Seattle Public Schools is on the right path with the idea of closing some schools. The district is nowhere near bankrupt, but too few students in too many buildings are creating...
Seattle Public Schools is on the right path with the idea of closing some schools. The district is nowhere near bankrupt, but too few students in too many buildings are creating avoidable expenses.
The district faces a $9 million shortfall next year. Deficits are projected in future years as well. Superintendent Raj Manhas a former finance executive knows better than to place his hopes on an increase in funding from the state or the miraculous appearance of a grant. The district has only one option: reduce its costs.
Manhas and the School Board would do well to consider the many ways to cut costs.
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Closing or consolidating schools is certainly one of them. It is a controversial idea likely to create a groundswell of public resentment. But logic, and mathematics, is on the district’s side.
Seattle operates 100 school buildings for 47,000 students. Similar-sized districts, Spokane and Tacoma for example, educate nearly as many students with half as many schools. By its own estimates, the district uses 70 percent of its building capacity.
The assignment plan is another area to scrutinize for cost-savings. Controlled choice is a Cadillac system critical to attracting and keeping families in the public schools. But it is extremely expensive. The district spends $26 million annually on transportation alone.
Cost-savings could come through a serious effort to create uniform, quality schools. This would complement parents’ desire for neighborhood schools and decrease the need for busing.
Part of this is already occurring through the district’s five-year improvement plan, which carries a price tag of $100 million. The money will pay for revamping curricula to meet higher standards and raising teacher pay.
The improvement plan has been in the works since last spring and includes extensive parent involvement. The issue of school closures and other cost-cutting moves comes down to this: If we want Seattle Schools to make good on its promises, we must accept the difficult choices that are part of the package.
This process won’t happen immediately or behind closed doors. A final decision on school closings won’t happen until spring. The board will hold a work session on the issue tomorrow.
In raising the specter of closing beloved schools, Manhas and the board have signaled the need for priorities: children and classrooms over bricks and mortar.