Seattle Public Schools’ operating budget will surpass $1 billion for the first time.
The Seattle School Board approved the record-breaking budget for the 2019-2020 academic year at a meeting Wednesday. Combined with the other budgets that were also approved, including one for the district’s debts and the other for its building and construction projects, the district will spend a total of $1.4 billion next school year.
The plan, nearly $90 million more than last year’s, comes after two years of revisions to the state’s school-funding model. The changes increased the state’s contribution but also restricted the amount school-districts could collect through local property taxes.
Lawmakers drafted the overhaul in 2017 in response to a ruling by the state Supreme Court in McCleary v. Washington. The district says those limits on local property-tax collection will still cause financial distress for years to come. Before the Legislature eased those limits in this year’s session, Seattle and other districts warned of deep staffing cuts.
Some of those cuts are still happening, but they’re not as dire, districts officials said: Seattle Public Schools sent layoff notices to 10 teachers and counselors, and six assistant principals. To make up for a projected enrollment decline, the district also cut individual school budgets, transferring teachers to growing schools in some cases instead of hiring new staff. It also cut 2.5 positions from its central office.
Using projections for the upcoming year, the district’s revenues have increased by 15% and its expenditures by 27% since the 2017-2018 school year. That amounts to about a $96 million gap between the district’s expected revenues and expenditures next school year, up $80 million from the gap in 2017-2018, which was just $16 million. The district is drawing down more than half of its $116 million in cash reserves next year to help fill in the difference.
The new budget comes amid another summer of school-district negotiations with Seattle Education Association, the union representing 6,000 of its educators.
Most of the spending increase will cover the state-mandated expansion of health benefits, as well as salaries for teachers, whose most recent contract called for 10.5% raises, district Chief Financial Officer JoLynn Berge said. Last summer’s labor negotiations ended days before school began, after the most recent budget already was approved — narrowly avoiding a strike.
To pay for those raises, about $57 million, the district is cashing in a surplus it got during the 2017-2018 school year, when state property taxes already had risen but local tax-collection limits hadn’t kicked in.
Because the district and the teacher’s union only reached a one-year deal, Berge said there is also money set aside for this year’s bargaining, which already is underway. But that only accounts for about a 2% increase, she said.
In other news from the meeting:
— School Board member Scott Pinkham’s proposal to earmark money to reopen the district’s shuttered Indian Heritage High School and African American Academy failed to garner approval from his colleagues
— Late last week, The Urban Native Education Alliance said it filed a legal petition against the district over its decision to terminate a partnership with the organization, which used Robert Eagle Staff Middle School to host cultural programs for Native American youth.