Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E35 - Board Additions, Budget Revisions, and Plans to Engage - April 3 School Board Meeting

April 12, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 35
E35 - Board Additions, Budget Revisions, and Plans to Engage - April 3 School Board Meeting
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
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Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E35 - Board Additions, Budget Revisions, and Plans to Engage - April 3 School Board Meeting
Apr 12, 2024 Season 1 Episode 35
Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel

In Episode 35, we cover the April 3 Seattle School Board meeting and the April 4 swearing-in of the new school board directors Sarah Clark (District 2) and Joe Mizrahi (District 4). We also discuss the budget work session, which included discussions around the 2024-25 school year and the 2025-26 school year. The scheduled progress monitoring session was canceled or postponed, and there was an unscheduled session outlining short-term and long-term community engagement plans. Look for school board directors to be coming to engage with you soon! Tune in on May 8 for the mostly-baked 2025-26 school consolidation and budget-cutting plan.

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In Episode 35, we cover the April 3 Seattle School Board meeting and the April 4 swearing-in of the new school board directors Sarah Clark (District 2) and Joe Mizrahi (District 4). We also discuss the budget work session, which included discussions around the 2024-25 school year and the 2025-26 school year. The scheduled progress monitoring session was canceled or postponed, and there was an unscheduled session outlining short-term and long-term community engagement plans. Look for school board directors to be coming to engage with you soon! Tune in on May 8 for the mostly-baked 2025-26 school consolidation and budget-cutting plan.

Show Notes
Email us at
Leave us a voice message at
Discuss this episode on Substack

Support the Show.

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

E35 - Board Additions, Budget Revisions, and Plans to Engage - April 3 & 4, 2024 School Board Meetings

See our Show Notes | Email us: | Leave us a voice message:

[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:00:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. 


[00:00:15] Christie Robertson: In today's episode, we'll be discussing several key topics from the latest school board meeting. First, we'll talk about the appointment and swearing in of two new school board directors - Sarah Clark and Joe Mizrahi. Next we'll address the missed opportunity to do progress monitoring on college and career readiness and what the data may show. We'll then dive into the budget work session. And finally, we'll touch on the upcoming plans for short term community engagement.

Board Appointments

[00:00:42] Christie Robertson: So let's dive into the meeting. Maybe the most important thing was that we got two new board directors - Sarah Clark for District 2 and Joe Mizrahi for District 4 were both elected unanimously by the board. And they were sworn in the very next day. We'll play some of each acceptance speech, starting with Sarah Clark, the new school bird director for Sunset Hill, Ballard, Loyal Heights, Whittier Heights, West Woodland, Phinney Ridge, southern Greenwood and Green Lake, Magnolia, and Interbay. Here's some of Director Sarah Clark's acceptance speech.

[00:01:19] Sarah Clark: I was reflecting last night and this morning back on that little girl, little Sarah, who attended Seattle Public Schools, who had big dreams and a big smile but also big fear and lack of self-worth. She was surrounded by people who tried to lift her up to reach her dreams. She tried her best, but did not believe in herself.

Back then they didn't know anything about childhood PTSD or what children go through when they are separated from their parents at birth. That was over 20 years ago and things got worse for a time, but they also got better. And the human psychology got a lot better too. More help became available and I took advantage of it. I stand here before you today as proof that no matter what happens in life, when you roll up your sleeves, are willing to face your biggest challenges, and get to work on yourself. It is possible to move forward and make long-held dreams come true. And rolling up my sleeves as exactly what I'm ready to do now that I've taken my oath of office. 

I told you all last week that I would be taking trips around District 2 to visit all the schools, our students, teachers, staff, and parents. I look forward to listening and learning from you all, working hard to ensure your voices are heard through my work, and advocating with you for more state funding. 

The huge nerd in me is also eager to take a deep dive into long standing policies, procedures, and budgets and to learn from the wisdom of my new colleagues' experiences thus far. I don't want us to return the district to status quo. That has been broken for decades. I want us to leave it better than we found it. I believe that together we can and will do much better, to get this district on a better path, to improve access to educational excellence and mental health resources, increased safety in our schools, increased opportunities for students furthest from educational justice, and find creative solutions to the enrollment challenges we are faced with. And make sure we are able to attract and retain not only great students, but great educators as well. 

[00:03:43] Jane Tunks Demel: Sarah Clark is an interesting choice for a school board director because she comes from the world of business. She works as a policy director for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and her supporters point out that she could help forge ties with the local business community. 

[00:03:57] Christie Robertson: She's the only person on the current school board who has gone through Seattle public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Director Clark went through the highly capable program at that time. And it was a very segregated program. So she has that experience under her as well. 

Joe Mizrahi is the new school board director for Fremont, Queen Anne, Westlake, South Lake Union, Belltown, Denny Triangle, Pike Market, and Central Business District. And here's part of District 4 director. Joe, Mizrahi acceptance speech.

[00:04:32] Joe Mizrahi: One of the things that I think gets lost sometimes in these processes and these forums, because you're talking about like, what are the biggest issues that face us and what are the biggest problems? It's also all these wonderful things and the amazing things that our district has to offer. 

And I really love the Seattle school district. We have amazing educators. We have some amazing buildings. And, of course, we have amazing students. And I think that I'm just so excited to be part of that system now. 

Obviously there is a lot to work on. We have one of the biggest opportunity gaps in the country in our school district. And what I'm really excited about is I feel like I'm joining a board that has already committed to taking that on head on. We're not shying away from that. We have our work cut out for us, but we're not shying away from it. 

And one thing that's a phrase that we use a lot in the labor movement is this idea that “It's not complicated. It's just hard.” And I think that a lot about what we're doing right now. You know, it's not complicated. We have to be talking to students, talking to families, talking to community, and doing the hard work to address the opportunity gap. That's not complicated. We know how to do it. It's just hard. 

But I'm excited to be doing it with you all. And I think I'm joining the board at a great time, and I'm excited to be engaging with all the community around that.

[00:05:37] Jane Tunks Demel: Mizrahi is the Secretary Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers 21, which is the largest union in Washington State.

[00:05:46] Christie Robertson: Okay. We wanted to start by just introducing you to the new board directors, but let's jump back and note a few things about the voting process. 

[00:05:55] Jane Tunks Demel: Before the meeting started, the five school board directors had an executive session to talk about the finalists for Director Districts 2 and 4.

[00:06:04] Christie Robertson: This was the same as when they narrowed down to the finalists. They scheduled an executive session for directly before the regular meeting because they wanted to be able to talk freely. The executive session ran long. And then when they came back, Jane, it was really awkward, wasn't it? There was something weird going on. 

[00:06:26] Jane Tunks Demel: It was clear they weren't ready to vote. So pretty quickly, Evan Briggs asked if it would be permissible to go back into executive session. And so they did.

[00:06:35] Christie Robertson: And in case anybody's curious about who was nominated, here's the rundown. In District 2, Vice President Sarju nominated Sarah Clark. And Director Hersey nominated Sean Sullivan. 

For District 4, Director Topp nominated Joe Mizrahi. Director Hersey nominated Laura Marie Rivera. And Director Briggs nominated Gabby Gonzales. In nominating Rivera, Director Hersey give a nice speech about the importance of having more special education representation on the board. And Director Briggs also noted the value that would be added by having a non native English speaker like Gabby Gonzales on the board. 

[00:07:14] Jane Tunks Demel: These two newly appointed school board directors will be serving until the fall of 2025, when there will be an election for those seats again. So for any of you out there who think you might want to run, you can start planning now.

[00:07:23] Christie Robertson: So we have two new board directors, and I can't wait to see what kind of influence they have on the board.

[00:07:34] Jane Tunks Demel: So hooray! Now we don't have to talk about new school board director appointments anymore.

[00:07:43] Christie Robertson: Woohoo. Let's have things be somewhat normal for a little while.

Progress Monitoring

[00:07:47] Christie Robertson: They did not do progress monitoring, which was on the agenda. And I'm not sure why, because they did have time. They adjourned the meeting quite a bit earlier than they usually do. I'm also not clear whether it was canceled or postponed.

[00:08:04] Jane Tunks Demel: It is really disappointing when they say that everything they do is about student outcomes, and then they cancel or postpone progress monitoring. This week it was supposed to be on college and career readiness, right Christie?

[00:08:18] Christie Robertson: Right. I spent a bunch of time looking through the slides in advance of the meeting, so maybe we can at least go over a short version of what they might've discussed if they had done this session.

[00:08:28] Jane Tunks Demel: To me, the short version was that the top line is slightly going up, but then the other two interim indicators are going down.

[00:08:38] Christie Robertson: Yeah. And the top line is the kids who graduate within four years with one advanced course. And one question that we both have is what does it count as to take an advanced course? Does it matter if you take the AP exam, or is it just attending it? Or what? Because that top line measure has been going up, they're successfully getting more kids into those classes, which is great, but are they getting advanced content? And since standardized test scores are going down, while advanced-course-taking is going up, and you and I have both heard tales of students having to take remedial classes when they get to college, even when they've taken advanced classes, it just makes me wonder if that's really the right measure of college and career readiness.

And then the interim measures are being on time with your credits, like on track to graduation in ninth and tenth grade. Ninth graders are okay, and tenth graders are starting to fall a little bit. 


[00:09:44] Jane Tunks Demel: Let's talk about the budget work session. Most of this budget session was just going through what they went through last time, which we covered in episode 32. Superintendent Jones and Kurt Buttleman...

[00:09:56] Christie Robertson: (He's Assistant Superintendent of Finance.) 

[00:09:59] Jane Tunks Demel: ...They just talked about a few tweaks they made after feedback from the school board directors. 

[00:10:04] Christie Robertson: We had mentioned last time that the district did not seem very receptive to changes to what they presented, or didn't give many choices to the school board directors. 

But they did change one thing between the previous meeting and this meeting. And that was that they restored the cuts made to the equity dollars, a version of discretionary funding that goes to schools based on how many kids in free and reduced lunch they have. Here's what Kurt Butleman said about that change. 

[00:10:38] Kurt Buttleman: So one change that will be proposed in the final budget is to restore the discretionary equity funding to the school allocation budgets. There's a process just prior to the start of the school year - some other funding is dispersed to the schools. And this funding would be dispersed at that time, back to the schools. And just as a reminder, this is the funding that was sort of a lump sum for each level of school. So $5,000 at elementary schools, $10,000 at a K8, $25,000 at middle schools, $45,000 at the comprehensive high schools and $8,000 at the non-traditional schools. And so those funds will be restored for non-staff utilization prior to the start of the 24-25 school year. 

[00:11:24] Jane Tunks Demel: And this was something that Director Topp and Sarju both asked about at the previous budget meeting. And so, as a follow up, Director Topp asked about getting information on the budgets earlier, so they have time to weigh in before the building budgets are done.

[00:11:40] Gina Topp: The last time we had a budget conversation, I think I and Director Sarju commented about the disappointment at seeing the equity allocation disappear. I appreciate seeing it back. 

I will say one thing that I'm disappointed in, and I want to see next time as we go through this budget process, is working on our timeline. Because budgets went to schools before we sort of had an opportunity to give direction really. And that means that these equity allocations aren't going to go into planning for right now. Because it sounds like school budgets are done, and it sounds like the equity money then goes more towards the fall. It also makes decisions on the staffing ratio more difficult, because I think it would be an operational obstacle at this point to change that. 

[00:12:26] Christie Robertson: I really appreciated that comment. And I also really appreciated President Rankin bringing up what's known in district circles as “the June Adjustment”.

[00:12:37] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay, Christie, we did multiple episodes related to “the October adjustment”. Our listeners might get worried. 

[00:12:43] Christie Robertson: Right. So the October adjustment is overall a bad thing, as we all just experienced. And that's when they re-allocate teachers and other staffing if (or actually when) the enrollment projections are off. And to some degree, this might be necessary to do an adjustment like that, since state funding is determined by kids' “butts in seats”, as they say, on October 1st. But, of course, ideally you do not want to have a lot of changes once kids have spent a month or more with particular classmates and a particular teacher. And we all know how disruptive that is. 

So that's different than the June adjustment, which is overall a good thing.

[00:13:27] Jane Tunks Demel: What's the June adjustment? 

[00:13:29] Christie Robertson: It's basically making the same adjustments that you would make in October, but you do it ahead of time. Remember that the original projections are done in like February or March so that they can get the schools their budgets for the next year. They do allocations at that point, but if they adjust to them in June, They won't have to adjust them as much in October.

 And this is particularly important in special education where, like, an Access “classroom” is 10 kids. So if suddenly you’ve got five more, you need to add staffing.

Last year, the district either didn't do, or they weren't going to do, or they partially didn't do, a June adjustment. And it was very problematic. 

So all that preamble was just ahead of wanting to play what Director Rankin said - demanding, or maybe just encouraging, a June adjustment. And we'll play Dr. Jones's response. 

[00:14:35] Liza Rankin: One other thing I want to ask about is encour... I don't... Having staff in place, to the best of our ability, along the most updated projections, on Day One for students with and without disabilities, is critical. And so if there is an update to enrollment in June, I would like to know... I don't need to know the details about it. But I would like to know that there are considerations being made to update budgets based on the most recent enrollment. So we do not have students, especially in special education classrooms and needing services, without their adequate support on Day One because we under-staffed. 

[long pause]

[00:15:50] Brent Jones: Received. Gotcha. Yes, absolutely. 

[00:15:52] Jane Tunks Demel: Okay, so that long pause was weird, right? Christie and I timed it, and it was 14 seconds. 

We noticed that during the budget part of the meeting, that Superintendent Jones and Assistant Superintendent of Finance Kurt Buttleman didn't seem to be that responsive to what President Rankin was saying. She was trying to explain about the June adjustment and what her concerns were, and they just sat there staring at her. And It seemed like it was more than just them not trying to interrupt her, as evidenced by this 14 second pause.

[00:16:29] Christie Robertson: Another interesting conversation was about overage pay. 

[00:16:31] Jane Tunks Demel: Explain what overage is.

[00:16:34] Christie Robertson: If the contracted number for a classroom is 30, and you add another kid, you have to pay that teacher extra. And for next year, they've planned on a class size change in secondary from 30 to 31. Now that doesn't necessarily mean 30 or 31 kids per class, because it counts any teacher who comes in contact with that kid. It could mean the loss or reduction of a different certificated position. But if the class sizes do get bigger, teachers get paid more per the contract.

[00:17:06] Jane Tunks Demel: Here's an interaction between President Rankin and Assistant Superintendent of Finance, Kurt Buttleman.

[00:17:13] Liza Rankin: The amount of overage per educator. There's a range, right? 

[00:17:18] Kurt Buttleman: For secondaries, it's $3.36 per kid over 150, per day. Does that... Does that make sense? What I just said though? 

[00:17:33] Liza Rankin: I mean... I understand what you just said. 

[00:17:36] Kurt Buttleman: And that was my question. 

[00:17:37] Liza Rankin: But it makes very little sense. 

[00:17:41] Kurt Buttleman: And so if you estimate that amount for all of the teachers in secondary, You get a number in the range of $1.5-2 million. Which isn't realistic that all teachers would suddenly go from 30 to 31 in every classroom. So, conservatively estimating about a million dollars in impact is what the budget proposal contains, in terms of an estimate for that. 

[00:18:05] Christie Robertson: President Rankin explained that what she really wants to know is what is the impact of this change. Here's what she said.

[00:18:13] Liza Rankin: This is a budget solution. And I don't know that it's necessarily a service-to-students solution. And I would like to understand that it is. And I can explain that a little bit more if so. We're hearing about... I think what I really want to understand is - What's anecdotal and what's actual? So we’re hearing about language reduction, world language program, or world language access, which is a graduation requirement. Music programs, any kind of other... like, I'm talking about basic education. I'm talking about just regular classes. Not things that are after school. If we are... what is the impact of increasing the staffing ratio on the number of courses able to be offered, because we've actually taken adult or more than one adult out of the building? And does the savings... Does it actually pencil out? It's like, how many people can be in overage before it costs the same as another teacher?

[00:19:26] Christie Robertson: I think this is a really, really important point. Basically, I think what she was trying to get at was that you're getting diminishing returns. The more overage you do, the more you pay just to have less services, right? So it's a desperate move. You're having to pay to save money.

The other thing that President Rankin brought up was that it's not necessarily that the classes are going to get bigger, and it might be what we heard so much testimony about. It might be that they cut a different kind of a teacher. There was testimony from teachers at Franklin and Garfield about losing multilingual IAs... or not getting staffed up to where they needed them. And then world language teachers, like French, Japanese, many schools are seeing their world languages cut. So it could also be, instead of paying overage, they might just like cut a teacher.

[00:20:24] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah

[00:20:25] Christie Robertson: And offer one less language. Speaking of which, let's play some testimony from Garfield, where their world language classes have been heavily impacted over the last couple of years. This is Jessi Clayton, the French teacher at Garfield High School. 

[00:20:41] Jessi Clayton: This is happening across the district in world language departments. And it is counter to what the state board of education and OSPI claim to value, which is equitable college and career readiness for all students, since most colleges require at least two years of a world language as a prerequisite. Our schools can't claim we're preparing all students for college if we continue to cut one of the requirements for admission. 

[00:21:03] Jane Tunks Demel: Christie and I got curious about Why are all these high schools losing some of their world language teachers? And so we looked up the graduation requirements, and it turns out that world languages are no longer a requirement for graduation in Seattle Public Schools. Although, if a student wants to go to college, it's recommended that they take two years of a foreign language.

[00:21:26] Christie Robertson: Yeah. So I want to play a little bit of testimony from one of the teachers at Franklin. The impacts that they're seeing from not staffing up for multilingual learners is pretty dire. Here's James Parker, who goes as “Whitney”. 

[00:21:47] James "Whitney'' Parker: I'm here today with some colleagues to talk about some of our most vulnerable students. At Franklin High School, we have the most Spanish speaking students, and we have hundreds of multilingual students. And we do not have enough multi-lingual paraeducators to serve our students. We've been told that there are no staffing adjustments for multilingual paraeducators throughout the year. That needs to change. We've gotten over 46 newcomers, new immigrants into this country. These are students facing so many hardships - supporting families, needing to get work, shelter, food, all this other stuff put on our multilingual paraeducators. But on top of that, they're being told no new staffing for the whole year. 

[00:22:31] Jane Tunks Demel: But they don't even see this understaffing of multilingual IAs as a cut. They are underestimating the number of multilingual learners that will be at Franklin High School next year. And the staff there, they know they're not getting enough. So it's not even presented as a cut. It's just this like deliberate underestimating of students that already exist in the school. 

[00:22:59] Christie Robertson: Yeah, so that is a very significant problem and it's getting worse. There's the ratio that they're saying- they're being upfront about the 30 to 31. But what they're not being upfront about is understaffing from the get go by estimating enrollment lower than it's going to be.

[00:23:19] Jane Tunks Demel: There was one other topic they addressed In response to the board's feedback, and that is about athletic fees. They are going to ask students to pay $200 per sport with a $400 maximum, if they are participating in extracurricular sports. And the school board pushed back on that, because they were worried that some students wouldn't be able to afford that.

[00:23:41] Christie Robertson: They said, “we're confident that we can make sure that kids who can't pay will still play.” And I have approximately zero trust in that because of the way I've just seen them do things like this. I just, like... without them explaining how that's gonna work, I just don't believe that. Vice President Sarju I was hoping would say “can you explain to me how this is going to work?”

[00:24:09] Jane Tunks Demel: I'm wondering if they had a discussion where they talked about this.

[00:24:13] Christie Robertson: Well, so maybe she was convinced. If she's convinced then I'll change my opinion. 

[00:24:21] Jane Tunks Demel: So that was 24-25. And then they turned to talking about 2025 and beyond. And they just quickly went over this portion. There were only two slides in their presentation about 2025 and beyond. They had a very cute picture of what a well resourced school looks like, and it's all the things that are going to make your dreams come true, like inclusive learning for EVERY student, stable operational budgets, art, music, and PE teachers, and so on. So it seems like this is a very aspirational list right now, and on May 8th I guess they will tell us what they really mean by all this. 

[00:25:03] Christie Robertson: I'll note, Jane, it says “inclusive learning for EVERY student. Do they mean that? They can't possibly mean that. Is that real? So does that mean no self contained classrooms? I can't possibly imagine that's what they mean. Does it mean that you will not be moved away from your neighborhood school because you have a disability, which is the case right now? 

[00:25:30] Jane Tunks Demel: What I think they mean is that there will be no highly capable programs, no standalone programs for students receiving special education, that everybody will be in the general education classroom. That's what I think they mean. 

[00:25:46] Christie Robertson: Jane. I have to tell you this analogy that's been plaguing me. So bear with me for a minute, and hopefully it'll become clear. So I'm listening to this podcast called Lost Patients (which is excellent), and they're exploring the connections between mental illness and homelessness. And they're drawing a line back to the era of deinstitutionalization. Which, of course, those mental institutions were horrible, and good riddance. But when folks were conceiving of deinstitutionalization, the idea was to move to a model where there would be community living spaces and other more inclusive models for helping folks with serious mental illness. And the thing that happened is that those inclusive spaces never got built. They were not invested in by states. And deinstitutionalization just ended up being a savings for the state. And severely mentally ill folks were kind of left to fend for themselves. 

Hopefully you see where I'm going here. Those self-contained classrooms need to go. But we also need to put the investment from that savings into building out proper environments for inclusion. And it's just scary to think that they might be decommissioned without proper planning. I have a fear born of bad experiences. And they're in a budget crisis, so, like, of course it's tempting to say “the teachers will just deal with it”.

So that's it. May 8th, as we said in episode 32 is going to be a big deal of a meeting. Expect to hear a lot about what is coming in the 2025-26 school year. 

And don't expect it to change much after that. Here's the last thing that superintendent Jones said in the budget work session.

[00:27:00] Brent Jones: I encourage you to ask as many questions as you want to. The more you ask us questions, the more we can refine what we're trying to do. Our planning is always in motion. We're always evolving. And so, again, trying to have no surprises. And so, if there are things you're wondering about, curious about, scared of, let us know so that we can try to be anticipatory of those in advance of May 8th.

Community Engagement

[00:28:09] Christie Robertson: Okay, so, Jane, you and I both like to get pretty familiar with the agenda before we watch meetings. And one thing that was not on the agenda was a community engagement session. And they did end up talking about that.

People will be interested to know that there is going to be some short term community engagement happening over the next couple of months, because President Rankin is determined to do community engagement before the Strategic Plan and is determined to stay on schedule for it. 

So she described what they're going to do - Right after spring break, from mid-April to mid-June, for about eight weeks, to go and do engagement around the city. And then at the end of June to have a big retreat and go over it. Then back to the community. I mean, it's a very, very aggressive plan. But yet, I'm glad they're doing it. Aren't you, Jane?

[00:29:10] Jane Tunks Demel: Yes, I am. And I can't wait to hear more about it.

[00:29:11]  Christie Robertson: And she also outlined a long term plan, but maybe we can talk about that another time.


[00:29:14] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this episode.

[00:29:16] Christie Robertson: Do you have a comment or correction for us?

[00:29:18] Jane Tunks Demel: Do you have a wondering about something related to Seattle Public Schools?

[00:29:22] Christie Robertson: Leave us a voice message at We may play your message on the air. 

[00:29:29] Jane Tunks Demel: Meanwhile, check out our show notes at, and rate and review us on your podcast player. You can also email us at I'm Jane Tunks Demel.

[00:29:41] Christie Robertson: And I'm Christie Robertson.  We'll be back soon with another episode of Seattle Hall Pass. 

Board Appointments
Progress Monitoring
Community Engagement