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All Together for Seattle Schools

New parent coalition wants community input in SPS financial planning

Parents demand call on district to 'Work with us'

A group of Seattle Public Schools parents banded together under the coalition banner All Together for Seattle Schools  is demanding the SPS Board not approve a plan for financially stabilizing the district – including possible school closures – this year. That decision, the group says, should wait until after the next session of the Washington State Legislature ends in March 2024. 

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Brent Jones is expected to make his recommendations for reducing an estimated $104 million budget deficit in the 2024-25 school year (and a potentially higher one in 2025-26) at the board’s monthly meeting tomorrow, November 15. 

Coalition urges parents to attend two upcoming board meetings

The new parent coalition, which was launched in October, is urging parents, caregivers and other stakeholders to attend the Wednesday board meeting and speak out against what they call premature school closure or consolidation decisions. The group is also encouraging families to attend the board’s December 13 meeting, when the board may vote on Jones’ recommended Fiscal Stabilization Plan.

The organization says December is too early for SPS to decide on major budget cuts.

“I would like to ensure that the district has exhausted all options for state funding and that they have engaged communities before committing to school consolidations,” says All Together coalition member Jen Lavallee, parent of a Dunlap Elementary 2nd grader. “As much as I would like the Legislature to close the gap in funding, I understand it may not completely fill the gap. However, if we can get any extra funds while working with communities and schools, we might be able to co-create solutions that can move us closer to closing the deficit while not creating a turbulent situation for kids.”

All Together for Seattle Schools members say that the district needs to focus on advocating for more state funding and working more closely and transparently with parents and other stakeholders to address the deficit right now. They say they are hopeful the Capital Gains Tax passed by the Legislature in 2023 and a potential wealth tax rumored to be introduced in the 2024 legislative session may increase funding for schools across Washington. Coalition members stress that they want to partner with the district in pushing lawmakers to support public education adequately.

‘Use our skill’

“We have around 48,000 students in our district — that number reflects thousands of smart, hard-working parents, caregivers, and educators who can lend their expertise to help,” says Alex Wakeman Rouse, parent of a Dunlap 1st grader. “We’re asking for partnership from SPS to solve this budget challenge together. Let’s advocate for more funding together. Let’s avoid making students, families, and educators feel confused, angry, disillusioned, and voiceless.

Consolidations and closures could lead to even less support from the state, say parent advocates. “As neighborhood schools close, families may seek other education options, causing enrollment to decline further,” says Rouse. “State funding is tied to the number of students, (so) every student that leaves the district results in fewer dollars for SPS. Superintendent Jones has been quoted in the Seattle Times (saying) school consolidations will not close the budget gap. Consolidations could create maximum disruption for students, families, and educators, and the district would still have a budget deficit.”

What All Together for Seattle Schools wants

The coalition’s parent members emailed out a list of talking points to other parents last week, urging them to attend and speak up at the November and December school board meetings. Here’s what All Together for Seattle Schools wants board members to hear:

We want to work in partnership with SPS to ensure our schools are amply funded. We need timely and transparent information and communication to advocate alongside the SPS Board and District for sustainable financial solutions that truly center students. 

It is too early for SPS to decide on major budget cuts such as school closures and consolidations. The SPS Board should not approve any plan, budget, or resolution that binds the district to budget cuts, school closures or consolidations until after the 2024 State Legislative Session ends in March 2024. It is premature for SPS to decide on budget cuts and school closures because the state legislature might increase our funding. The state legislature will adopt its supplemental budget by the end of March 2024, so the district should hold off on major decisions until after the 2024 legislative session has ended. We encourage SPS to join families and caregivers in advocating to the state that it should amply fund public education across the state by using revenues from the capital gains tax, a wealth tax, closing corporate tax loopholes, or other progressive levers. 

We cannot close our way to well-resourced schools. SPS says that “well-resourced schools” are those that can comprehensively and equitably support students. Well-resourced schools require stable funding and ample supports for students. Only the state can provide this stable funding by taxing wealth. Closing schools generates only a small financial savings in future years and will not meaningfully address the $105 million budget deficit for the 2024-25 school year. We believe that it is not the most effective way that SPS can create well-resourced schools. 

SPS school closures, consolidations, or other significant budget proposals must be co-created with students, families, community members, and educators through authentic and accessible engagement. The District needs to use its own policies and tools and share the results with the public in an authentic, accessible way. This includes: 

    • Its own racial equity analysis tool to understand whether options will exacerbate socioeconomic or racial/ethnic segregation.  
    • Its Student Outcomes Focused Governance guardrail which states that “the Superintendent will not allow school and district initiatives to go forth without engaging students of color furthest from educational justice and their families, including those who have a preferred language other than English and who require accommodations for disability.”

A request for greater transparency 

Parent members of All Together for Seattle Schools want greater transparency and communication from SPS.

“As a palliative care, hospice, and geriatric physician, I am accustomed to ‘breaking bad news’ and holding space in very uncertain and uncomfortable situations,” says Katherine Ritchey, DO, MPH, parent of an Orca K-8 1st grade student. “I am also aware when communication may be misleading or confusing. Over the past several months, the district has failed to provide clear, honest, consistent, and timely communication to families and students.

“(District) representatives have avoided hard discussions, failed to provide specific answers and manipulated policy to make it seem like their decisions were made for the best interest of students rather than for the bottom line,” adds Ritchey. “In doing so, they have eroded trust in parents, students, staff and the community and left us to question their values and mission. I feel there is likely a lot of ‘closed door’ communication at all levels of the district without a clear governance structure or clarity to decision-making authority. This only further separates the district from the community, creating an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ divide.”

More time needed

Besides allowing time for the possibility of increased state funding to change the SPS budget deficit picture, these parents say not locking into a budget cut plan before March will help make up for what they call a “gaping hole” in SPS parent-district leadership trust. The school districts held eight public meetings in August asking parents and other stakeholders to weigh in on what makes “well-resourced” schools, but parent coalition members say that effort was wasted and confusing. Instead, they says the district should have used community engagement to problem-solve the budget deficit.

“While some of us knew (well-resourced) was a code-word for closures, they never discussed closures directly,” says Albert Wong, parent of a preschooler and a Cascadia 3rd grader. “If we could rewind time, we could have used these sessions to help parents discuss and understand what is happening. But the coyness made honest conversation impossible. It will take at least until next year to redo that sort of engagement, by which point you should wait until the state has weighed in.”

‘Exploring an option is not a commitment’

“If school consolidations are truly an option that SPS is considering, SPS should engage us now, especially those school communities that may face consolidation,” says Rouse. “Families, students, and educators need time to prepare for a potentially massive change. Advocating for funding and authentically engaging communities for potential change are two parallel tracks that can occur simultaneously. 

“Exploring an option is not a commitment to follow through, but it’s not clear where SPS stands on this issue,” Rouse adds.

SPS did not comment on the group’s demands by out posting deadline, but officials said they planned to release a statement later in the day November 14.

The Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors will meet Wednesday, November 15, starting at 4:15 p.m. The public is invited to give comments but those interested in speaking must sign up. Spots are limited. Public comment is first come, first serve.

To review documents from the October 27, 2023 SPS Board Budget Working Session, go to the SPS website or to All Together for Seattle Schools documents folder. To review documents in advance of the November 15, 2023 SPS Board board meeting, go to the SPS website or to All Together for Seattle Schools documents folder.

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About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.