Late last week, parents at Seattle’s Gatewood Elementary learned that to save a teacher from being transferred to another school, they had to raise $90,000 in less than a week.
One huge bake sale, a pub crawl and a flurry of donations later, they have about $52,000 in the bank and, with the Wednesday deadline looming, they’re pushing for an extension.
PTAs across the city often raise money to cover teaching and other staff positions, but this might be one of the most frenzied, last-minute attempts ever, led by dedicated parents who didn’t even have time to wait for the PTA to meet.
“This kind of urgency and quick turnaround is unbelievable, and it’s extremely unfortunate that it would come to this,” said School Board member Marty McLaren, whose West Seattle region includes Gatewood.
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Late Tuesday, the parents learned that they stand a good chance at an extension on the deadline if they provide the district with a letter committing to raising the rest.
“It fills me with hope that we have some more breathing room,” said Nicole Sipila, a former PTA president at the school who is one of the campaign’s organizers.
The whole effort started when the parents learned that because Gatewood had less-than-expected enrollment, the district planned to transfer one of its teachers to nearby Fairmount Park, which is overenrolled.
The district, in other words, determined that Gatewood had a teacher to spare and Fairmount Park needed one.
Such transfers between schools are typical after the district’s official Oct. 1 head count. But the district also gave Gatewood an option: Raise the $90,000 to keep its staff intact, and the district would use the money to add a position at Fairmount Park.
Gatewood’s principals and teachers had decided last year to keep first-grade classrooms under 20 students this school year, even though that meant increasing sizes in the upper grades.
If the teacher transfer goes through, Gatewood would have to squeeze four classes of first-graders into three classrooms, each with 24 to 25 students instead of 17 to 19.
And the school has more first-graders this year with emotional and behavioral disabilities than it did last year, which parents say underscores the need for smaller class sizes.
“The district is basically undermining a decision that Gatewood made as an academic institution,” said Jena Inghram, the mother of a first-grader who is helping with the fundraising effort.
“We’re not at this point trying to fund this forever, “ she said. “We just want this year to stay intact.”
Parents hastily organized their fundraising drive under the banner “Friends of Gatewood.” The group is separate from the Gatewood PTA, but the PTA doesn’t want to lose a teacher, either.
“Gatewood staff and families are determined and passionate about supporting a thriving learning environment for all ages,” according to a letter the Gatewood PTA board sent to the district last Friday.
Exactly who would be transferred has not been made public, but if no teacher volunteers, it would be the teacher with the least seniority, according to the rules of the labor contract.
Gatewood parents continue to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.