the whole year ...
[00:03:50] Christie Robertson: ...under the CBA.
[00:03:52] Jane Tunks Demel: The CBA is a collective bargaining agreement with SEA, which is the teachers union, Seattle Education Association.
And for many of you who have students in Seattle Public Schools, you've probably experienced this yourself.
One thing that a lot of parents and community members have issue with, that the October adjustment comes too late into the school year. Because while, yes, maybe in August they don't know exactly how many kids are going to show up, but usually by the first week of school it's pretty apparent.
For me, I feel like I know they're trying to save pennies everywhere they can, but I feel that this isn't student-centered and that the impacts — is just too much.
[00:04:36] Christie Robertson: I wanted to explain briefly how teachers are assigned to schools. The district does this based on a number of factors built into the Weighted Staffing Standard, it's called, and people refer to it often as the WSS. So that is a formula that Seattle schools uses to allocate all staff to school sites.
There are different numbers for each grade, different ratios, and there are different ratios based on how many kids are high poverty.
[00:05:15] Jane Tunks Demel: So that higher-poverty schools have lower class ratios, which we support.
The district has goals for class sizes, and that's reflected in the Weighted Staffing Standard, which we will link to in our show notes. For example, for elementary schools and the Weighted Staffing Standard, for a non-high-poverty school, kindergarten should be 20 students, but in a very-high-poverty school, it should be 18 students, and then goes on up to 28 students for 4th and 5th grade.
But despite the ratios that are in the Weighted Staffing Standard at least for grades 4 and up, the district is able to get around those ratios because in the collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union, they are allowed to pay teachers what they call "overage," which is a small amount of money per extra student.
And for example, one teacher, said that they had seven extra students for an entire school year, and they got paid around $4,000 extra. And we did the calculations for 180 school days per year, that was $22.22 per day. And so what's happening now this year is that for kindergarten through 3rd grade, the state has a reporting system, and so Seattle Public Schools has to be compliant.
[00:06:32] Christie Robertson: So this comes much more into impact when we talk about, the K through 3 adjustment that had be made this year. The 2019 law we mentioned that requires schools to staff K through 3 at a 17-to-1 ratio in order to get their full allocation.
So at a non-high-poverty school, for example. because the district is funding for kindergarten sizes of 20-to-1, 1st grade classes of 21- or 22-to-1, and 3rd grade classes of 24-to-1. The 4th and 5th grade are 28-to-1, so in order to get all of those K through 3 classes down to 17 — from 24 to 17 for 3rd grade, for example — you have to move a lot of teachers from 4th and 5th grade.
There's no state requirement about the sizes of 4th and 5th grade classes.
[00:07:31] Jane Tunks Demel: So that is why many of you might have your students in very large 4th and 5th grade classes and/or in middle school or high school.
[00:07:38] Christie Robertson: Another thing that's happening is splits. And I think that's just a way to spread the pain out, right? Why do some schools have practically all splits?
[00:07:52] Jane Tunks Demel: Well, I think it's because they're trying to maintain all the classes as small as they can be. So at some school sites, they think it's better to have a smaller class, even if it's a split. But at other school sites, like the school site my student is at, they have decided there that they would rather have a larger class. And sometimes it's a split and sometimes it's not, but they would rather have a larger class then splits throughout the school.
So that I do think is good that the principals and building leadership do have some latitude to make those decisions. And I think that's what's been happening all these years. But now this year, because for some reason, which we don't know, they have had to more closely be in compliance with the kindergarten through 3rd grade ratio. So it leaves less room for schools to make their own choices.
[00:08:48] Christie Robertson: There's a couple of other things that are also crashing into this big collision course of adjustments. There was an additional amount of staffing that schools used to get, like a 0. 2 or a 0.5 that they could spread around, and those are gone this year. The way it's worded in the Weighted Staffing Standard adjustment document is "additional certificated core staff allocations have been eliminated."
[00:09:20] Jane Tunks Demel: My understanding is that before this year there was a 0.5 FTE or full time equivalent position that basically a school site could use for flexibility. Like maybe they would want to put it toward their reading specialist. So that person would go from 0.5 to 1.0. Or maybe they would want to help make one of the 0.5 FTE positions for one of the grade bands a whole number, and then say maybe the PTA might pick up the other 0.5 that's for another teacher in a different grade. And last year because of the budget cuts, that was one of the cuts they made. Another cut they made was the amount of equity dollars per student. So all of that together gives the school site less flexibility to do flexible staffing about what they think is important for their community, because there's just not enough money there to fund a whole position.
And in the past, there was.
[00:10:15] Christie Robertson: So those are the basics of what we know about why this happened. We know that it was 40 schools. And we know some of the schools that have been affected, what schools are those, Jane?
[00:10:28] Jane Tunks Demel: One of the schools that's being affected is Olympic Hills, Olympic Hills is a Title I school, and it's actually Equity Tier 2 so it's one of the higher-poverty schools in the district. And it is in Northeast Seattle, but there is still high-poverty communities in that part of town.
And so to be able to maintain the K through 3 ratios, they had a full-time 5th grade teacher who now is going become a 0.2 FTE 5th grade teacher. So they will be there at the beginning and the end of school, and then for the rest of the time, 0.8 FTE, the students will be seen by different specialists. So specialists will come in for reading, math, and so on. And the unintended consequences of that is not only does the 5th grade not really have a home teacher there for them all day, but that the specialists who are filling in for that 5th grade position now have less time to support students in other grades.
[00:11:26] Christie Robertson: That just sounds really wild to me.
[00:11:30] Jane Tunks Demel: So in our opinion, at a Title I school that's Tier 2 this is not a student-centered solution.
Cedar Park is a non-high-poverty school, and they are going from two split-grade classes to six split-grade classes. So the changes there are affecting every student except for the kindergarten cohort. So just to move a few students from one class to the other ends up having a cascading effect for all the students.
[00:12:01] Christie Robertson: A similar thing is happening at Alki Elementary where in order to keep the ratios down in the lower grades, they're having to rejigger six classes and impacting more than 100 students.
[00:12:15] Jane Tunks Demel: And not only that, many of those classes are going to turn into split-grade classes, so teachers have to rework all of their plans so that they can teach two grades.
At my student's school, there are two 32-student 4th- and 5th-grade splits, and this year, my student's a 4th grader, but they are teaching them all the 5th-grade curriculum for things like ELA, social studies, science, all that stuff. And then for math, they separate the 4th graders and the 5th graders and they teach them math separately. But if he goes to a different school next year, is he gonna have to take the fifth grade curriculum again?
[00:12:54] Christie Robertson: Right, because you think his school might be one of the ones that is closed and he would have to move to a different school.
[00:13:01] Jane Tunks Demel: Split-grade classes can be amazing when there's a curriculum to support it, but at Seattle Public Schools there is not a curriculum to support split-grade classes.
[00:13:11] Christie Robertson: This is a message to take the legislators. When the K 3 legislation passed, seemed like a great idea to me, and probably seemed like a great idea to the legislators. This is probably an unintended consequence of that law, and they weren't thinking about what that could do to other class sizes without adding additional funding.
[00:13:29] Christie Robertson: And for the district. My major message to the district is you have a community of involved and caring parents who want to understand, support your goals. And it feels like not having messaging from centrally and not explaining why decisions are made or when decisions are made, and leaving it just to individual principals. To me, that divides our community. And makes parents feel like they're not partners with the district in educating our city's kids.
[00:14:10] Jane Tunks Demel: And I guess one of my takeaways from this with the kindergarten through 3rd-grade class rejiggering is that because this happened at 40 schools, it's a system failure. It's not the failure of individuals, principals, or anyone in the school buildings.
So, for us, this goes back to what Christie was saying. We just want to know what's going on here. So, whatever it is, it's clear it's a Seattle Public Schools system failure. And we just want them to own up to it and apologize and fix it. And tell us how it's going to not happen next year.
[00:14:42] Christie Robertson: Or if you're me, at least explain to us why it happened. Why you're not going to fix it, and why we should still be partners.
[00:14:58] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, Christie's a little more forgiving than I am. So that's why we're a good pair.
Yeah, so I think all of us should always be advocating with our state legislators, but I do want to point out that money that could be going to these classrooms, are going elsewhere and that is one reason why I want to urge the district to be more transparent with how they're spending. So that we as a community can understand why these things are happening and it also gives us more knowledge so we can then go to our legislators and advocate with them.
[00:15:29] Christie Robertson: So I think that concludes our episode. Jane's amazing show notes are available at seattlehallpass.org.
[00:15:38] Jane Tunks Demel: And if you're the sort of person who's made it this far, then we definitely want to hear from you. Email us with all the details of the class changes at your school at hello at seattlehallpass.org.
[00:15:51] Christie Robertson: We'd also love to interview you if you're a part of the Seattle school community. And you can find our podcast by searching for Seattle Hall Pass or going to seattlehallpass.org.
[00:16:06] Jane Tunks Demel: So please subscribe and you can even consider donating to the podcast, which will just help pay for our fees. We know we're not going to make a lot of money from a podcast on Seattle Public Schools, but we wouldn't mind paying for our fees.
[00:16:30] Christie Robertson: I'm Christie Robertson.
[00:16:33] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. We'll be back with more episodes soon and we hope you'll join us next time on Seattle Hall Pass.