Seattle Courant

No Special Session in Olympia Leaves Seattle Schools with $25 Million Budget Deficit

Capitol Building. Olympia, Washington
By Ryan Burr
May 8, 2009 10:05PM

Reportedly, lawmakers said they could not reach agreement on which bills to bring up in special session, so one was not scheduled.

Seattle schools could have collected more money to close its estimated $25-million budget gap with a higher levy.

“It’s only bad news for Seattle Public Schools,” School Board President Michael DeBell said Friday, referring to the two levy issues. If the levy lid was raised, the school district could have increased its levy from the current 32.8 percent to 35 percent, the allowed maximum. “That would have allowed us to recapture funds already approved by voters, but we can’t collect all of it because state funding has decreased so much. Without a levy lift, we’ll leave money on table.”

There is no plus or minus, DeBell said, in the fact that school-levy equalization funding will remain fully intact. “Seattle is the giver of equalization levy funds, not the receiver. It’ll go to property-tax-poor districts.”

The state’s operating budget for 2009-11 allocates $13.4 billion for K-12 education, which is a reduction of more than $1 billion when including compensation adjustments, Dan Steele, governmental relations director for the Washington State School Director’s Association, said in a podcast interview on WSSDA’s Web site.

Among the cuts affecting Seattle and other school districts are a suspension of the cost-of-living pay raises for educational employees, known as Initiative 732, which is expected to save $350 million during the budget cycle.

Initiative 728, which funds class-size requirements, all-day kindergarten programs and professional development, will see only $300 million in funding over the next two years, down from the expected $900 million, Steele said. The effect on per-student allocation from the state is this: $131 per student in 2009-10, then $99 per student in 2010-11.

There will only be one learning improvement day for teachers instead of two; funds allocated in the last couple of years for professional development in math and science will be discontinued; and various educational studies and pilot programs will be eliminated, that latter of which will save around $30 million.

To achieve a balanced budget during the recession, Seattle Public Schools has closed school buildings, implemented a hiring freeze and utilized some reserve funds. The superintendent says on her Web page for the district that operational efficiencies have been increased, such as reducing transportation costs by creating consistent bus schedules across the district.

Layoffs are also expected, and the school board on Wednesday authorized the superintendent to reduce the workforce or reduce certain employees’ ranks to balance the budget. Seattle Education Association President Olga Addae said at the meeting that the district projected layoffs of 73 employees, more than 60 of whom provide direct services to students.