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Seattle Public Schools notifies employees of potential layoffs

caption: Third grade teacher Lucero Heredia-Valdovinos talks with students about masks during the first day of school at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, September 2, 2021, in Seattle.
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Third grade teacher Lucero Heredia-Valdovinos talks with students about masks during the first day of school at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, September 2, 2021, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

As Seattle Public Schools grapples with a $131 million budget deficit, layoffs appear to be imminent.

At a Tuesday school board work session, Superintendent Brent Jones announced the district had notified some employees earlier this week that their jobs may be eliminated in the coming months.

“We’re in a difficult stage right now,” Jones told board members. “It’s moving from theory to actual action being taken. This is actually impacting employees.”

A district spokesperson later confirmed at least 30 employees received layoff notices but did not specify whether those affected are administrative or school staffers.

Jones’ comments Tuesday mark the first real steps the district has taken to address the district’s budget shortfall, fueled by declining enrollment, rising labor costs, and increasing student needs in the wake of the pandemic.

District officials also blamed years of chronic underfunding at the state and local level. Washington’s school funding formula currently does not fully fund school nurses and social workers — critical roles amid elevated student mental health challenges in the aftermath of Covid — and often does not cover the full cost of providing special education services.

Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Education Association, agrees that education is “grossly underfunded” in Washington. Matter said she’s meeting with district officials later this week to discuss layoffs, but couldn’t yet say whether any of the union’s 6,000 educators are among those whose jobs may be eliminated.

“Everyone’s feeling the impacts of the underfunding,” Matter said. “Now is the time for the state to step up.”

If cuts have to be made, Matter said she and her fellow union members hope the district continues to prioritize funding for safety and security, mental health supports, and providing an inclusive education to all students, including those with disabilities who receive special education services.

“If there are any cuts, they need to reflect those values,” she said.

Seattle is far from alone in its budget woes. Many school systems across Washington and the U.S. are facing the same situation as temporary Covid relief funds from federal and state governments run out and student needs remain high. For example, the SPS budget this year includes $82 million of funding that the district will not have again next year.

In Everett, where the district is facing a $28 million deficit, officials may slash up to 142 full-time positions and shut down an online academy after the school board approved a cost-cutting plan on Tuesday, according to the Everett Herald. Meanwhile, Bellevue School District administrators have recommended three elementary schools for closure as part of a potential consolidation plan unveiled last month.

SPS also is considering shuttering and consolidating schools down the road. The end goal, Jones said, is for the district to be a system of “well-resourced schools” that have adequate resources in order to meet the needs of all students.

RELATED: Seattle Public Schools could consolidate schools as soon as 2024

Jones also wants the district to shift budget planning to a multi-year process and to embark on an enrollment growth campaign in order to attract more families to the district.

SPS will hold a community budget meeting March 20. The district has not yet said what time or where the event will be held. American Sign Language, Amharic, Cantonese, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese interpreters will be available.

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