In this episode of Seattle Hall Pass, Christie and Jane bring you a conversation with the President of the Edmonds School Board, Nancy Katims, and the President of the Edmonds Teachers Union, Andi Nofziger-Meadows. They organized a Multi-District Letter to State Legislators requesting that 44 percent of the $1.2 billion state budget surplus for 2024 be distributed to PK-12 education. The letter was co-signed by union leaders and school board presidents at a variety of other districts across the state.
See our show notes to see the letter and more primary sources of information.
Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
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E17 - Conversation with Edmonds School Board President Nancy Katims and Edmonds Education Association President Andi Nofziger-Meadows
[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.
[00:00:07] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel.
[00:00:09] Christie Robertson: Today, we're bringing you a conversation with the President of the Edmonds School Board, Nancy Katims, and the President of the Edmonds Teachers Union, Andi Nofziger-Meadows. We are talking with them about a letter they wrote to legislators requesting that some of the state budget surplus be distributed to schools across the state. The letter was co-signed by union leaders and school board presidents at a variety of other districts around the state. We will, of course, link to their letter in the show notes, as well as a lot of other information. Welcome to Nancy and Andi, and we'll let you introduce yourselves.
[00:00:54] Nancy Katims: I'm Nancy Katims. I'm the Edmonds School District President of the School Board.
[00:01:00] Andi Nofziger-Meadows: And I'm Andi Nofziger-Meadows. I'm a high school math teacher on leave to serve as the full-time president of the Edmonds Education Association.
[00:01:09] Jane Tunks Demel: Thank you both so much for coming. Christie and I have been doing this podcast since August and we started off focusing on Seattle Public Schools, but it's always been our plan to expand to anything of interest with public schools in the Puget Sound region and beyond.
[00:01:25] Christie Robertson: We thought it was interesting that you are working together as union and school board, so we're excited to hear from you. And we thought that we would start by asking you guys to sum up for our listeners what is in the letter.
[00:01:40] Nancy Katims: So this is a collaboration that we did with School Board Presidents and local WEA [Washington Education Association] Presidents across the state. The letter has three parts: It has background about funding in the state. It has impacts that the current funding models have on districts across the state. And it has two proposed solutions: both a long-term solution and a short-term solution.
There were folks from 18 districts across the state, little to big, North and South, East and West, who co-signed this with us. We, as a group, represent over 30 percent of the Washington State students.
In terms of background, we tried to help the readers and particularly the legislators understand what an urgent crisis there is that's going on currently in funding in the state. And we gave numbers as to what kind of budget deficits we had across the state last spring, which includes Seattle at $131 million, Northshore $21 million, Spokane $16 million, Edmonds had $15 million, and that was this past spring. So we all balanced our budgets at the cost of losing programs, losing jobs, on and on. But we've balanced our budgets because that's what we do.
And as we look toward next year, we already see we're all going to continue having budget deficits. Class sizes are getting larger. It's simply becoming untenable for us to be able to educate our students as effectively as we need to.
And part of the problem — or a large part of the problem — comes from the funding model that's used, which is called the Prototypical Schools Model. And of course, like everything else with funding in the state, it's really complicated. But basically, this is a model that gives formulas for how many full-time equivalent staff in each category will be given to each district based on student enrollment.
So, for example, paraeducators — who are key to helping teachers, helping kids in all kinds of individual learning situations, group learning situations, helping when there's a disruption, all of those sorts of things. The state literally funds 1 per 427 of our elementary general education students — 1 paraeducator. That's the equivalent of an entire elementary school having 1 paraeducator. In Edmonds, we hire 120 paraeducators over and above what the state provides us. We hired twice as many people who we call education support associates — that are counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, nurses, et cetera, as what the state funds.
Now, a lot of people think they solved the problem when [the state Supreme Court] did the McCleary decision. and this is what we really have to work with legislators to understand.
One thing they did do that was really good is they increased teacher salaries to an acceptable level and that was sorely needed. But at the same time, they created legislation that has hampered us and really hurt us more in terms of our budgets. One of the things that they did is they put a cap on local levies. So what any district can actually collect from our taxpayers is less than what our voters have agreed that we can take from them. That's just one example.
We have unfunded mandates. We have a lot of parts of special ed that aren't funded.
You've seen in the press, decreasing student enrollment, that's part of the problem. The federal and state pandemic-era support money is going away, but we still have all those impacts and kids are different now than they were before that.
The budget deficits that we're looking at for next year and beyond continue to be high.
And I should add, there was a study done by a very reputable group the Education Law Center in 2022 that graded all the states on funding in Washington earned a grade of C for funding level, a D for funding distribution, and an F for funding effort. I think we can do better than this.
What Andy and I and all of these other co-signers have suggested are two really reasonable and fairly simple solutions. For the long-term solution, create a task force to study our funding model, study what other states are doing in terms of their funding, and throw out the prototypical schools model, which they just keep tweaking. The prototypical schools model was created in 1995 and never really represented reality. And come up with a more reasonable, up-to-date model, something that really will serve our students and schools well. And acknowledge that they will follow the recommendations of that task force.
I've talked to legislators, and that would require a bill for them to do. It wouldn't be expensive. It's something they've done before in terms of creating a task force.
Our short-term solution is based on two pieces of data that we found. One is 44 percent of the state overall budget goes to public education. Okay. Secondly, there is a forecasted $1.2 billion dollar surplus. Okay? That hasn't been yet decided how it will be used. It's over and above what's already been laid out. So what we're asking is for 44 percent of that to keep proportionate to what they've been funding for public education and distribute it to the districts based on student enrollment.
So when you take the number of students and put it into what 44 percent of $1.2 billion is, it actually comes out $500 per student. To give you an idea of what that means for a district, for Edmonds, that would come out to $9.5 million. The last I heard, we had an $11 million projected deficit for next year — over and above all the cuts we've already made.
[00:08:27] Christie Robertson: I think Seattle has around 48,000 students right now. So that would be $24 million. And our deficit for next year is $105 million.
[00:08:39] Nancy Katims: And let districts choose how to use that money based on their needs. We all have different needs and just like teachers in a classroom make decisions about what kids need based on each kids need. The state needs to let every district use that money. Some have special ed needs. Some have paraeducator needs. Let them trust us to use it properly. They don't know what everybody needs.
That's our letter.
[00:09:09] Christie Robertson: Okay. Awesome. That's a great summary.
[00:09:12] Jane Tunks Demel: And my understanding is that [K-12 education funding] used to be closer to 50 percent of the yearly [state] budget. Is that correct?
[00:09:18] Nancy Katims: That's correct.
[00:09:19] Jane Tunks Demel: And how long ago was that?
[00:09:20] Andi Nofziger-Meadows: That would have been right at the start of McCleary, which would have been, 2015, 2016 — somewhere in there. So we've slid 6 percent, which is a lot when you look at it in the scale of the state budget in less than a decade.
[00:09:35] Christie Robertson: I know that the idea was the state is going to pay more and then we'll put these caps on the local levies. Jane, what's the amount of the education levy that we can’t collect again?
[00:09:46] Jane Tunks Demel: Oh, yeah, the [Seattle] rollback for the EP&O [levy] is $25 million for 2024.
[00:09:52] Christie Robertson: So a quarter of our deficit was approved by Seattle voters to give to schools, but we’re unable to collect it.
[00:10:02] Jane Tunks Demel: What are some of the other unfunded mandates that you haven't mentioned yet?
[00:10:07] Christie Robertson: And unfunded mandates are work that districts have to do that does not come with funding from the state.
[00:10:14] Nancy Katims: Andi, you want to go detail?
[00:10:16] Andi Nofziger-Meadows: Yeah, I can take this one. For example, technology. Most of the technology has to be funded by our local voters. Technology for the classroom, technology for students. It's almost 2024. That should be part of basic education.
The state also doesn't fund the 24 credits that students need to graduate. They have not updated their funding formula to the amount of teacher time that's needed for high school students to earn 24 credits. And those are just some of the basic ones.
When we look at the needs of students post Covid and the amount of mental health support students need, sometimes physical health supports, and then some of the behaviors that we have not seen before that we need some professionals to help us manage. It's a different world in schools right now post Covid, and the funding formula does not reflect that.
[00:11:11] Nancy Katims: and I'll add an unfunded mandate that's just been proposed in the governor's budget, I love Governor Inslee. I've been a huge fan of his. I think he's done great things for the state. I have to just say I am very unhappy with what his office is saying is an investment in education, but an obvious unfunded mandate is their wanting to, and it sounds great, add $3 per hour for paraeducators. Absolutely.
[In Edmonds] we’ve already done it. Most large districts already pay our paraeducators more than that — and not as much as they should because they're amazing— but more than what the state requires . But the number of paraeducators that we hire over and above what the state funds, we're going to have to cover now.
That won't be a problem for us so much because we already give them a salary that is probably higher than what the state is going to be requiring. But when you think about districts across the state who aren't yet there, they're going to have to find the money to raise the salary for all their paraeducators who aren't funded by the state.
That's all the paraeducators for categorical programs — special ed, lab, title 1, etc. And all the paraeducators they hire for general ed over and above, oh, the one per elementary school unfunded mandate. The state's saying you must pay them. Well, they're not saying you must, but I don't know of a district that would pay one group of paraeducators one salary because the state covers that and others not. You don't do that. That's not humane. That's not appropriate.
[00:12:52] Jane Tunks Demel: I was in a meeting over the weekend it was Gerry Pollet, one of his town halls. And one of the school board directors from Shoreline mentioned the same thing: the paraeducators. So like we might have 10 paraeducators at a school, but the state's only funding 1, and so then that unfunded mandate for the other 9 paraeducators.
And then she also mentioned that because the paraeducators are in the same bargaining unit as many other jobs, that then you'll have to do an additional $3 an hour for all of those positions. Is that correct?
[00:13:26] Nancy Katims: Yes, of course. And yes, it would be part of bargaining, but it's also humane. You don't need bargaining to know what's right for people.
[00:13:36] Christie Robertson: I have a basic question about the increase in revenue. Does that include the increase in capital gains that we had that we didn't expect?
[00:13:45] Nancy Katims: We spent months on this letter, as you might imagine. And to be honest, the first version of it was actually asking for them to give us money from the revenue from the capital gains tax. As part of our research, we talked to a lot of our state senators and representatives, and we're covered by three legislative districts in Edmonds. And one of ours who's on the appropriations committee was very helpful and explained that even though it wasn't really written down anywhere, that first $500 million of the capital gains revenue is already earmarked for early childhood through the Fair Start for Kids act.
The other $800 million or whatever over and above that is mostly for small districts who haven't been able to pass their capital bonds.
[00:14:36] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, that's what we understand too. And so for this multi-district letter, can you tell us how it came about? .And also we'd love to hear about what the response has been.
[00:14:46] Andi Nofziger-Meadows: Sure. Well, the history of the letter is I know Nancy was very upset about the cuts to the budget programs that had to be made last spring and she cares very deeply about our district and about educating students. And so shortly after we dug ourselves out from under that, she started looking at ways to increase funding.
And so she approached me about a collaboration, and I was like, “Absolutely.” Because, you know, while school boards and unions may find themselves on opposite sides at times, we all have the same goal in mind, which is making sure that our students get the best education possible. And so this is absolutely a natural collaboration.
Nancy did a lot of homework on the letter. And then once she had a draft, we started working on it, and we came up with a list of about 10 districts in our area we wanted to reach out to about signing on. We were going to start small. We did not envision that this would grow to what it had when we first started talking about it.
But momentum picked up and other districts heard about it, either at the school board conference or at various president's meetings that I attend. And that's how we got folks from some of the different areas across the state, we wanted to be super strategic and, you know, have North, South, East, and West, big and small. But after that, people wanted to be part of this because it feels like a very authentic and doable solution.
[00:16:22] Jane Tunks Demel: What has the response been from legislators? You talked about in Edmonds, you actually are in three different districts. So you have nine legislators. And have you heard from them or any other legislators across the state?
[00:16:34] Nancy Katims: So I have talked to all of them or just about all of them in one regard or another, either early on in my research or sending them drafts along the way or touching base.
I really want to give a shout out to Lauren Davis, who is the state representative for a district for the 32nd LD (legislative district), who was very, very helpful. Really, I think went above and beyond in helping us think about what was possible and what isn't possible. [She] helped us really hone our message and our understanding of the budget. All of our legislators have been very supportive.
I don't know to what extent any of them will be sponsoring a bill for the task force. One of them did send me a model bill for creating a task force, which I'll be following up to find out how we go about, you know, do they want us to draft a bill? I'm really new to this whole process and I've been getting advice from really good people.
But that being said, they've been very supportive, very helpful. In some cases neutral, because they work with groups of people just like we work with groups of people and they need to touch base. It was also our goal to get this to them before the legislative session, which we did, but they need to talk among themselves and look at the impacts.
And I do have to say April Berg, who's wonderful. She's a state legislator, not in our district, but had been a school board member in our district, and then in Everett. Immediately after I sent the letter, she wanted to make sure it had gone to all legislators because she was going to share it with them if it hadn't already.
So, there's been nothing negative about it. There've been questions in some of the interactions that I had with school board presidents. So while Andi was reaching out to her local WEA [Washington Education Association] folks, I was reaching out to the school board presidents, who had a heavier lift in terms of making a decision to sign on because many of them felt that they needed to touch base with their board colleagues and or their superintendent and or their CFOs in their district. And I totally understand it.
My superintendent and my CFO were both very, very helpful in doing this. And one of the questions that came up. and I can see others are saying, “If you do it by student enrollment, it's not being done equitably.” And so the word “equity” kept coming up and I tried to help people understand equity has different interpretations. When I pushed on what do you mean by equity in this case, they referred to things like percentage of kids from low-income homes, percentage of multilingual students, the typical demographics. I said, “Well, how would that work in this case?” And they didn't really have a good answer. My feeling is, what's equitable here is letting every district decide how to use it because every district has different needs.
One person said, “Well, but small districts won't benefit as much as large districts.” So I did the math. We have a tiny district that signed on: Mount Adams. Most people haven't heard of it. It's in Yakima Valley. I met the School Board President, Larry Garcia, at the WSSDA [Washington State School Directors' Association] conference, the school board directors conference. Wonderful, wonderful gentleman. He loved the idea, signed on. They have 889 students.
So I did the math for his district. It came out $445,000, which is 1.7 percent of their budget. For the Seattle Schools, it comes out to 2.2 percent of their budget. That's not a big difference. I know Mount Adams would love to get $445,000 and use it the way they need it, which I'm sure is different then the way Seattle needs it.
[00:20:35] Christie Robertson: Yeah, I guess the way I saw your letter was, right now [the funding is] pretty much is distributed by student count to some degree and you're calling for a new formula to be developed. In some ways, I'm amazed that they haven't started that process yet because I've been hearing for years them saying that the formula is problematic.
So, that's how I saw it was a quick fix. And let's all actually commit to developing a new formula.
[00:21:10] Nancy Katims: Thank you. You said it very well.
[00:21:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And we have heard the argument about equity and what my response is as a public school parent who sees all these reductions, we might not have the perfect solution. But if we don't all come together and ask for it, then we get nothing. And that is not helping any of these populations that you're concerned about.
[00:21:34] Christie Robertson: I guess one thing I'm thinking on equity is that doing that piecemeal is part of what's the problem and redoing the formula to make it be more of a student needs-based formula is a better way to try to tackle that. And so yeah, what are your thoughts? Is that how you're thinking about it?
[00:21:57] Andi Nofziger-Meadows: Well, I think that it's very complicated — as school funding is — and so I think that's the long-term solution is studying and seeing what pieces need to go into a new funding formula in order to create equitable funding across our state. To just choose one or two is probably too simplistic. We need to really have a chance to model them out, play them out and see how it works out before we land on anything, which is why the importance of the task force.
And so, for now, we want the simple fix of the 44 percent of the surplus, based on the per-pupil funding so that everyone gets something, because we all have needs and we all can figure out where our greatest needs are and where we want to focus that money.
[00:22:51] Nancy Katims: Well said, Andi. I completely agree.
I would like to clarify. We're not saying this is a one-year solution. We're saying this is the solution they need to use until they fix the funding model. So since surpluses are forecast for the next few years, they need to continue doing this. Give us 44 percent of whatever that surplus is by student enrollment until you solve the problem.
Because if they don't, we're just going to have a downslide after one year. And a few of the school board presidents really said they don't want a one-year thing. And I said, it's not a one-year thing. We're asking the legislature to do this year after year, which will hopefully motivate them to come up with a better funding model.
[00:23:34] Christie Robertson: And that short-term allocation part would not require a bill. Correct.
[00:23:40] Nancy Katims: The second part — the budget part — is not a bill. It would be part of the supplemental budget for 2024. It needs to, however, be approved by the legislature, when they approve the overall 2024 supplemental budget, if that makes sense.
The request for a task force requires a bill. It probably wouldn't cost more than maybe $250,000 to run a task force for two years and lay out the parameters of what they need to do. And let me say that task force should include people who work in school districts, because we have to make sure there's a reality check there.
[00:24:19] Jane Tunks Demel: And do you have any legislators that have been receptive to this ask that are on committees?
[00:24:26] Nancy Katims: Lauren Davis from the 32nd is on the Appropriations Committee. We have several people on the Education Committee, on the Ways and Means Committee. We sent it to all our legislators, but we also send it to groups like to the Education Committee and the Ways and Means [Committee] so we're well aware of who's on them and we do hope that they're paying attention to this.
What we're hoping now in terms of a next step that we've already started is getting our constituents to follow up to contact their legislators across the state in support of this, because it's that grassroots group of parents and I've talked to our district parent leader, who's now spreading it among our PTAs. We've gotten it in some of our local media.
Andi referred to how upset we all were after the spring budget cuts at a certain point when our public really understood that this wasn't the district mismanaging funds, this was no bad intent on our part at all, that this was a state level funding problem across the state.
They all started saying, "How can we help? How can we help? We want to help advocate." And so I've been getting back to some of them and saying, "This is how you can help. Now follow up on this." And people have already said, yes, they're going to reach out to their networks, etc.
[00:25:50] Jane Tunks Demel: Well, yeah, that sounds great. I mentioned this Gerry Pollet meeting I went to and the Shoreline School Board Director there said that OSPI has predicted that there'll be 10 to 20 districts that may go into binding conditions next year.
[00:26:05] Nancy Katims: That's what we've heard.
[00:26:07] Christie Robertson: And for our listeners, binding conditions are when a district fails to balance their budget and the office of the superintendent of public instruction, OSPI, the state body that oversees education gives them access to the money they need for operations, but also then they closely monitor and review any decisions that the districts make. So it really restricts that districts ability to control their own spending and requires them to undergo a lot of oversight.
[00:26:42] Jane Tunks Demel: I've talked to my legislators too. And of course, Gerry, he's very pro education, but my other legislators, it's this uphill battle of helping them understand what a crisis that we're in. And even in Inslee's budget. I read his letter that he had attached with it, and one of the things he said is that education funding has doubled in the last 10 years. So I'm just wondering if, how have you been able to help educate these legislators on the dire financial state that all of our districts are in?
[00:27:13] Nancy Katims: That was certainly a goal of the letter.
So we just hope that the advocacy that we're doing will start the legislators understanding that, yes, they have given more money, but inflation has gone up more than the amount that they're giving us. Our costs have gone up. The needs of the kids have changed since Covid. We need far more behavior and mental health support than we needed before, and we're not seeing that get better. I hope it's getting somewhat better, but it's a slow process. These kids had two years of very little socialization. That yes, they have given more money, but it's not meeting the needs and it's not appropriated properly.
[00:27:57] Jane Tunks Demel: And so, just to close, if our listeners want to help with this effort, what do you recommend that they do
[00:28:05] Nancy Katims: Contact their legislators, reference this letter, and tell them they support these two solutions that are proposed. Legislative session opens in early January. It's a short session. It goes quickly. anD also telling their local legislators, this is what we need for our district, because what this does is it removes all of the infighting that I think often happens when legislators are from one part of the state or another part of the state, and there are different needs in these different, and so they're fighting for the pots that their particular districts need, but what we're saying is, you don't need to fight for that. Let it go so that everybody has money to use as they need and it's not putting the benefit or the advantage to any one type of district or another.
[00:29:01] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay. Well, great. Well, thank you both so much.
[00:29:04] Nancy Katims: Thank you for talking with us and for sharing this with your audience and anybody who's interested in public education.
[00:29:10] Andi Nofziger-Meadows: Yeah, thank you for caring and advocating. It's so important to have a whole community supporting our schools and our students and our educators.
[00:29:19] Christie Robertson: And that concludes this episode of Seattle Hall Pass.
[00:29:23] Jane Tunks Demel: Show notes are available at Seattlehallpass.org, where you can subscribe or donate to support our podcast.
[00:29:29] Christie Robertson: You can also email us at hello@ seattlehallpass.org. I'm Christie Robertson.
[00:29:36] 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.