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Seattle school budget cuts to hit staff, support programs and kindergarten

Elaine Thompson
Elementary students could have fewer resources next year because of budget cuts. Andy Trinh, left, James Berrysmith, and Keith Moreland, shown in fifth grade at Stevens Elementary in Oct. 27, 2004

As schools across the state grapple with huge budget issues, administrators in Seattle say they need to cut elementary counselors, programs for struggling students and full-day kindergarten classes. Those are some of their final recommendations after months of pouring over options.  

Administrators did manage to shave more than $1.7 million from the budget gap, but they still face a nearly $35 million shortfall.   

Schools Will Feel Cuts

Patti Spencer, a spokeswoman for Seattle Public Schools, says administrators have tried to avoid cutting staff who work directly in schools, but will likely need to. The district expects to lose at least $5.4 million in funding the state used to provide to schools. Administrators want to backfill some of the loss with money from a levy voters approved in November. Still, schools will lose at least $2 million in staff salaries next year. 

“We do not see how we can balance the budget without doing that,” says Spencer. “There aren’t a whole lot of other options. I mean, you would get into things like eliminating athletics, or eliminating music, or eliminating major program elements.”

'Pay For K' Could Cost More

Administrators also plan to slash funding for a full-day kindergarten class from every school. That doesn’t necessarily mean the classes will go away, but parents will be asked to make up the difference with their checkbooks to keep kids going full-time. Families who can't afford to pay more than the current fee of $207 could have to just settle for half-day classes.

And the List Goes On...

The proposal also includes fewer services for struggling students.  Summer school and evening programs are on the line, as well as a second principal sent in to improve Rainier Beach High School this year.

Support services at central office will take the bulk of the cuts. Administrators want to eliminate at least 97 jobs from maintenance to IT to save the district $8.5 million.

Next Steps

The school board is expected to make a decision on the recommendations soon, but won't cast a final vote for several months. Here's what's ahead in the budget process: 

  • Individual school budget development: Feb 18 - March 14, 2011
  • Budget adjustments based on legislative action: April, 2011
  • Recommended budgets: introduction to school board: June 15, 2011
  • Public hearing on budgets: June 16, 2011
  • Recommended budgets action: July 6, 2011
Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.
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