Education budget cuts lead Seattle schools to shut-down

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The announcement of the $1 billion cut in the education budget for the 2011-12 school year has been met with anger by many districts, including Seattle. The district is struggling with the effects of this newest budget cut, and in order to communicate this struggle to the general public, the district has agreed to shut down on August 31.

The Seattle Education Association for teachers and substitutes have a tentative pact with the district to also shut down on this day to shed light on the suffering school districts. Douglas Harman, executive director of finances for the district, said, “Seattle doesn’t have the choice except to shut down.”

The schools are shutting down in order to bring public attention and sympathy to the legislative decision passed last spring to cut the $1 billion from state education funding, as well as reducing teacher salaries another 2 percent and principal salaries 3 percent.

The district actually has a larger budget this year than it did last year, but it is being forced to make more cuts because their enrollment and expenses are both dramatically increasing, outstripping revenue.

School doesn’t start until September 7, but the day is one of training and staff activity, which will all be affected. The enrollment office will be empty and any activities scheduled for that day will have to be cancelled. According to Harman, almost no personnel will be at the schools on that day.

The district is also shutting down halfway through a school day at an undecided day between January and February, creating an unscheduled half-day. In the time freed by this half-day, the teacher’s union and the district may go to Olympia to take their concerns before the State Legislature.

Originally the teacher’s union called for both shut-down days to be during the school year, according to Executive Director Glenn Bafia, but the district decided to hold one instead before the beginning of the year. “August 31 was the day we felt worked best… to limit the impact on the kids.”

School districts all over the state are coming up with similar solutions to the budget problems facing their individual districts. Some are absorbing the funding cut through the unpaid shut-down days only rather than cut the salary of workers.

Having been cut $4 million, the Seattle district didn’t feel that this would be an effective solution. “We did not feel that, given the reductions we’ve already made over the last three years, we could just simply… backfill for this loss in state revenues.”

The district has drawn up a possible agreement to extend to the classified staff, the teaching assistants and secretaries, who are part of the Seattle Education Association. Representatives of the classified staff will vote on possible participation in this furlough.

Luckily for teachers, the budget cut won’t hurt their salaries too badly. Before this newest cut in the education funding, both were scheduled to get a 1 percent raise. Taking that raise into account, this budget cut will negate that raise, so the maximum cut any teacher will receive is 1 percent.

The district’s pact with the Seattle Education Association is still tentative; the Association will be voting to make this agreement official on August 9.