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Why Seattle Public Schools Says It Hasn’t Come Out Ahead Under State’s Education Funding Plan

Ashley Gross
Seattle teachers rallied outside the school district headquarters earlier this month. Many said their compensation hasn't kept up with the rising cost of living in Seattle.

Seattle teachers will take a strike authorization vote Tuesday afternoon after failing to reach a tentative contract agreement with the school district. Teachers in other districts in the Puget Sound region, including Stanwood-Camano and Kent, have already voted to authorize strikes.

Other districts such as Bellevue, Bainbridge Island and Shoreline have reached contract agreements with their teachers that include substantial pay increases.

But JoLynn Berge, assistant superintendent for business and finance for Seattle Public Schools, said the state’s new education funding system has created winners and losers. She says the Seattle school district faces deficits in future years because of a cap the state set on local levies.

The state’s largest school district is getting about $102 million in extra state funding this school year, she said. But after that, expenditures will exceed revenue because of the limit on local tax levies.

“We have been saying for quite a long time we believe that our levy revenue was taken down below where we can sustain our current programming,” Berge said.

Starting in January, the school district will only be able to raise $2,500 per student, down from the $4,000 per student that Seattle Public Schools has been collecting in local taxes.

But the teachers’ union has argued the district has the money to increase salaries and needs to do that or risk losing teachers to other places that pay more.

“The district needs to be concerned with the competitive, professional pay to keep educators here, and that’s our largest concern,” said Phyllis Campano, president of the Seattle Education Association, at a recent rally outside school district headquarters.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.