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Concerns Over Next Year’s SPS School Budget Cuts

By: Victoria Bhegani, Legislative Chair, GH PTA Board 

On Monday, March 15, Genesee Hill Elementary staff voted to reject the school budget for 2021/22 on the grounds that the allocations from SPS were insufficient. In this proposed budget, the school will lose five FTE (full-time employment) positions in the coming school year. While the school staff did not disagree with how our principal, Gerrit Kischner, had drawn up the budget based on these cuts, they disagreed with the cuts themselves, particularly in light of the current pandemic. Knowing that the pandemic will still be with us when schools open- perhaps for full time in-person instruction in the fall- the staff questioned how cutting 5 FTE positions would affect the health, safety, and academic success of its returning students. The vote to reject the budget is a protest vote with no obvious remediation that could happen, but in taking this action, the staff at Genesee Hill Elementary school took a stand against the inequity of such an extreme budgetary cut at this time. Their decision was supported by our school administrators and the Genesee Elementary PTA Board. 

After the meeting, fourth grade teacher Mick Phelps wrote a letter to the Seattle School Board on behalf of the Genesee Hill Elementary staff. It explains how the current 2021-22 Genesee Hill Elementary school budget does not support students’ physical safety, provide adequate social and emotional supports for students, or equitably address the disparity of students’ remote learning experiences. At the end of the letter, the staff’s key ask is that the budget be amended and that SPS return its previous funding in order to support essential staff functions. Under the current budget, Genesee Hill Elementary, a school of roughly 600 students, will, among other staff cuts, have its nurse go from a 0.6 FTE to a 0.4 FTE, its office support staff, who perform the role of nurse when the nurse is not there, go from 2.0 FTE to 1.0 FTE, its librarian go from 1.0 FTE to 0.5 FTE, and its academic interventionists, who often support the learning needs of the school’s most vulnerable students, go from 3.4 FTE to 1.2 FTE. 

To support our staff’s advocacy, members of the Genesee PTA board sent the letter to the Seattle School Board directors and to the West Seattle Blog for publication. When asked why our PTA leadership took this action, board co-president Michelle Comazzetto said, “Sharing the letter with the West Seattle community will bring more awareness around school funding, and the difficult choices that school leadership has to make because schools are still not properly funded.  We think that the PTA needs to advocate for our staff and teachers, and because they have reached out to us to help them amplify their voices, we would like to help them with this call to action.”

Genesee Hill Elementary is not the only school in Seattle facing budget cuts next year. Neighboring West Seattle schools like Alki Elementary, Gatewood Elementary, and Madison Middle School are also in similar budget straits. In the face of growing awareness about the negative effects the pandemic has had on our children’s mental health and widespread concern that it has widened the learning gap between students- exacerbating already existent racial and socioeconomic disparities- the budgetary situation of public schools in Seattle is troubling. Is this the best we can do for our students and staff after a worldwide pandemic that has radically disrupted children’s lives, leaving many of them more isolated, lonely, and less connected to schools than they were a year ago? 

If you would like to advocate for Seattle Public Schools to have better funded budgets for next year, contact school district leaders. Personal emails are helpful but also please feel free to copy and paste this form below. 

Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson

Superintendent Denise Juneau 

SPS Chief Financial Officer JoLynn Berge 

  1. SPS should restore 2021-2022 school budgets and when doing so its first priority should be to protect core staff positions (school administrators, counselors, nurses). Core staff supports the successful operation of schools and their roles do not change vis-à-vis student enrollment.
  2. SPS needs to be transparent and accountable about how it is using and plans to use the pandemic recovery money it receives from the state and the federal government. 

FORM LETTER 

Dear __________, 

As Genesee Hill Elementary families, we are gravely concerned about the cuts our and other SPS schools face in their current 2021-22 school budgets. In this time of pandemic, we worry over student and staff safety in school buildings, students’ mental health, and a widening learning gap that exacerbates already existent racial and socioeconomic disparities between students. In this challenging landscape the bleak budgetary outlook for many schools is troubling. That our schools can face these challenges this fall while having their staff winnowed away seems like an impossible ask. Surely our school district can do better for its students and staff and allocate schools with the resources they need to make the next school year a successful one. 

In light of the above reasons, we ask that you take action to restore 2021-2022 SPS school budget allocations and when doing so, prioritize core staff positions (school administrators, counselors, nurses). We also ask that this school district be transparent and accountable about how it uses the pandemic recovery money it receives from the state and federal government. 

Sincerely,

__________________

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