Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E32 - Budget Limbo - How Low Can You Go?

March 24, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 32
E32 - Budget Limbo - How Low Can You Go?
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Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E32 - Budget Limbo - How Low Can You Go?
Mar 24, 2024 Season 1 Episode 32
Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel

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Christie & Jane  cover the Seattle School Board budget work session from March 20, 2024, where the Superintendent’s team outlined $111 million in budget cuts for the 2024-25 school year. School consolidations, bell times, and other changes for the 2025-26 school year will be previewed at the May 8 meeting.

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Show Notes
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Christie & Jane  cover the Seattle School Board budget work session from March 20, 2024, where the Superintendent’s team outlined $111 million in budget cuts for the 2024-25 school year. School consolidations, bell times, and other changes for the 2025-26 school year will be previewed at the May 8 meeting.

Support the Show.

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

Show Notes
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[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, bringing you news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. In this episode, we're reporting on the budget work session on March 20th. I'm Christie Robertson,

[00:00:12] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. At this meeting, the district outlined how it would bridge the $111 million budget gap for the 2024-25 school year.

[00:00:24] Christie Robertson: And before we get started, we want to interject a couple of community notes about Garfield [High School] and Rainier View [Elementary]. We have two main goals for this podcast: passing along information and holding people and systems accountable. And so these community notes fall under the latter. 

[00:00:44] Jane Tunks Demel: The Garfield High School community has been feeling vulnerable as the gun violence nearby the school has been picking up recently. There was an incident as a student waited for the bus after school. That community is feeling like nobody's listening or giving them any answers that will help them be safer.

[00:01:02] Christie Robertson: Rainier View [Elementary] has a serious situation that's been building for a decade. The community has come together in the last month and started voicing their difficulties more publicly as a means of hopefully bringing some change. We covered some of their testimony from the last regular meeting of the School Board in Episode 29. Now the Seattle Council PTSA is helping elevate the issue further. They released a letter in support of Rainier View, and Vivian van Gelder, the co-president of the Seattle Council PTSA, gave this testimony.

[00:01:38] Vivian van Gelder: We know that our district does not yet serve all students. As we heard right here last week from the immensely courageous Rainier View community, egregious system failures are occurring, causing profound harm to our children. We are aware of many equally concerning instances like this. In our sprawling, decentralized, intensely siloed district, sometimes these harms are not visible to decision makers — and that is a problem. And sometimes they are visible and remain unaddressed — and that is also a problem. 

Our PTAs and families are asking us: How do we get from where we are now, where our children are repeatedly failed by fragmented systems and broken lines of responsibility and accountability to where our system should be? And we do not know how to answer them. They want to know how do we get ground-level information to decision makers about where critical system failures are occurring so that they can be immediately addressed. And we do not know how to answer them. They want to know, as those closest to the problems, where can we bring our expertise and knowledge to the vital work of creating a system that uplifts our children. And we do not know how to answer them. Directors and Superintendent Jones, these are our children. We cannot not show up to do this work. Council and our PTA communities are ready to partner to build a system that puts our students at the center. Are you ready to partner with us? 

[00:03:12] Jane Tunks Demel: And this testimony was striking because it's the first time in recent years that the Seattle Council PTSA has broken with the district. 

[00:03:20] Christie Robertson: Another organization that's helping elevate these issues is the  Southeast Seattle Schools Fundraising Alliance. And they are asking that everybody send an email to Superintendent Jones and the School Board to take action on behalf of Rainier View.

[00:03:36] Jane Tunks Demel: Thankfully the Seattle times is now reporting on this story. And their article went online on Friday night. It said that Seattle Public Schools is calling a family meeting for parents and caregivers. And they will ask families to complete a confidential climate survey.

And the Seattle Public Schools administration thinks that Principal Jones should be part of the process. But many parents at Rainier View don't think that's enough. Both families and staff are still concerned about retaliation. So they want to be able to meet with the district without Principal Jones being present.

[00:04:12] Christie Robertson: So those are our community notes.

Let's go on to the school board meeting. Testimony was all over the map, which was partially due to the fact that they didn't post the budget slides until nearly four hours before the meeting, not enough time to really write testimony about it. 

[00:04:31] Jane Tunks Demel:  Still, most people knew what was coming. The majority was about the student-facing cuts happening at schools for the 2024-25 school year. After the last testifier, President Rankin gave a response. Here's what she said.

[00:04:48] Liza Rankin: Nobody's coming to rescue us. It's on us together. And so I really appreciate when we hear directly the impacts of things that happen in our classes. And I really appreciate hearing how much people want to be part of the solution. 

And so my challenge to all of us is to remember that nobody's coming to save us. And then if we want to show up and do things differently for our kids, we are going to have to start with ourselves and reach out and come together around our children because that is what they deserve. And that's the only way that we're going to make the change that we want and that they need. So thank you for coming. And please come back.  

[00:05:34] Christie Robertson: Jane, let's talk about the budget.

[00:05:36] Jane Tunks Demel: As we said a couple of minutes ago, Seattle Public Schools needs to bridge a $111 million budget gap for the 2024-25 school year.

[00:05:46] Christie Robertson: Did they just like that number? It is kind of a cool number. Cause I thought it was $105 [million].

[00:05:51] Jane Tunks Demel: Oh yeah, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Kurt Buttleman actually explained why it went up. He said there were higher special education costs this year and also that just general inflation is pushing costs up.

And there are a lot of reasons for this structural budget gap. The biggest one, of course, is that the state simply does not give school districts enough funding, especially when compared to the true costs of special education and transportation. Also in Seattle, enrollment has gone down by 4,900 students And since the state funds school districts on a per-student basis, fewer students means fewer dollars for the district. 

[00:06:31] Christie Robertson: Despite the dire straits, Superintendent Jones talked about taking an offensive position. 

[00:06:37] Brent Jones: And you'll hear me talk about us going on the offense. I think that's where we need to be. It's challenging to be in a defensive posture all the time. Your legs get tired and you can't hold the offense back. So now it's time for us to be able to do some things proactively to say, "We have something to offer. We expect that to be resourced properly." And I think we have to be proactive to go get that.

[00:06:59] Christie Robertson:  Here is his eight-step offensive plan.

[00:07:02] Brent Jones:  And I think there are eight main things that we need to be focused on. 

1. One is balancing our budget for the next school year. We're obligated to do that. We need the support of our legislature to do that.

2. We need to engage community teachers, students and the board in a listening process around a vision for our well-resourced schools. We've heard people talk about that. 

3. We need to conduct a fiscal analysis and enrollment analysis of how we can increase our numbers for years to come. 

4. We need to ensure a smooth transition to any changes that might be necessary with full community engagement.

5. We need to increase the safety of every school that needs it. 

6. And we need to also institutionalize racial equity in all systems, programs, and services. 

7. And the last two, we need to make the case for our success with the legislature in 2025. 

8. And we need to run a successful levy campaign in 2025. 

[00:07:57] Christie Robertson:  Even more ambitious, he says that he hopes to get every student thriving in a safe, sound and innovative learning environment in 2030. 

[00:08:07] Jane Tunks Demel: Gotta love that rah-rah speech to kick off what's going to be a difficult meeting.

And before they got into details, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Kurt Buttleman reminded the board directors that the district made $131 million in budget cuts just last year. And part of the reason they were able to do that was because they used $42.2 million from their rainy day fund, which is now drained as a result. For the 2024-25 school year, the district plans to give themselves up to a $35 million interfund loan. 

[00:08:40] Christie Robertson: Remind us what the interfund loan is. 

[00:08:42] Jane Tunks Demel: Well, the state legislature is giving permission for Seattle Public Schools to borrow its own cash. There are strict rules about which funding sources can be used for which purposes. And it just so happens that Seattle Public Schools has plenty of cash in its capital fund, which is mostly funded by levies and pays for buildings. 

[00:09:04] Christie Robertson: So thanks to the legislature, the district can borrow some of that money this year — and this year only — to pay for the everyday operations at school sites for 2024-25. And Seattle Public Schools has to pay itself back with interest by June 30, 2026. 

Chief Operating Officer Fred Podesta has a clear principle for what he will use the interfund loan for. 

[00:09:31] Fred Podesta: Anything we're going to finance should be a bridge to something. So we're giving ourselves a bridge loan from our own cash pool to put this system in place and then it'll be a sustainable savings. Just buying stuff back from our cash pool that is going to be also a problem next year doesn't make any sense.

[00:09:49] Jane Tunks Demel: And the most interesting part of this conversation for me, when they were talking about the interfund loan, and also referencing the Rainy Day Fund that they drained last year, is that not a single school board director asked how the district planned to pay this money back. Because it's not like Seattle Public Schools has a bunch of excess funding coming its way.

[00:10:12] Christie Robertson: OK, this is supposed to be the part of the meeting where somebody says, "And yay, the legislature gave us $50 million.” But instead, all of that work in the legislature only got us $7.6 million.

[00:10:27] Jane Tunks Demel: So, crumbs, people, that’s what we got from the state legislature this year. Crumbs.

[00:10:32] Christie Robertson: You can see why after years of lobbying, people start getting tired of going and begging to the legislature and getting crumbs. 

[00:10:43] Jane Tunks Demel: So we looked at the list of what made up that $7.6 million. 

They increased the special education cap from 15% to 16%, and that got the school district $6.1 million. 

They also increased staffing allocations for paraeducators and office supports, and that's $2 million. 

They increased funding for materials, supplies, and operating costs — that’s things like textbooks. And that's about $700,000.

They also had adjustments to labor costs. The state mandates a certain increase in pension and medical rates every year, and that's gonna cost the district $1.2 million. So that change is actually in the minus column.

[00:11:32] Christie Robertson: There were two things that were specific only to Seattle. One was $100,000 — many people will be happy to hear this — for an enrollment study. Here's what it actually says in the supplemental operating budget that passed through the state legislature. 

“$100,000 of the general fund state appropriation for fiscal year 2025 is provided solely for the office for a grant to the Seattle Public School District to conduct an analysis of why families have left the district and how they may be attracted back. The Seattle Public School District shall provide a report to the Office of Financial Management and the Fiscal Committees of the Legislature by June 30, 2025, that addresses the reasons for families leaving the district and specific steps necessary for them to return to the district."

I am so curious, Jane, whether the district asked for this or whether the legislature, which is upset that Seattle is losing enrollment said, “Here, take this money. You have to do a study.”

It gets brought up when Seattle is asking for funding, "But you guys are losing enrollment and you don't even know why. You don't even ask people why they're leaving." So this may be "Okay, we'll give you your $7.6 million dollars Seattle, but you gotta figure out why people are leaving. And you can't say it's an unfunded mandate because here's $100,000.”

[00:12:59] Jane Tunks Demel: Interesting. 

[00:13:00] Christie Robertson: We did also get $5.6 million from the supplemental capital budget from the legislature for apparently a roof for Whittier Elementary, which seems very specific, but there you have it.

[00:13:14] Jane Tunks Demel: And then Director Hersey went on I'm just going to call it the most wonderfully awesome rant ever that came from the dais. It really made us want to see what he could do if he became the legislative liaison for the Seattle School Board. Here we edited together a bunch of clips of what he said, so you could get a sense of it.

[00:13:34] Brandon Hersey: A big thing that would be helpful for me is to have our lobbyist [Cliff Traisman] here to talk about like what are the actual barriers that exist, right? 

And so like, let me just make this super-clear that like, if you feel as though the deck is stacked against us, it's literally because it is. And unfortunately, the losers in this situation are the state's children, right? And I want to be super-clear, this is not just a Seattle problem, this is a state problem.

We inherit a lot of baggage when we step into these roles. I hear so much about stuff that went down before I even lived here. And it's like, I am, there's the reason I bring that up is not to be petty, but to be really real with the situation. It's almost like a prerequisite to hate Seattle Public Schools as a member of the legislature. 

And the way that I hear a lot of folks in Olympia talk about SEA, as well, is trash. You know what I'm saying? So I am really wondering, what is it going to take for us to break past that? 

 I do think that there needs to be a come to whatever higher power you've subscribed to conversation that is brass tacks. It's like, look, I didn't make a lot of the decisions that y'all are upset about. Y'all also didn't vote on them. Half of y'all that are in the legislature, given the turnover. So like, why are we inheriting all of this? Like he-said, she-said baggage and drama from 10, 15 years ago, because another big piece of this is what I think that's just a scapegoat for people not knowing how to solve the problem, 

So that would be my question to Cliff [Traisman, Seattle Public Schools lobbyist]. If we could get him at one of these. I think that question would be better posed when he's at the table to really give us a brass tax indication of like, What is it that we need to do? Who do we need to apologize to at this phase? ’Cause it's like, there's no more like building collaboration or relationship mending that we can do. We're out of money. And the reality of that situation is that we are going to be in a place to where we're going to have to make some really tough calls, and by tough calls, that means buildings may have to close. Unfortunately, based on what we're seeing here, I really don't want to see that happen, but like, let's call the situation is what it is. Like folks are going to be — not even folks. Children's educational experiences are going to be vastly disrupted because of baggage that we have inherited. And that is untenable and unacceptable.

And so, I want to know, how can we prompt that up so that because before we even get and I know I'm like riffing at this point. I'm just like heated about this because it's like this is by design.

They want our educators and our families to come tell us this here so that we are the blockade for going to Olympia. You know what I'm saying? Knowing full well that we have no revenue-generating mechanism as a school district. We get an allowance for lack of a better word, you know, and like when the money's gone, the money's gone. And I just want everybody to be on the same page about like the reality of that situation and because it's frustrating to be in a position to where I agree.

We have to pay for things. Things are important. And the fact that like folks are doing without right now is challenging the fact that folks are going to be experiencing cuts and loss is challenging. At the same time, I can't print money. And I wish that there's only so many cuts we can make from central office.

There's only so many cuts that we could even make throughout our district, right? 

I want to know what do we need to do to get to the root of this problem. And if it's not possible, somebody needs to tell me that so that we can figure out a different solution and just call it what it is. 

Because just pretending that we're going to go to Olympia next session and this is gonna be fixed. It's not. 

And I just want to be super-real with folks. That is not a tenable option. We might get something, we might pull $7 million out of a hat. Dope. Great. But that's not going to plug our structural deficit and we will not be able to deliver services in the way that we are delivering them right now.

That's just not going to happen. And that is the conversation I'm trying to have. 

[00:18:01] Michelle Sarju: That's like a standing ovation. 

[00:18:04] Brent Jones: Yes, absolutely. I agree.

[00:18:07] Jane Tunks Demel: Let's give Director Hersey a standing ovation. Woo! 

[00:18:11] Christie Robertson: We can put some clapping in. 

[00:18:13] Jane Tunks Demel: So then, district staff walked the board through their proposed solutions for bridging the $111 million budget gap for the 2024-25 school year. 

As we mentioned earlier, Seattle Public Schools is planning on a $35 million interfund loan. And now that they've closed the books on the 22-23 school year, they have a $32 million ending fund balance. So they're going to use that too. 

[00:18:39] Christie Robertson: So that's $67 million right there. And so we just have to dig around in the couch cushions for another $44 million.

[00:18:49] Jane Tunks Demel: And the district was supposed to start replenishing the rainy-day fund next year. And that would have been $6.6 million. So they're going to push that back another year too.

[00:18:59] Christie Robertson: Cool. Maybe they can do that forever. And it's like $6.6 million free every year. 

[00:19:06] Jane Tunks Demel: Although we're giving them a hard time for kicking the can down the road, toward the end of the meeting, they did flash a five-year spreadsheet up on the screen that showed that they do actually plan to pay all these monies back.

[00:19:18] Christie Robertson: OK, so we're down to like $38 million. Now the choices get harder. First up is transportation. You can tell it's getting hard when what they're doing is saving $1 million. They plan to save $1 million by switching to opt-in transportation for students who go to the Skills Center.

The Skills Center is an alternative learning program that offers career and technical education to high schoolers in fields like firefighting, construction, trades, media arts. I think they also have healthcare software. There's all kinds of awesome stuff. 

[00:19:56] Jane Tunks Demel: And then, in 2025-26, so that's the year after next, the plan is to return to a three-tier bell schedule, which would save $9 million on buses.

And this is a big deal, as anybody who was around when bell times have changed knows.

[00:20:12] Christie Robertson: Yes, Director Topp kept asking if we could do that sooner, but despite the fact that it sounds easy, it means that everybody has to change their work schedules. All of the people that do child care at the schools have to change their schedules. It's a huge move around for everybody, so I hope they stick to their guns on saving that for 25-26.

[00:20:34] Jane Tunks Demel: And of course, central office will get hit again with $8.2 million in cuts, which they explained is 59.7 full-time employees. Assistant Superintendent of Finance Kurt Buttleman said that most of these positions are already open, so they just won't fill them.

[00:20:53] Christie Robertson: Who are these people, Jane? 60 extra staff? Or roles that don't need to be filled?

[00:21:00] Jane Tunks Demel: I wish I knew. We hope to file a public record request to find out what all these positions were.

[00:21:07] Christie Robertson: So all of these cuts were just introduced to the board directors with little pushback, but then it came to student-facing cuts.

[00:21:19] Jane Tunks Demel: $7 million was cut from school funding allocations, and this got a lot of pushback from the school board directors. Each school gets its own discretionary dollars that can be used however the principal and building leadership team sees fit.

[00:21:35] Christie Robertson: And there's two different kinds of discretionary dollars. There's discretionary dollars that all schools get the same amount of, and then there's equity dollars, based on how many kids get free and reduced lunch at that school.

[00:21:47] Jane Tunks Demel: Here's what Director Topp said about these school funding cuts.

[00:21:51] Gina Topp: I think this, the school funding allocations, are the things that, you know, I hear you Dr. Jones, central office, very important, critical task. But the allocations to the schools are the things that, you know, really affect everyday lives — the everyday school day. And so I think that, you know, $7 million, I see other ways in which we could squeeze that $7 million out of this budget. And I talked with staff a little bit about them, but I think this seems like one of the last resorts to me.

 [00:22:22] Christie Robertson: Director Sarju agreed with her. 

[00:22:24] Michelle Sarju: So the fact that we're sort of going back and forth on this slide seems to represent the antithesis of what we want to do to students. And I'm in line with Director Topp in critically thinking about, is this the only option? 

[00:22:45] Jane Tunks Demel: And Student Director Muthuswamy said the same thing.

[00:22:50] Aayush Muthuswamy: I worked with my principal on making these decisions for discretionary allocations and what it comes down to is do we want 34 kids in our classroom next year? Do we want to fully fund multilingual services next year? Do we want to have a tier-two counselor in our school next year? So these discretionary allocations and the the flexibility that they provide impacts students on a day-to-day level and the actual staffing that they do have in their schools.

So I would agree with Director Topp and Director Sara that this should be at the bottom of our cut list because this actually does impact schools and students on a day-to-day level and the staff that they have in their building.

[00:23:25] Christie Robertson: Here's how Superintendent Jones responded to the three of them.

[00:23:29] Brent Jones: So let me be clear. These aren't great choices. And so I want to — I don't want to represent that this is good for our schools, for our system. When we have to figure out, we don't have, we're trying to have a spirit of abundance, but we don’t. Right now, it's like, how do we reduce? And so we've looked at different things.

We've looked at what we really try to do in this is preserve people and reduce dollars and that's kind of what our principle was going into this.  

We'd love to be able to keep it all. But I think we're just trying to be articulate about the trade-offs. That's where we are. And so antithesis of supporting schools? Perhaps yes. But is it the worst thing we can do? No. So that's I want to be as forthright as I can about what we're thinking about. 

[00:24:29] Christie Robertson: And then Director Rankin chimed in.

[00:24:31] Liza Rankin: So here's the other thing that people are really not going to like in terms of student outcomes.

I know that we all have a visceral response to, oh my gosh, what does that cut mean? At the end of the day, will a reduction in those discretionary dollars — it will have an impact on somebody's relationship with a person that they know that may not be there anymore. It will have an impact on having to make some changes. So this is where "Boo, hiss, Liza.” 

Is it going to impact student outcomes, or are we having a visceral reaction to we don't want to change anything in buildings? Because actually we just talked about how we want to change a lot of things in buildings. 

[00:25:22] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay, Jane, I do have to push back here. First to what Superintendent Jones said, that they're trying to preserve people while cutting dollars. I think in student outcomes focused governance, what they should be looking at is what are the impacts on students, and not centering adults. And to what President Rankin said about preserving relationships with adults, what Director Topp, Director Sarju, and Student Director Muthuswamy are talking about are the things that impact everyday lives at school. Director Muthuswamy mentioned 34 kids in a classroom, fully funding multi-lingual services, a tier two counselor — those things affect student outcomes. Yeah, they do.

[00:26:20] Christie Robertson: Another student-facing cut that I was really disappointed to see was $100,000 from the Running Start administration costs. And I believe that money is going to reduce the time that high school counselors can spend on helping students who are participating in Running Start.

[00:26:28] Christie Robertson: Yeah, Running Start is a great program where high schoolers get the opportunity to enroll in college-level classes at local community colleges and get credit. it's an important option for many students and directly tied into college and career readiness, which is one of their goals. 

[00:26:46] Jane Tunks Demel: And this is one of these cuts that really feels like pennies. It's only going to save $100,000. So we hope that the community will push back on this.

Yes, And next up is Athletic Fees. President Rankin has made it very clear in every single budget session that she doesn't support this, and we agree with her.

[00:27:07] Christie Robertson: The other directors have backed her up on this. The pitch was that students would pay a $200 fee for each sport they play with a $400 cap, and they're estimating that if 75 percent of the students who aren't free and reduced lunch pay this, they would get $1.1 million. 

And the idea would be, of course, that they wouldn't charge students who couldn't afford it. But you and I and Director Sarju all know that that is not what would happen. And here's what she said.

[00:27:38] Michelle Sarju: The whole pay to play thing. We know who that potentially will hurt. And yes, I hear you say students who can't afford it won't pay. But how is that going to be enforced in buildings? Because I have been here long enough to know— for sure — if you can't pay, you don't play. We're delusional if we think that has never happened here in Seattle Public Schools. It has happened.  

[00:28:00] Christie Robertson: I feel like many of these cuts are going to impact the students who they are trying to help the most. Transportation to skill center, fees for sports, advising on how to do running start. These are all things that kids with means are going to figure out how to do. And making them less accessible is going to impact the kids without means the most, in my opinion.

[00:28:33] Jane Tunks Demel: So Superintendent Jones, we hope you're listening. Please don't make kids pay to play sports. It's just not right.

[00:28:40] Christie Robertson: Do you think Superintendent Jones listens to Seattle Hall Pass podcast?

[00:28:44] Jane Tunks Demel: I'm sure he does.

[00:28:45] Christie Robertson: OK, this next section is entitled, "The Board Got No Choices for the 24 25 Budget, WTF.” Sorry, I exposed your title there, Jane.

There was no “Here's choices. We either can do this or that in any way.” And as we mentioned, anything that the directors pushed back on, they got pushed back just as hard. 

[00:29:08] Jane Tunks Demel: So yeah,  even though the superintendent’s staff is presenting these cuts to the board directors as if they're proposals, many of these cuts are already in motion. For example, the school allocation cuts, which is supposed to save $7 million.

[00:29:27] Christie Robertson: And that means that when Directors Topp and Sarju are asking about the $7 million taken from building budgets, the schools have already built their budgets without it and got them approved by the central office budget team, HR team, and operations team, so that's a done deal. 

Despite all of those things that we just said, Superintendent Jones insisted that they are open to suggestion. Here's what he said.

[00:29:53] Brent Jones: We are open for direction. though. So we want to lay this out and say here's what our proposal is. And if you all say go hard and do something different, we will try we'll try to make that happen  

[00:30:06] Christie Robertson: But they weren't open to suggestion. I'm sorry.

[00:30:10] Jane Tunks Demel: Oh, well, maybe next year.  

But one thing that we want to compliment the superintendent staff on that they did this budget work session — and it was something we'd never seen before — they showed how much funding goes directly to the goals the board has for 3rd grade reading, 7th grade math, and college and career readiness. And that number is $8.3 million.

[00:30:37] Christie Robertson: That seems low. And that's what director Briggs said as well.

[00:30:41] Jane Tunks Demel: We did the math and she's right. It's only 0.7% of the $1.17 billion operating budget.

[00:30:48] Christie Robertson: Here's how President Rankin responded to Director Briggs’s comment.

[00:30:52] Liza Rankin: What I really want to see — and part of the leaning into discomfort is — are we willing to actually say, hey, third grade reading is a priority. When we talk about budget allocations, we're not just talking about this program or this service. We're talking about realigning staff with ensuring that third graders can read at grade level.

And that means that not every school and not every kid is going to need the same FTE. But we're not going to make progress on our goals and we're not going to close gaps if we don't make changes.

Which I know is not for the 24-25 school year but how are we thinking about that that the 8-point-whatever million dollars is not, well let's see how far we can get on our goals with this little pot of money. But actually like that our entire system's existence is to make progress on these goals for our students.

That's the whole reason that we're here. 

[00:32:05] Christie Robertson: But that would be completely meaningless. To say that the entire budget is going toward the goals is just as bad as saying it's only 0.7%. Director Hersey also asked for more clarification about how the spending is connected to goals.

[00:32:20] Brandon Hersey: I would like to see a really clear connection between the goals that we've set out and the line items that are impacting that goal and in what way, right? And I think community would really benefit from that as well. 

For example, if we're utilizing our third grade reading as just an example, like I want to see, okay, show me how much we're spending on curriculum, or whatever the case may be. Show me how much we're spending on professional development. Show me how are we connecting this to the dollars that are being spent on staffing across all of the different portfolios and whatnot. And in addition to that, give me a paragraph or something to show me like how the culmination of all these efforts we believe will result in the goal that we've set for our children. 

[00:33:12] Jane Tunks Demel: A bit later, Director Hersey raised a related point.

[00:33:16] Brandon Hersey: The question that we get often is how do you know that the amount of money that you're spending on this is actually going to get you to where you're going?

I think the reality of that is that we need y'all to tell us that or at least give us kind of the breakdown and how that calculus is happening in terms of the investment that you're making toward the goals. So that would be super-helpful.

[00:33:37] Christie Robertson: So, to me, one of the hardest parts about the “we have to be willing to sacrifice” mindset is that they haven't shown that what they're doing is working. 

[00:33:37] Jane Tunks Demel: So you're saying that they haven't shown that anything they're doing for the third grade reading goal or the seventh grade math goal is working?

[00:33:58] Christie Robertson: Yes, and to my mind, I'm not even convinced by the graduation data because I think it's the result of grade inflation. So I'm just really not satisfied with their results. 

And then I also feel like they're confused about what helps. So $8.3 million is what they're saying is for the goals, but that can't include the things that I feel like are really going to impact the goals. Like are meals for kids in there? Is there transportation to get kids to school and make sure that it's consistent? Is making sure that we have excellent teachers in there and collaboration time? What about counselors so that kids feel OK at school and staffing to avoid splits? I mean, the list goes on and on. There's so many things that I feel like are directly connected to student outcomes and the $8.3 million, I'm guessing that's like the coaches and things. 

[00:34:56] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, I think it's probably professional development and things like that. 

So, yeah. Some of these cuts are so brutal that President Rankin asked why Seattle doesn't have a foundation that raises money to support Seattle Public Schools.

[00:35:12] Liza Rankin: Something that we're not going to be able to answer right in this moment, but that we should think about is why do we not have a Seattle Schools Foundation in this city? 

[00:35:22] Jane Tunks Demel: And then she shared her vision for such a foundation.

[00:35:25] Liza Rankin: Somebody out there. All right. Do a fund. And these typically will have like the superintendent on the board of whatever organization so that it's not this other organization saying, “Well, we think you should do these things. You know, we want every school to have a fencing club.

We don't care what you want or don't want. That's what we want to pay for.” 

No, there, there are organizations that exist to support the mission and vision and to support equitable access for students and participating in all of these things. We could have these things.

[00:35:56] Christie Robertson: So this is really interesting because there actually is a nonprofit called the Alliance for Education that used to do exactly this. The period where the Alliance for Education and Seattle Public Schools were in tight collaboration was 1995 to 2015. And during that period, Alliance for Education raised $150 million that went straight to Seattle schools.

[00:36:24] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah. And according to an article in the Seattle Times, friction started to surface when the Alliance moved into advocacy too. And they pushed and challenged Seattle Public Schools on, interestingly, effective school board governance. And apparently they also tried to give input on the teacher's contract so I can see how that wouldn't have been received well by the school board at that time.

But clearly their relationship has been re-established to some extent, because for one thing, Superintendent Jones is on the board of directors for the Alliance for Education. And they also fund the Office of African-American Male Achievement among other things. Seattle Public Schools seems to be the sole beneficiary of their money.

Our last theme for the meeting is that, put May 8th on your calendar, people, because that meeting is gonna be big time. That's gonna be where the major cuts for 25-26 are announced.

[00:37:24] Jane Tunks Demel: There will be the three-tiered bell times, as we already mentioned.

[00:37:27] Christie Robertson: And also, there will be closures and consolidations. Here's Brent Jones. 

[00:37:29] Brent Jones: The plan may include school consolidations to be implemented in 25-26 and the year beyond, grade level reorganizations, program adjustments and restructuring. I want you to pay attention to this slide because that's what was in that resolution going forward. And let me be clear. We are working on plans and we're modeling — we’re doing more than modeling. We are planning when we were making sure that we are doing due diligence in that space.

I haven't said that's where we're going because we have not had that conversation. But that is something that we are — we have a team working on this. They've been spending many hours on it. And so we're at a point where we have to think about this now, if we're going to do anything in 25-26.

[00:38:28] Aayush Muthuswamy: Do you know the number, off the top of your head, of how much the district saves in expenditure by consolidating an elementary schools per se? 

[00:38:37] Brent Jones: Yeah. So we our rough estimate right now is about $1.5 to $3 million per school on a consolidation 

[00:38:45] Jane Tunks Demel: And Art Jarvis added another important change that will be coming.

[00:38:50] Art Jarvis: When we start doing attendance boundaries for the entire system — I say that if that doesn't make you nervous and sort of start shaking, it's going to happen. It's going to happen as part of this system change, or else we can't get to where we need to be with this level of change.

[00:39:11] Christie Robertson: And Bev Redmond ominously said that there will need to be a bunch of community meetings to deal with the aftermath of the announcements.

[00:39:19] Bev Redmond: Concerning the May dates that we announced that was specifically attached to what would happen out of the May 8th announcement following that, believing we need to get out to community. There's going to be a lot of need for clarification following that. 

[00:39:35] Jane Tunks Demel: And perhaps the most chilling evidence we have is President Rankin. 

[00:39:40] Liza Rankin: So, I just, I don't want anybody you know, seeing the May 8th thing and starting to look at, you know, buying a house somewhere else.

[00:39:49] Jane Tunks Demel: So listeners, put May 8th on your calendar. Changes are coming.

[00:39:55] Christie Robertson: So that was a very meaty meeting. It took us a very long time to write out this outline. And you're welcome. 

[00:39:56] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this episode. This podcast is supported by Christie and me and by listeners like you. If you like this podcast, please consider supporting us. We have monthly expenses such as recording and editing software, web and email server, and more. You can help us by donating at

[00:40:21] Christie Robertson: You can also email us with your comments, suggestions, ideas at I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:40:31] 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.