WA school districts scramble for funding with layoffs on horizon

Mar 2, 2023, 2:48 PM

seattle schools...

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is the latest in a series of Western Washington school districts to propose possible layoffs and program cuts because of multimillion-dollar budget deficits for the 2023-2024 school year, according to a new report from The Seattle Times.

About 30 employees at the district’s central office are being told they could be out of a job by next year.

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Federal funds issued to elementary and secondary schools because of COVID-19, or ESSER, helped alleviate understaffing and resource issues – some of which existed before the pandemic, educators told KIRO Newsradio.

But now that the money is gone, officials said schools are entertaining tough decisions, including potentially laying off extra support staff hired during the pandemic.

Larry Delaney, President of the Washington Education Association, said the expiration of those funds is just one of the many factors contributing to why schools are coming up short on cash. He described the inflated cost of supplies and collective drop in enrollment as a “perfect storm.”

“It would be much easier if it was just one of those,” he said. “It would be easier to weather this. But having all of these challenges coming at the same time certainly is a problem.”

The Everett School District, whose school board approved a plan to eliminate as many as 142 positions to account for a $28 million deficit, said some parts of the budget are still unpredictable. In an email to KIRO Newsradio, a spokesperson with the district said that without definitive decisions from the state Legislature, rises in educator salaries tied to inflation are still unknown.

“There are also several funding factors that are not fully known yet,” the spokesperson said. “For instance, salaries are based on IPD (cost of living adjustment), which we will not know until April or May when the legislative session has ended.”

Even the Bellevue Schools District is proposing three elementary schools — Eastgate, Ardmore, and Wilburton — to be folded into others to save money as enrollment decreases.

Jennifer Matter, president of the union that represents some SPS staff, said the district needs to find a way to cover the difference made from the now-depleted federal funds — or reduce expenditures.

“I think there’s a direct correlation,” Matter said. “The ESSER dollars definitely helped carry us, but now that the ESSER dollars are depleted, we’re now seeing this shortage – the disparity between what the state actually funds and what we have to spend to be able to support our students.”

She stated underfunding was an issue before the pandemic, and federal aid provided only a temporary fix. Delaney agreed.

“We’ve got a revenue challenge in this state,” he said.

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Adding to the issue, educators pointed to a state limit on the revenue municipalities can gain from levies for their schools. The limit has not been increased since before the pandemic, when educators reported costs for schools were far lower.

“Even if there was a district in the community that was willing to provide more and more and more – which we’re not seeing, by the way – there is a cap on local levies,” he said.

The solution, according to educators, is advocating for more funds. Unless the state “steps up,” quality of education, mental health services, special education, transportation, counseling, and other resources will suffer.

KIRO Newsradio has reached out to SPS for more information.

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