Seattle principals have started to notify some of their employees that they will need to find positions elsewhere in the district for the 2019-2020 school year.
Overall, nearly 150 full-time-equivalent school employees will have to transfer schools in response to projected declines in enrollment and budget cuts. Most of them will still have jobs in the fall, but a few might be laid off if there isn’t another spot for them, said Seattle Public Schools Chief Financial Officer JoLynn Berge.
The district regularly shuffles its educators because of students moving from one school to another, but district officials have said this year’s adjustments are unusually severe. Though some of the cuts will help the district eliminate $12 million from its $40 million projected deficit next year, there’s another factor this time: the fall reopening of Lincoln High School in Wallingford is drawing staff and enrollment away from surrounding high schools such as Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield.
District officials say, though, that legislative action could restore some of the cuts, which include those made to library staff and central office employees. Seattle Public Schools leaders have argued that they need more flexibility on the amount of money they can collect in local property taxes. Already, citizens approved a school operations tax that could collect $815 million, about double what state law currently allows.
The district’s new strategic plan, passed unanimously by the Seattle School Board on Wednesday evening, promises progress toward better school environments for students of color and a more diverse workforce that represents its students, more than half of whom identify with a race other than white. Research shows that students of color benefit from having teachers who share their racial backgrounds.
For teachers of color, who also often function as a school’s cultural consultants, ethnic studies coaches and advocates, being cut or moved means they don’t get to see the return on that extra labor.
When first-year teacher Kaitlin Kamalei Jenkins received her displacement papers a few weeks ago, she came home crying.
“No matter how well I teach, it’s not going to be good enough for the budget or the district,” she remembers telling her partner.
Because of a union seniority clause, new teachers are often the first to be displaced — so Jenkins, a teacher at West Seattle Elementary School, knew a transfer to another school might be imminent.
But after a successful year of watching her mostly low-income students grow as she wove ethnic studies into her lesson plans and built relationships for colleagues and families, she didn’t think a switch would come quite so soon.
“It’s really hard because us first-year teachers are often the first ones on the chopping block,” said Jenkins, who is Native Hawaiian and white. “It makes it that much harder to grow in the profession.”
It is unclear how many teachers of color will be affected by these cuts. Because Seattle and other districts are now working to recruit more diverse teachers, those hires tend to be recent ones — meaning they’re younger and in their first years of teaching, and therefore more likely to be shuffled around.
“There needs to be a shared effort between the union and district to reconcile these processes so it’s not always ‘last one in, first one out,’ said Brent Jones, the district’s chief officer for equity, partnerships and engagement.
For second-year teacher Tola Atewologun, displacement has become an annual affair.
A former budget analyst for the federal government, he felt most effective during his first year of teaching at Chief Sealth High School, where his students, mostly immigrants or refugees, tapped his financial and economic expertise during and after school hours.
He bonded with the students effortlessly there, spending hours coaching them off the clock.
It took him longer to get to the same place at the comparatively wealthy and white Roosevelt High School, where he was forced to transfer this school year.
The displacement notice he got two weeks ago, Atewologun said, speaks to bigger problems in Seattle Public Schools.
“It damages the overall culture of a school,” said Atewologun, whose family is Nigerian. “People connect with different types of people, and a school should reflect that.”
But more experienced teachers — especially those working part-time — also feel the weight of budget cuts.
Starting next year, the state will oversee school employee health benefits and extend full coverage to part-time employees. That means districts, including Seattle, will see their employer contributions rise as more employees enroll in the new health plans.
Jesse Hagopian, the founder of Garfield High School’s ethnic studies class, is working part-time to write a new book after the publication of “Teaching for Black Lives,” which he co-authored.
Though he’s clocked almost a decade at the school, his principal recently gave him a choice: switch schools or come back to Garfield full time.
Though it was hard, he said, he agreed to switch campuses because he already committed to writing the book.
“My situation is unique in that I had at least a limited choice,” said Hagopian. “But it still brought up a lot of emotions for me because I’ve invested a lot.”
Hagopian, a vocal labor activist, says he’d like to see the union push harder for the district to take equity and diversity into account when there are budget cuts.
There is an existing guide that school leadership teams are supposed to use to develop their budgets with students of color in mind, said Marquita Prinzing, director of the Seattle Education Association’s Center for Racial Equity. But it’s not being used widely enough, she said.
Prinzing said she would support an amendment to the union contract’s seniority clause that would protect teachers of color from being displaced repeatedly — but she added it would not be sufficient to fix all the underlying retention issues for teachers of color.
Correction: The name of Prinzing’s department is the Center for Racial Equity, not Center for Race and Equity. Jesse Hagopian’s transition to part-time work was a few years ago, not recently.