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Student enrollment down in Seattle schools, rising farther south

As more families move south of Seattle in search of affordable housing, school enrollment numbers are drastically changing, and so will school budgets.
Credit: Jetta Productions

KING 5 polled more than 20 of Western Washington’s largest school districts and found families with students in public schools are migrating south, most likely in search of more affordable housing prices.

This has put districts like Seattle and Highline into scramble mode. When the two districts saw enrollment numbers coming in much lower than they had predicted, they immediately put a freeze on hiring and then cut teaching positions.

Fewer students means fewer state dollars to a district. In Seattle, 724 fewer students showed up than planned. The district will receive $7.5 million less than what they had budgeted for. According to district officials, no teacher will lose their job, but some moved to other schools and other positions simply won’t be filled. Twenty-one spots total have been cut in Seattle and 15 positions will go away in Highline due to 716 fewer students than projected.

Financial experts in affected districts say the drastic increase in housing prices is most likely a key factor.

"There’s a correlation between the cost of living, the cost of housing in our area and in our enrollment. That’s what we believe. We haven’t seen something like this before,” said JoLynn Berge, the chief financial officer at Seattle Public Schools.

Families and students at Seattle’s small, alternative Nova High School located on East Cherry Street said they are upset that the mis-projection will cost them two teaching positions. Students held a rally Monday morning with Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant in front of the school – demanding to get the teachers back.

"These schools are representing the interest of some of the most marginalized students in our community: LGBT, students of color, students who face anxiety and other issues," said Sawant.

“We are not just here to wallow in the harm that the district’s decisions do to us," said a Nova student. "We are here to demand they do better. They can start by reversing the decision to displace our teachers. If they fail to do so, our students are prepared to let their displeasure be known. Either through letters, walkouts, or protests.”

“We understand that any change to staffing and school schedules is frustrating for staff and families,” wrote Braxton Kellogg, executive administrative assistant, communications at Seattle Public Schools. "This year we don’t have as much financial flexibility to keep schools whole and pay for staff at under-enrolled schools. We need to move teachers to schools with higher than anticipated enrollment. This is not a reduction in force or a cut, teachers will still have contracts."

According to the district’s Chief Financial Officer, 65 fewer students than planned are attending Nova this school year.

Districts with lower than predicted enrollment contacted by KING 5 include:




*Federal Way





Districts that reported have more students, and thus more funding, than anticipated include:




*Evergreen (Vancouver, WA area)



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