How big is the budget gap?
There are still many variables in play, including with the state legislature, but based on what we know to date we are facing a 2019-20 budget gap of more than $31 million. Unfortunately, as the Seattle Times recently reported, 253 of the state’s 295 districts also face deficits. Although the budget is finalized by the school board in late August, we have to move forward in our budget and staffing planning to fulfill contractual obligations with employees.
How many jobs will be lost?
We began notifying 325 staff members districtwide that they will go into layoff status at the end of the school year. Reductions started several months ago in the central office and other organizational support functions to minimize impact to classrooms. More than 41 percent of the cuts were made away from the classroom. The nearly $5 million in cuts in those areas are still not enough to sustain our ongoing needs. SPS central office functions account for 4.5 percent of the total budget, the second lowest percentage among peer districts statewide. Investments in student learning account for about three quarters, the third highest among our peers statewide.
How will job impacts be determined?
Layoff notifications have been determined based on seniority.
What is the reason for the gap?
Adjusting to the new state funding model that significantly changed the landscape is causing districts around the state – including Spokane Public Schools – to carefully scrutinize next year’s budgets. Two things we know so far about the changes: they still left the district short of the actual cost to cover basic needs and they will impact previous financial commitments, which were made using information and guidance provided prior to the legislative action last summer. Those decisions and direction were years in the making and based on decades of experience with the former way of doing business.
One thing that has not changed: we will continue to prioritize the best interest of students and learning.
How will we make up for the local levy resources lost?
We have focused our attention in two areas: looking for operational efficiencies away from the classroom and working with the legislature to urge them to fully fund education. The desire for operational efficiencies is ongoing and part of the district’s continuous improvement philosophy. The discussion with the legislature is one that will likely continue beyond this budget cycle as we learn more about the impacts of the new state funding model.
What has the district done to work with the legislature?
SPS works with a consultant to monitor legislation, provide input, and advocate for issues and needs that will make a meaningful difference for students, families, and staff. That work includes written correspondence, meetings, and informal communication to provide real-time information and feedback on real-world impacts to legislative ideas.
What are the next steps?
Work will continue daily with the legislature throughout the remainder of the session, which is scheduled to conclude in late April. In the coming days and weeks, you will hear more information about recommendations to reimagine the elementary school day and change the library model districtwide. A recommended change to the elementary school day would introduce a consistent weekly schedule for families, add time for students to eat lunch, build in additional social emotional time, and creatively reduce K-3 class sizes while also doing all of those things more cost effectively.
What did you learn from the Thoughtexchange?
The community expects a comprehensive, well-rounded learning environment that includes mental health, behavior, and safety considerations as basic needs. They told us to be creative with our resources while maintaining quality education and prioritizing students and learning. We want to very thoughtful about the feedback the community gave us, so we are being equally thorough and methodical in our analysis.
How will staff continue to receive updates?
We will continue to provide information to principals through regular and standup leadership meetings and in daily discussions with school directors. Information coming to the district continues to be fluid and changing, so the situation is likely to remain somewhat dynamic. Our intention is to provide the best, most accurate information in a timely manner to minimize confusion while being sensitive to any potential impacts.