The Seattle restaurant community mobilized and helped save the landmark culinary school at Seattle Central College from the budget chopping block — along with the maritime, wood technology, and apparel and design programs — for the moment, at least.
Details emerged April 27 that a budget committee for public Seattle Central was expected to recommend permanently cutting the Seattle Culinary Academy. Instead, the college has now announced that it will continue enrollment through fall 2022 and — it is hoped — going forward.
“We have witnessed a groundswell of support and appreciation for Seattle Colleges and our essential role in making career paths accessible and affordable for all in our community,” Seattle Colleges’ Chancellor Shouan Pan and interim Seattle Central College President Yoshiko Harden said in a co-signed email.
The decision to continue enrollment for the 81-year-old Seattle Culinary Academy comes as a petition to “Save Seattle Culinary Academy,” started by an SCA student, has gathered 6,500-plus signatures on change.org, while a letter to lawmakers to “save a Pacific Northwest institution that has taught thousands and touched millions!” written by former Herbfarm chef Becky Selengut collected more than a hundred signatures from those in the restaurant industry.
Local chefs/alumni including Kristi Brown of the Central District’s acclaimed Communion and Paolo Campbell of Phinney Ridge hit The Chicken Supply spoke out against the program’s demise. Meanwhile, industry group Seattle Restaurant Alliance — with board members from Ethan Stowell Restaurants, Tom Douglas Restaurants and Dick’s Drive-in — sent a letter of its own urging the board of trustees of Seattle Colleges to keep the Seattle Culinary Academy up and running.
A protest Wednesday brought “so much noise, with the students banging on pots with spoons, chef-instructors hitting measuring cups together, even hotel pans” as they marched around the Capitol Hill campus as a budget meeting took place inside, according to Selengut. She captured video of the chef’s-whites-clad march on her Facebook page.
Pan and Harden’s email details factors in the about-face, including the hope that funding comes for short-term budget gaps from the county and state, business leaders, and possible private-sector sources moved by the potential program closures. Longer-term, the plan is for overall “reimagining and restructuring” funding. In addition, there has been a recounting of beans, with SCC finance staff revisiting their forecast and finding that, “While we still face a serious budget shortfall, the revised budget numbers put us on a firmer path,” the email notes.
“It’s more of a reprieve,” interim Seattle Culinary Academy dean Aimee Lepage says, allowing the programs to proceed through this fall. But, she notes, “This gives the state, college and community time to put a plan together for sustainable funding for workforce programs.
“I will say I am incredibly humbled by the level of support and grassroots activism by our students, faculty and community.”