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Seattle Public Schools lays off more staff, but spares teachers for now

caption: An empty classroom is shown on the first day of school at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Seattle.
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An empty classroom is shown on the first day of school at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Public Schools officials say they’ve slashed 74 central office positions for next school year, yet most teachers’ jobs will be safe.

The layoffs mark the district’s latest cost-cutting measure as a budget crisis looms. Washington’s largest school district is facing a projected $131 million budget shortfall next year due to declining enrollment, rising labor costs, and heightened student needs in the wake of the pandemic.

During an online community meeting earlier this week, officials stressed their intentions to keep the majority of budget cuts out of the classroom and away from students and teachers.

“We know this is disruptive, when shifts occur. Our goal is to minimize these disruptions,” said Superintendent Brent Jones. “The combinations of cuts and funding requests to the state will help us balance our budget for '23-'24.”

Jones said the district is focused on making the largest cuts in the central office through layoffs and a hiring freeze. In total, the district is aiming to make about $33 million of cuts in the central office as compared to $11 million of school-based reductions.

RELATED: Seattle Public Schools notifies employees of potential layoffs

The district is also lobbying state lawmakers to increase education funding — especially in high-cost areas like special education, transportation, and multilingual services.

Associate Superintendent Concie Pedroza said teachers, instructional assistants, and other school staff may be shifted around depending on enrollment at individual schools through the district’s displacement process with the teachers union. But most will have jobs within SPS if they want one.

On average, Pedroza said, around 400 teachers leave the district every year. That churn, she said, is expected to help prevent further layoffs.

RELATED: WA teacher turnover hits new high as students struggle to recover from pandemic disruptions

“If there is a reduction in force, it would be limited, especially in our schools,” Pedroza said. “Our goal is to ensure that every student has a qualified teacher at the start of the school year. Keeping our staff in our district is our priority.”

The district will also consider school consolidations as the nearby Bellevue School District has done recently. But any closures within SPS would not occur until the 2024-25 school year, officials said. The district will begin community engagement efforts in the fall.

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