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    Dr. Nyland's August 7 Letter Regarding the 2017-18 SPS Budget
    Posted on 08/07/2017

    Finalized Seattle Public Schools 2017-18 Budget

    Dear Seattle Public Schools Families and Staff:

    Last year was challenging because of our budget deficit, but together we demonstrated what can happen when we work together on behalf of all students and our larger community. This letter is to update you on our finalized 2017-18 budget, the Legislature’s two-year budget passed in June, legislative policy changes and anticipated effects on Seattle.

    On July 26, the School Board adopted the final 2017-18 budget. Thank you again to the many families and staff who helped secure a temporary extension of our local levy authority. Your advocacy resulted in a return of $24 million to our budget in April and an additional $11 million when the state budget was passed in June. We have used the funding to return positions to school buildings, purchase elementary English Language Arts materials for all schools and set aside funding to support equity investments. While we still had to cut millions last spring, with our existing balanced budget, we are prepared to offer students a great learning experience this coming school year.

    Last week, legislators filed briefs with the state Supreme Court explaining how they acted to meet the court’s mandate to fully fund education. Many are applauding the Legislature’s budget plan and consider the work to overhaul state funding of public schools and meet the state’s constitutional obligation complete. While we are pleased with the Legislature’s progress, we know that the work is not done.

    Our Budget and Finance Department has spent the last few weeks studying the policy changes and what they mean for our schools, students and families. The budget put forward by the Legislature does not achieve the state’s paramount duty to fully fund education. It also raises taxes for Seattle homeowners, results in budget deficits for the district, limits our local ability to make ends meet and restricts how we use any new state funding received. While the Seattle legislative delegation, our families and partners fought hard to address the McCleary lawsuit and provide adequate financial support to our district, the budget plan passed by the Legislature falls short of meeting our students’ needs.

    Details on Impact

    Our district’s budget is comprised of grants, state, local and federal dollars. Virtually our entire local education levy, supported by property taxes, is spent on staff salaries, special education and English Language Learner (ELL) services and supports. All of these education expenses and student supports should be fully funded by the state per the state constitution.

    There are three key points Seattle families and staff should be aware of regarding the Legislature’s budget plan:

    • Seattle taxpayers will be paying more to the state, but will see little benefit in our schools. State revenue generated by Seattle homeowners will be used to improve education across Washington state.
    • The state will cap the amount per student we can locally tax ourselves starting in January 2019. Despite increased home values, we will be limited to $2,500 per student. This will be a significant loss of education funding for Seattle.
    • The state budget will not fully cover Seattle’s basic education expenses such as teacher salaries, special education and English Language Leaner (ELL) supports and services. Education revenue from the state and what the district will be permitted to raise locally will fall short of what we currently spend on education to date.

    We have grave concerns about our ability to honor local education commitments when our local levy funds will be reduced and the state will distribute the majority of new educational revenue elsewhere.

    One example of our dilemma is in special education. The state’s new funding formula will provide $16 million in projected “new revenue” for special education through increased property taxes paid to the state. At the same time our local levy collection will be restricted to $2,500 per student. Currently we invest close to $60 million from our local levies in special education. Even with new funding from the state, we will be left with a $40-50 million dollar annual gap for special education services and forced to look for additional funding from other critical areas or use our reduced local levy to pay for the same program and services that we have in place today.

    This is just one example of how the Legislature’s plan both underfunds basic education services, but also ties our hands and restricts us from sustaining our current level of support to students.

    Next Steps

    Over the next several months the Washington Supreme Court will analyze the Legislature’s budget plan and determine if they met their constitutional obligation to fully fund public education. We hope the Supreme Court sees that the plan is an important first step but does not fulfill the mandate of ample school funding. We hope the Legislature remains open to understanding the real consequences of this new plan for districts across the state. We are certainly not alone in our challenges.

    Again, I want to personally thank our families and staff. Last year, your focused efforts and advocacy reduced the negative impact on schools, educators and students. As we look forward to 2018-19 and beyond, our schools can’t afford another significant reduction to services and supports. Our students, staff and families deserve better.

    As I did last year, I will keep you updated as we learn more about the budget and the effects on Seattle Public Schools. If you have any budget related questions, please send them to budget@seattleschools.org. Other questions or concerns can be sent to publicaffairs@seattleschools.org.

    It is truly a privilege and an honor to serve you. We all look forward to welcoming students and families back to school in a few weeks. I hope you enjoy these last few weeks of summer.

    Warm Wishes,
    Larry
    Dr. Larry Nyland, Superintendent