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Seattle, Highline, Bellevue School Districts Say Enrollment Is Lower Than Previously Projected

Ashley Gross
Roosevelt High School in Seattle is one of the schools that will lose a teacher as the district shifts staff because of lower-than-expected enrollment.

(Updated at 7:47 am on Sept. 22, 2018, to correct to say the district has "curtailed" central administration hiring instead of "stopped," and to add comments from Superintendent Denise Juneau.)

Seattle Public Schools is facing an unexpected drop in enrollment, and the Highline and Bellevue school districts also said the number of students enrolled this school year is below their earlier projections.

The Seattle school district said it had 52,943 students on the sixth day of school, 724 students below what district officials had projected earlier in the year.

In response, the district is moving some teachers from schools with lower numbers to schools with more students. Nova, an alternative high school, is going to lose two teachers. Stefan Gruber teaches animation at Nova and said school staff and students are upset.

“The way that Nova works – every full-time teacher is also a coordinator and a counselor and somebody that kids meet one-on-one with to try to get their life in order,” Gruber said. “And we take away these two teachers and that’s going to radically disrupt these kids.”

The school district said that it's tried to minimize disruptions.

“We understand that this is frustrating for staff and families,” the district said in a statement. “Fall staffing adjustments happen every year, in districts across the state. A race and equity lens was used to support our schools with the highest need.”

The district receives money from the state based on enrollment, so Seattle Public Schools said this will result in a shortfall of $7.5 million. The district also said it's curtailed central office hiring because of the drop in enrollment.

"We've frozen hiring at central administration. We won’t be filling vacancies," Superintendent Denise Juneau said in an interview Friday evening. "There are some areas that we’ll have to take a really hard look at the budget. Some areas we’ll take a scalpel to and some we’ll have to think about whether we go forward with big programs that we currently have."

In an emailed statement, Highline Public Schools spokeswoman Catherine Carbone Rogers said enrollment is about 700 students below the previous projection and the district will shift staff to adjust for that.

The Bellevue school district has also had lower than expected enrollment by about 200 students, spokeswoman Christina Wilner said. No single school is impacted significantly, she said.

Tacoma Public Schools spokeswoman Kathryn McCarthy said so far enrollment is on track with projections.

In Seattle, the schools that are gaining staff are Cedar Park, Emerson, Gatewood, Lafayette, Loyal Heights, Madrona K-5, North Beach, Olympic Hills, Eckstein, Chief Sealth and Rainier Beach.

Schools losing staff are Arbor Heights, Cascadia, Daniel Bagley, Franz Coe, Genesee Hill, Lawton, Leschi, Queen Anne, View Ridge, Whittier, Broadview-Thomson K-8, Catherine Blaine K-8, Louisa Boren STEM K-8, Salmon Bay K-8, Mercer, Garfield, Roosevelt, Nova and World School.

The following schools have vacancies that will not be filled: John Hay, John Muir, Lowell, Montlake, Thurgood Marshall, Viewlands, Meany, Franklin, and Interagency.

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.