Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E15 - Art's Toolbox, aka The Budget Resolution

December 09, 2023 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 15
E15 - Art's Toolbox, aka The Budget Resolution
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
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Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E15 - Art's Toolbox, aka The Budget Resolution
Dec 09, 2023 Season 1 Episode 15
Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel

This episode of Seattle Hall Pass covers the Budget Resolution that will be voted on by the School Board on December 13. It provides a broad outline of mechanisms the district may explore to address the $105 million budget deficit for the 2024-25 school year. Jane and Christie touch briefly on the swearing in of the four School Board Directors who were elected on November 7. 

See our show notes.

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This episode of Seattle Hall Pass covers the Budget Resolution that will be voted on by the School Board on December 13. It provides a broad outline of mechanisms the district may explore to address the $105 million budget deficit for the 2024-25 school year. Jane and Christie touch briefly on the swearing in of the four School Board Directors who were elected on November 7. 

See our show notes.

Support the Show.

Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
Sign up for our newsletter

[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. My name is Christie Robertson.

[00:00:08] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. 

[00:00:09] Christie Robertson: This week, our main topic is the budget resolution that provides a broad outline of mechanisms the district will explore to address the $105 million budget deficit. But before we delve into the budget resolution, we wanted to touch briefly on the swearing in of school board directors. 

[00:00:31] Jane Tunks Demel: Four directors were sworn in — two new directors and two reelected. Each of them gave a short speech and then took a photo with family and supporters. The speeches are really worth listening to. I particularly liked Lisa Rivera's speech.

To get a feel for each director's vibe, here are some excerpts. And please note that we edited this a little bit.

[00:00:53] Christie Robertson: Lisa Rivera, re-elected to School Board Director Position 2. 

[00:00:58] Lisa Rivera: I am four years older than I was four years ago — and I feel like a whole lifetime wiser. This job will do that to you. The people we work with are constantly pushing you and encouraging you and working with you to be your best self.

And part of that is knowing who you are. So it probably seems weird to introduce myself, because a lot of you probably feel like you know me — enough. And do you? And do I? Because, again, four years ago, I think I spent most of my energy trying to decide am I Latino? Am I Hispanic? Am I Chicano?

And I usually just landed somewhere on Mexican American, because it was comfortable and easy. But what I didn't do, I think, both actively and passively, was identify as Native. Because I am. I am Comanche and Tarahumara. But like many Natives, I grew up disconnected from my culture, because some people in this country worked very hard and very deliberately and very intentionally to separate my ancestors from their language and their cultural practices — their religion.

So as I work to reclaim my heritage and my identity, I am very thankful for the love and support of the Native community I found in the Urban Native Education Alliance.

I know that there's a lot more advocacy not just for our Native students before our Latinx students, for our Asian students, and for all of our students who need a voice at this table that ultimately steers this huge ship of SPS. 

[00:02:29] Christie Robertson: Gina Topp emphasized the perspective of teachers. and that her mom was a teacher and also being excited about the equity work of the board. 

Newly elected District 6 School Board Director Gina Topp. 

[00:02:43] Gina Topp: I can't say enough that I'm excited to get to work helping to make sure that each and every student is excited to go to school each day and has the opportunities to thrive.

[00:02:55] Jane Tunks Demel: Newly elected board director Evan Briggs is taking over Chandra Hampson's position. She expressed optimism and also praised outgoing Director Hampson for the governance structure that she brought in.

[00:03:09] Christie Robertson: New School Board Director in District 3 Evan Briggs.

[00:03:13] Evan Briggs: There are real challenges that that we're facing, but I actually feel really optimistic about the future, um, because I really think that we're gonna — I think we’ve got this.

And I think a huge part of the reason for that is because of a lot of the work that Chandra — Director Hampson, previous Director Hampson — has done to lay really important groundwork along with the rest of the board for creating a structure and a governance model that will allow us to be as effective as we possibly can. 

[00:03:52] Jane Tunks Demel: Director Liza Rankin, who was also reelected, committed to fully supporting and mentoring the new directors. 

Her family came up for a photo, also several former presidents of the Seattle Council PTSA, including Manuela Slye, Jill Geary, Chandra Hampson, and Sebrena Burr.

[00:04:11] Christie Robertson: And Vivian van Gelder, who's currently vice president of f the Seattle Council [SCPTSA]. 

[00:04:16] Jane Tunks Demel: She's also the director of policy and research at the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition.

And so that was a swearing in

[00:04:23] Christie Robertson: And now let's talk about our main topic, the Budget Resolution. 

[00:04:27] Jane Tunks Demel: And we're putting out this episode a few days before the meeting on which they'll vote on this Budget Resolution.

[00:04:35] Christie Robertson: Do you want to talk about how we got here to this deficit, Jane? 

[00:04:38] Jane Tunks Demel: So a quick refresher on why the school district has $105 million deficit for 2024-25. 

The biggest reason is because Washington state simply doesn't amply fund K-12 education. 

[00:04:50] Christie Robertson: And that's always been the case, But when the state put into effect what they call the McCleary fix, they also put a cap on the amount of local revenue that school districts can generate.

[00:05:02] Jane Tunks Demel: Also since COVID hit, there've been a lot of one-time sources of funding that no longer exist. 

[00:05:07] Christie Robertson: And that's masked the impact of the McCleary fix, which otherwise we would have felt earlier.

[00:05:15] Jane Tunks Demel: There's also been declining enrollment. Since the state funds the district on a per-student basis, fewer students means fewer dollars that go to the district.

[00:05:24] Christie Robertson: So that's just a very brief and very coarse description of how we got to this deficit. And now the Superintendent and his staff are bringing a plan to balance our budget for next year — and also tackle the longer-term problem that causes us to have a deficit every year.

They started off the discussion with a long presentation about Well-Resourced Schools by Chief of Staff Bev Redmond, who ran the Well-Resourced Schools meetings over the summer. 

Jane has pointed out to me that every time they talk about budget cuts, they bring up the Well-Resourced Schools discussion. And I guess that makes sense because they are trying to make it all part of the same conversation, with the theory that without fiscal stabilization, we can't have what we want at our schools. 

[00:06:20] Jane Tunks Demel: The budget Resolution even has the words “Well-Resourced Schools” in it. The official name is the “Fiscal Stabilization Plan to Create a System of Well-Resourced Schools.”

[00:06:31] Christie Robertson: I just got this vision of it having a subtitle of one of director Liza Rankin's quotes where she says, “We're not just going to be eating rocks and gruel.”

[00:06:40] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, more than rocks and gruel.

[00:06:41] Christie Robertson: Fiscal stabilization plan — more than rocks and gruel.

[00:06:46] Jane Tunks Demel: Although oatmeal can be pretty tasty sometimes. 

[00:06:48] Christie Robertson: I know, I am a fan of gruel.

Anyway, Jane, didn’t you calculate how much time they spent on Well-Resourced Schools versus the budget resolution at this meeting. 

[00:07:00] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah — and they're almost exactly the same. They spent 63 minutes talking about Well-Resourced Schools. And 64 minutes talking about how to close the $105 million budget gap. 

So anyway, Christie, why are they doing this Budget Resolution? 

[00:07:15] Christie Robertson: This is called for by the new financial policy that passed. They're supposed to do a resolution anytime they are considering major cuts. And it's not binding. It is just the Superintendent checking in and saying, “Here's the things that I'm considering exploring to cut funds,” and making sure that they are on the same page. 

And if you want a little bit of a Seattle Public Schools history, my theory is that the origin story of this part of the financial policy is tied to the epic tale of  [former] Executive Director of Operations Ashley Davies and the three transportation tiers, which goes like this: 

Once upon a time, there were three tiers of buses, which means three tiers of start times for schools. So it means you have some schools starting super-early, and some schools starting super-late, and a tier in between that starts at a reasonable time. And this allows them to have bus drivers drive multiple routes. 

After years of deliberation and a lot of work and a lot of planning, trying to be responsive to the need of high school students to start later in the day, the school district moved to a plan where there were two start times. Even if it was better, it was clearly disruptive because they shuffled the start times for every single school. 

Chief Operations Officer Fred Podesta never really supported the change to two tiers. And ever since he's been trying to convince the School Board to go back to three tiers of buses, because it allows the district to reuse more buses and drivers and saves the district some money. It probably does look really bad on the spreadsheet. 

A couple of years ago Fred Podesta put Ashley Davies in charge of convincing everybody. And she was one of the most — I mean, she was amazing. Nobody could have done a better job. People asked for data and she brought back the data; she did great slideshows. She set up things to talk to the bigger community. 

And then in the end, the board, I think spearheaded by Leslie Harris, was like, “No, the community told us they don't want three tiers.” That's why we did all the work to move to two tiers. And so we're not moving to three tiers. That must have been incredibly hard to go through that much work. And then have it be ditched.

So they don't want to put that much effort into something again if the Board is just going to say, “Forget it.”

[00:09:56] Jane Tunks Demel: And the funny thing is, it looks like Fred Pedesta is trying to move the district back to three tiers again, because transportation cuts is one of the things listed on this resolution. 

So all of that brings us to Art's Toolbox. 

Art Jarvis is the Deputy Superintendent of Academics and he has recently started working for Seattle Public Schools again. It's pretty clear that his mission is to help the district through all these budget cuts that are going to be coming in the next couple of years. 

Each tool in Art's Toolbox is an action that the Superintendent and his staff can consider and research to help close the $105 million budget gap. 

[00:10:35] Christie Robertson: Here's Deputy Superintendent of Academics Art Jarvis. 

[00:10:37] Art Jarvis: What we're trying to share with you is a toolbox. A toolbox of elements that could be used in combination to (a) get us to a stable footing, get us to a system that's there. You saw earlier the values that are leading to vision, and using those values that are emerging and the vision that's emerging. 

[00:11:04] Christie Robertson: When Art first joined Seattle Schools, we looked him up and realized he had been through several districts and helped them close schools, most recently in Bellevue, where he swept in and closed two schools really quickly. We were afraid it was going to be like that here. But he seems to be pretty excited about the longer-term planning that he's doing with Dr. Jones. 

[00:11:28] Art Jarvis: I don't think I've ever experienced in my long career a district that was literally living strategic planning. Of looking at what changes need to be made, looking at the values, looking at the vision, looking at the tool set that's there, looking at the assets that we have, and then trying to figure out a plan.

I want to give this gentleman on my right [Brent Jones] a great credit. He's been very patient on not looking at immediate “What do we do just to fix the budget?” But rather, “What do we do that fits the city of Seattle and a school district” he so obviously loves dearly. To say, this has to be part of a longer range. It has to build on the vision. 

[00:12:22] Jane Tunks Demel: Art's tools include both budget cuts and ideas for generating revenue. Art said that this would be a five year process, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds.-

[00:12:28] Christie Robertson: Well, Dr. Jones said a couple of times that 2030 is when he expects to have finances stabilized. That's really more like seven years. 

So let's talk about what cuts they're considering making to solve the problem for next year. 

First of all, they announced that there won't be any school closures,

[00:12:50] Jane Tunks Demel: The reason why they're not closing any schools in the upcoming 2024 to 2025 school year is because, as Superintendent Jones explained, they want to take the time to bring the community along and facilitate this transition to what they're calling well resourced schools.

[00:13:07] Christie Robertson: Hip hip hooray. Transportation changes was one of the things on the list, and we're assuming this means three tiers. 

[00:13:16] Jane Tunks Demel: And in a previous meeting, Fred Podesta said that going to three tiers would save about $5 million.

[00:13:22] Christie Robertson: If this happens, it's going to be a big deal. Anytime you're switching how many tiers of buses, you are changing the start times for every single family in Seattle Public Schools. So, you're just messing with people's babysitting situations, and daycare situations, and work situations, sports, music. Every family has to rethink their entire strategy of how they fit school into their lives. 

And this goes into what Director Vivian Song keeps saying when they bring proposed changes. One of her biggest pieces of information that she wants to know is how many students will this impact. She said last time, she kept asking, “How many students?” And they would say how many routes or how many schools. So not that necessarily it should never be done, but you need to be aware that you're balancing $5 million against every single family in Seattle Public Schools needing to adjust their lives. And in the case of three tiers — with some schools starting really late and some schools starting really early — be careful about which families this is going to impact the most. 

[00:14:36] Vivian Song: Specifically to the changes to transportation and the reductions and adjustments in school staffing. I, I tried to include that as a addition in the financial policy that we just passed. Which is, I think it's really important for us to, when we think about these as options, to have an analysis on what is the impact to the students.

So, um, I understand the goal here in December is to, here's a list of ideas and you will do the work. But my expectation is that there needs to be. Some analysis around the sources of deficit and their whatever ideas that you are proposing to us analysis on the impact on 

[00:15:16] Jane Tunks Demel: Another tool in Arts Toolbox is what they're calling programmatic changes. 

And we weren't sure exactly what programmatic changes meant, but when we talked to former Director Chandra Hampson, she explained that it's schools like Middle College or Interagency or the Center School. We don't know if this is going to include Option Schools or not. So we'll have to wait and see.

[00:15:42] Christie Robertson: Also what is going to change about any of those programs? No idea.

Do you want to talk about grade-level reorganizations? This one was interesting, and not one that I had thought about. 

[00:15:57] Jane Tunks Demel: So there are several K-8s throughout the district. And Dr. Jarvis said that with the declining enrollment, comprehensive middle schools will have more space. So the idea would be that grades 6 through 8 would just go to the neighborhood comprehensive middle schools. And I know, for example, that at the middle school my student goes to, they have room for 200 more students. And I think it's like that throughout the district. So this is something that seems likely.

[00:16:27] Art Jarvis: You've had issues you've been looking at for a number of years on K-8s. K-8s could be looked at from two different perspectives.

One is: what's the effect on middle schools. Where middle schools will be shrinking in a few years. And what would you do? 

Or it could be looked at from the other side, the K-5s, and say, if you add those as pure K-5s in the system, how big are they, and now, what's our issue? As you look at grade-level reorganizations, one of the things that's been done before — certainly from Baby Boom times on is,some of you live through an era of: Where do we put the 9th graders?

Why don't we put them in the high school if I've got room at the high school? Or I kick them out of the high school because the high schools are overcrowded. And districts have left them alone in their own building. They've hoped they would go away for a year and grow up. They've put them with the junior high model and the middle school model.

In this case, one example — that's all it is, is an example — is you could look at retaining the 6th grades at the elementary. And you'd say, I've just increased the enrollment size by 17 percent on the average, and I haven't moved a child. I just don't let any 5th graders go out of my school for a while. 

You could combine those in a sense of: Do I start to phase out K-8s if that's necessary, and I'll have some weird configurations over a while, but they will be part of the tools that get us to where we want to be by the 2030, as we look there. 

[00:18:25] Jane Tunks Demel: But since they are talking about this as a five-year plan, the hope would be that they would just slowly phase it out so that the kids who are currently in through K through eight could stay there till eighth grade.

[00:18:33] Christie Robertson: And I think it goes along with what Fred Podesta was saying, that if you have bigger schools in general, it's a lot easier to do shifts between schools when you get a higher enrollment in one area of the city and not in another. 

[00:18:54] Fred Podesta: I would note that our long-term plan has to account for that capacity and the need for variability and capacity. It's easier to do with our current design standards that has bigger buildings where the capacity is how much you fill each building — it's not opening and closing buildings.

In terms of being agile and ready to deal with that is again a bit easier to do with buildings that can handle higher enrollments. 

[00:19:25] Christie Robertson: And something I've heard from a couple of board directors recently is that you as a resident of Seattle, your kids are guaranteed a public education, but they're not guaranteed any particular school. 

[00:19:42] Liza Rankin: We as a community own this all together in order to provide education to our children. Nobody has more ownership over a school or that staff or whatever. So our obligation to students and serving them — no matter where they live and no matter what building they're in — is what we have to focus on and not get caught up in believing that our communities have to compete against each other because we're actually part of the same community. 

[00:20:13] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay, so that was all the possible ways they can cut the budget. What about revenue possibilities? 

[00:20:21] Christie Robertson: One thing they mentioned was borrowing from themselves, which is called an Interfund Transfer. So, in Seattle, we have these levies. And we have a cap on our levy that goes to funding actual education, and we don't have a cap on our levies that fund capital projects like buildings. The Seattle Schools had gotten permission from the Legislature last year to borrow some money from the capital fund to be paid back later. They didn't take advantage of that. 

[00:20:52] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, and what they decided to do last year was to use all of the rainy-day fund.

[00:20:59] Christie Robertson: Student Board Director Ayush Muthuswamy had a good question, which is how reliant are they on the Legislature approving this? And it sounded like they were pretty confident since the Legislature doesn't have to give any money. 

[00:21:19] Liza Rankin: We did receive permission to borrow from ourselves, and so we're asking for an extension of that. We're not asking the Legislature to lend us new money. I don't think that they would do that. 

[00:21:31] Brent Jones: Right, so they gave us permission to do that for this year. We didn't exercise that option. So we're asking to have that permission again that we will likely exercise. 

[00:21:41] Christie Robertson: They thought the legislature would be generous enough to allow us to borrow from ourselves.

[00:21:46] Jane Tunks Demel: And so far there's been no conversation about what the terms are the district will give itself for borrowing the money. And we've talked to a couple of school board directors about this and they don't know the answer to that either. 

[00:21:59] Christie Robertson: What were the other ways of raising revenue, Jane?

[00:22:02] Jane Tunks Demel: The most interesting one to me is liquidating assets. 

Superintendent Jones talked about selling non-school properties. He said that there are three major pieces of property that Seattle Public Schools doesn't have school-based activities, but he didn't say which ones they are. 

There is a facilities master plan, and among many other things, it notes 11 properties that the district owns that aren't currently being used by the district. Some of them are rented out, such as the Fremont Arts Council or the Lake City Professional Building, which were both formerly school sites. And then there are three really interesting properties that are shopping centers now. 

One is the Oak Tree Shopping Center on Aurora near 100th. There's also what they call the Jefferson site in West Seattle. It's near the Alaska Junction. And then there's another one on Wallingford Avenue near 45th Street. There's a little shopping center there. It's a red building. 

[00:23:03] Christie Robertson: So Jane, were those all previously schools? 

[00:23:07] Jane Tunks Demel: Jefferson and Wallingford were previously schools. The Jefferson site doesn't have a school building on it now. The Wallingford building is still the same building as the school building that was there at one time, but it's been heavily remodeled. And then the Oak Tree doesn't look like an old school building at all. They have the AMC movie theater. And I think an IHOP and a UPS store. 

[00:23:33] Christie Robertson: It would make sense if they were schools, because I was like, how did they get all these properties that aren't school properties? 

[00:23:38] Jane Tunks Demel: Well, they used to have 100,000 students and now they have 48,000 students. So this is not the first time that school closures have happened. I have no idea if those are the sites that they're thinking about selling, I have no inside info. 

But he did say three properties. And those are not schools and not likely to ever be turned back into schools. Another really interesting property they own is some forest in Issaquah. That is really cool. We will link to this list in our show notes. 

[00:24:08] Christie Robertson: They also were talking about delaying payback of the rainy-day fund. 

It is a school board policy — 6022 — that regulates the Economic Stabilization Account and the payback. So what does the school board need to do to change a policy, just vote on it?

[00:24:26] Jane Tunks Demel: That's a good question. 

[00:24:27] Christie Robertson: Now, some of you may be thinking. "Hey, maybe the Legislature will give us a bunch of money this year and we won't have to make these cuts." (a) No, because it's not a budget year, so any changes that impact the budget will be minimal. And (b) they are not thinking of Seattle as a school district that needs more money. 

The legislative session hasn't started yet, but committees of the Legislature are starting to meet to hear reports from their staff and from organizations to get information and suggestions for what kind of legislation they might want to pass. 

And I watched the Early Learning Committee and the Ways and Means Committee from the Senate. The only thing related to school funding that they're talking about is construction. And of all the districts in the state, we are able to pass capital levies consistently, and we have plenty of money for capital. Whereas rural districts are having an incredibly hard time with buildings that are falling down, bathrooms that are leaking.

[00:25:40] Jane Tunks Demel: School Board Director Liza Rankin has said she personally doesn't feel right about advocating for that excess capital gains tax money because of some of these rural districts that can't pass capital levies. 

[00:25:55] Liza Rankin: That’s $500 million dollars, I think.And that would be, well, $500 million across the state. So that would be advocating for, “Hey, what's what's the plan for this?” We have a lot of districts that could use that but that still would be another band-aid and not help us not address the underlying issues that we have to address that would just sort of be pushing off a piece of it not to say that we shouldn't advocate for that.

And if it goes to districts, you know, we're the largest district in the state. But if it goes for capital, we are very fortunate to have the ability to receive capital funds from local levies. And I can't remember if I've said this before, Wahkiakum has not taught chemistry in 30 years. So when we're talking about $500 million, like, first of all, that's a one-time money because the next time the capital gains tax is collected, it might not have that deficit.

So it could help us with some stuff, but if it's earmarked for construction, I'm not about to suggest that we fight for a piece of that ahead of Wahkiakum, which has, I think, six working toilets for a district of over 400 kids and the staff that serve them. Like, no. 

[00:27:31] Christie Robertson: I definitely think the Legislature is way underfocused on K-12 education. They complain about how it's nearly half of the budget dedicated to education, but somebody else pointed out to me that shouldn't that mean that they spend half their time talking about education? 

I would say it's one-tenth or less of the focus of what they do. I think they need to be paying much more attention. 

[00:27:48] Jane Tunks Demel: And in previous years, 50% of the state budget has gone through K 12 education. In the most recent legislative session, it was only 43%. K-12 education is important. It's the future of our state.

 After Art Jarvis laid out all the tools in his toolbox, the School Board Directors gave feedback. What did you take away from that?

[00:28:11] Christie Robertson: Well, Director Song asked a really relevant question that I was also wondering, which was: Why are the tools in the toolbox not looking at the biggest sources of our structural deficit, which is primarily special education.

[00:28:28] Vivian Song: So looking at the 24-25 recommendations and the recommendations beyond, I think something that is missing for me is that other than changes to transportation, there doesn't seem to be a match with what are the largest sources of our deficit.

We collectively know those to be special education, transportation, multilingual substitutes is one that I learned at our last session. So, understandably, I see the vision where we’re choosing some one-time strategies in the 24-25 budget so that we can do the work of actually addressing our structural deficit in the years beyond. But I think that give we need to have an understanding of the sources of deficit. Why were there not options from those categories included in the recommendations? 

[00:29:34] Christie Robertson: Here's the response from Art Jarvis.

[00:29:38] Art Jarvis: So the loss of enrollment — the tie of the enrollment to the funding system and OSPI.

The 400-student school size versus the small schools that we have in Seattle. Those are actually the source — the major source of our deficit. I think what you're looking at, if I may, is for example, special education, is a major deficit program. That's not Seattle — in a way that is the the funding system. That's what we have from the state.

[00:30:15] Christie Robertson: So Jane, the way he dismissed our special education spending problem doesn't make any sense to me, which is that he said it's a state problem. Either he doesn't know or he doesn't understand or I don't know. But even if the state had approved the best-case scenario allocation for special education that completely removed the cap on the number of students getting services that were reimbursed, and they had increased their reimbursement level by a significant amount, it still would do nothing to come close to the twice as much that we spend.

Not only do we spend twice as much as the state gives us for special education, it went up by 20% this past year. So it is going to be a really big problem if they don't tackle that. I wonder if they're not tackling that because it's a much more complicated answer and the district is on a bad track that it can't seem to get off of in terms of special education that's going to require a significant overhaul to fix. 

I've been dealing with the special education system for, almost a decade now. And I've been talking to other families who've been dealing with the system for a number of years as well. And I feel that it's time that we stand up and say that our special education system is broken. It is unjust. It is inequitable. And it needs to be addressed.

Here's the rest of Art Jarvis's answer.

[00:31:56] Art Jarvis: It's not that we can't find efficiencies — and we already have. But the reality is that the major deficit you can say of X dollars in special ed is not the source, even though it's parallel in numbers. It's not the source. The source is exactly what you've heard. We're running, for example, the small schools that are not sustainable — not funded.

And that, so, as you look at the world of staging for 25-26 consolidation/closure as necessary, restructuring as necessary. That's right at the heart, but that's the hardest part to get to, unless we do a real quick knee-jerk of just, “Let's close some schools without doing the rest of that.” So I think we're trying to, I know, for example, the hundreds of hours have already been spent doing exactly what you're asking.

Let's make sure we know what we're looking at. Before we do this, which is part of the reason we're not recommending to move immediately into consolidation, because that has to be part of the rest of it.

[00:33:12] Christie Robertson: This was a moment where I definitely sat up and listened. This is the first time I've heard anybody say directly that our main problem is the number of schools that we have. 

[00:33:24] Jane Tunks Demel: And Christie, I agree with everything you said about special ed. The fact is that special ed is this source of about $100 million of the Seattle Public Schools’ structural deficit. And closing school sites, by Seattle Public Schools’ own numbers, would only save $500,000 to $2 million a year per school site. So just look at those numbers and tell me which ones are bigger and should be tackled.

All of that said, Fred Podesta really laid out the argument for all the reasons that small schools don't work for the current way that Seattle Public Schools allocates resources to schools. For example, he said that in the last four years, the district's seen a decline of 4,900 students and 4,000 of that number is from elementary schools.

He also pointed out that 28 elementary schools have fewer than 300 students. And because there are fixed costs around keeping buildings open, they're rethinking how they allocate resources. 

When they're talking about the prototypical school model, which is the state's model for funding, encoded in state law, the prototypical high school has 600 students. And the prototypical middle school, which is only 7th and 8th grade, has 432 students. Most of our middle school and high schools are 800 or even 1500 students, but they never talk about the funding around that. They only talk about the prototypical elementary school, which is 400 students.

[00:35:00] Christie Robertson: The rationale is not quite right though because the legislature allocates based on a K-6 elementary school. And if there are 400 kids at a K-6, which would mean like 320 for a K-5, and that's not what they're talking about. 

[00:35:20] Jane Tunks Demel: So while they give that as a reason, I think they're not really telling the full story. And Fred Podesta has talked about it in this meeting and other meetings that It's easier for them to have bigger buildings because they can adjust in response to enrollment changes.

Instead of opening and closing smaller buildings and then reopening them a few years later, a bigger building makes it easier to just close off a few classrooms or a section of a building. 

[00:35:48] Christie Robertson: They've also been talking for quite a while about the declining birth rate in Seattle, right?

[00:35:54] Jane Tunks Demel: According to two demographic firms that the district has hired, it's flat to slow growth in the coming years. Fred Podesta said that the long-term outlook doesn't see any enrollment bouncing back. 

So that was the budget resolution, and they'll vote on it on Wednesday, December 13th. And it'll be the first vote of this newly elected school board. 

And what happens after that, Christie? 

[00:36:17] Christie Robertson: Well, the title of this 11-meeting budget process is "Funding Our Future,” and this was session 3 of 11. The vote is the next one. They're going to have a few that are just updates on where we are to get more feedback.

The actual proposed budget will come before the board on April 3rd. There'll be a public hearing that's required by policy in June, and they will vote on July 2nd. Fireworks afterwards, maybe. 

And that concludes this episode.

[00:36:47] Jane Tunks Demel: Our show notes are available at And we want to hear from you, so email us at hello at Tell us all about what's going on at your school. 

[00:36:57] Christie Robertson: You can also go to our website, to subscribe or to donate to our podcast. Thank you so much to those of you who have done this.

I'm Christie Robertson. 

[00:37:10] 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.

School Board Director swearing in ceremony
Why Is There a Deficit?
Well-Resourced Schools
What and Wherefore the Budget Resolution?
Art's Toolbox
Tool: Transportation Changes
Tool: Programmatic Changes
Tool: Grade-Level Reorganizations
Tool: Interfund transfer
Tool: Selling Property
Tool: Delay Paying Back the Rainy-Day Fund
NOT A TOOL: Funding from the State Legislature
NOT A TOOL: Addressing Special Education Spending