After state lawmakers declared they fully funded a basic education in Washington, officials with Seattle Public Schools say that’s far from the case. They’re also worried that a loss in local revenue will require cuts in special education, school-staff salaries and more.
The state’s new education budget will help Seattle Public Schools over the next few years. But after closely analyzing the budget for weeks, district officials announced Monday that lawmakers didn’t go far enough.
In a news conference, the officials warned that the Legislature isn’t providing all the money the district will need to pay for special education and to cover the full cost of salaries for school staff, particularly custodial workers, school secretaries and other classified employees.
In just those two areas alone, the district estimates state funding will fall $79.1 million short by the 2019-20 school year.
In the past, the district could make up for any state shortfalls with money raised from local property-tax levies. But, as part of the new budget, the state will prohibit districts from using any local dollars to cover “basic” education costs.
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“It’s very, very, very complex, and it’s going to take a while for us to sort it out,” said Superintendent Larry Nyland. “But big picture is our taxpayers are going to pay more in Seattle and they’re going to get less, so that’s a big concern for us,” he said. “It’s a levy swap, for some. It feels more like a levy swipe in Seattle.”
The district’s finance team continues to analyze exactly how its balance sheets will fare in the Legislature’s plan to spend a $7.3 billion on public schools over the next four years.
State education officials estimate the package will bring schools closer to $5.6 billion in total new spending for education because, while state support for schools is increasing, the plan also reduces what districts can collect locally.
Seattle schools will get more money under the plan, district officials acknowledge: Total per-pupil funding will rise from about $12,500 in the 2016-17 school year to $14,400 in 2020-21, according to a district analysis.
But they say that’s not enough to cover basic costs, especially in special education.
In the upcoming school year, the state will provide $46.2 million, while the district will use its levy dollars to cover another $71.4 million, for a total of $117.6 million. In 2019-20, after the new levy restrictions kick in, the state will provide $68 million for special education, but the district estimates special education costs to total $121.5 million. The district doesn’t know where it will find the remaining $53.5 million, given that it can’t raise the money locally.
“We need to spend far more on special education than they’re (lawmakers) giving to us, and they’re taking away our ability to do that,” Nyland said.
The state budget puts the district in a legal bind, said Nyland and JoLynn Berge, the district’s assistant superintendent of business and finance. It could skimp on services for students with special needs and break federal law, ignore the new state restrictions and provide the services anyway, or trim other expenses.
Since 2012, the state has been under Supreme Court order to fully fund the cost of a basic education in Washington.
This year, the Legislature attempted to satisfy that ruling, known as McCleary, in a last-minute deal that averted a partial government shutdown. But the public and educators had little to no time to review the full impact of that compromise before Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law.
Late last month, attorneys for the state filed a brief with the state Supreme Court, arguing the Legislature satisfied the order in the McCleary case. The plaintiffs, which include Seattle schools, face an Aug. 30 deadline to file a reply to the state.
Nyland said the district also most likely will file its own “friend of the court” brief to argue its case before the Supreme Court.
It will be the first time the district files such a brief in the McCleary case, Berge said.