Other employees at the district will take over Kathy Katterhagen's role overseeing the transportation department.
After several months of delayed school buses caused by a persistent driver shortage, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is laying off a key leader who oversees transportation — and who has served as the key liaison between the schools and its busing contractor.
According to a personnel report approved by the Seattle School Board on Wednesday, Kathy Katterhagen, director of logistics, will serve her last day on Feb. 1.
The decision stemmed from a budget cut, SPS spokesman Tim Robinson said in an email. There are more layoffs planned in the next fiscal year, he added. Last school year, Katterhagen’s salary was $155,000, according to the state education department.
SPS officials, who claim the state’s new education-funding model will short the district millions of dollars over the next few years, have projected cuts since summer. Starting this month, the state will cap local property-tax levies that districts historically have relied on to cover the difference between their actual spending and the revenue they get from the state.
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District officials hope the Legislature will adjust the model: the district’s main property-tax levy up for renewal in February exceeds that cap.
Katterhagen’s work with the transportation department included overseeing its nearly $30 million annual contract with school-bus company First Student, which has struggled to deliver on-time service because of a driver shortage. Because school-bus drivers work about six hours a day, many leave in search of jobs with longer work hours in the region’s booming economy.
Late buses have caused headaches for parents since the start of the school year. Nearly a quarter of the district’s approximately 52,000 students and their families count on yellow buses.
There was some improvement in punctuality after the district began contracting with other companies to provide supplementary service. As of Wednesday afternoon, a little over a dozen routes were delayed, most by under an hour. On Monday, the first day back from winter break, several routes were delayed by an hour or more in the afternoon.
The delays could soon worsen. In a statement late last month, the district said the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct starting Jan. 11 would affect “virtually all schools” in Seattle. (Drivers will begin their shifts 30 minutes earlier to accommodate the congestion and try to prevent further disruption.) A major bus-storage base is tucked away in South Seattle next to highways that will be clogged with spillover traffic.
The new Highway 99 tunnel under downtown opens the first week of February — three days after Katterhagen’s last day. That tunnel adds interchange ramps in Sodo but removes ramps to Belltown and Interbay, resulting in one less access point than the viaduct.
Robinson insisted that the district will have continuity and coverage during the transition. The district’s director of facility operations, Bruce Skowyra, and its transportation manager, Stephen Jones, are among the employees who will “address the work she performed with the transportation department,” Robinson said.
Reached on her cellphone Wednesday, Katterhagen said she was “not willing to talk” about her position being cut, or how it would affect the transportation department.
The layoff comes amid a period of change in the district’s leadership — which is to be expected after a new superintendent takes over. Denise Juneau began her leadership of SPS in July. In November, Lester “Flip” Herndon, former assistant superintendent of operations and facilities, left SPS to become interim superintendent of Tukwila School District. Michael Tolley, the district’s chief academic officer, will leave Jan. 17.
Two others joined leadership this month, including a new chief of operations — longtime city of Seattle official Fred Podesta. Diane DeBacker, who served as education commissioner for the state of Kansas and an adviser to the education system in Abu Dhabi, will replace Tolley.
Staff reporter Mike Lindblom contributed reporting.