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Seattle Public Schools considers layoffs amid major projected budget deficit

Consolidating schools could be a part of long-term planning for the district's financial future, according to Dr. Brent Jones, Seattle Public Schools superintendent.

SEATTLE — During a budget work session Tuesday night, Seattle Public Schools announced some staff has been notified they may lose their jobs while addressing a critical budget deficit.

According to the district, its "structural deficit" has grown to $131 million. The fiscal year 2022-23 SPS budget is based on $82 million of one-time funding.

"This week...we've issued some notifications to employees about they're being considered for 'RIF' and displacement so that is happening," said Dr. Brent Jones, SPS superintendent. "We're in that phase right now."

The district said the projected deficit was caused by a number of factors, including the expiration of one-time state and federal resources from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). 

According to SPS - enrollment has decreased since fiscal year 2013-14 while staff has increased to meet the needs of students. SPS said enrollment is anticipated to continue on a downward trend.

During the Tuesday night budget work session, the board reviewed the definition and goals of "well-resourced schools" in the district. Ensuring each school is "well-resourced" is part of how leadership plans to make plans for the financial future of the district.

Consolidating some Seattle schools could be part of the district's future, according to Superintendent Jones.

"This is not the basis for school consolidation. This is the basis for where we want to be in the future and the future is open. Are we talking about 2024-25 or all the way to 2030 for example?" Jones said. "Consolidation may be one of the pieces that will be necessary to get here, but I think we want to build backwards from our collective definition of well-resourced schools."

Currently, the Bellevue School District has a working plan to consolidate three of its elementary schools that has been proposed and will be up for a vote this spring. The result would impact the 2023-24 school year.

SPS, like several other districts which have reported funding concerns, cited the gap in state basic education funding. The state does not fully fund many staff positions including school leaders, nurses, and social workers, according to SPS.

The district also reports the deficit problems stem from SPS depending on local levy funding to pay for these supports - adding that without an increase of revenue for public education services, district support will continue to be reduced. 

The SPS board is required to pass a balanced budget for the 2023-24 school year. It's scheduled to vote on that and adopt a budget on July 6.

A community budget information session has been scheduled for March 20. 

According to the district - American Sign Language (ASL), Amharic, Cantonese, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese interpreters will be available for the March 20 budget information session. 

SPS will be sending details to the community and a link to join the week of March 13.

After the event, a recording will be posted to the Funding our Future webpage. 

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