Staffing adjustments happen every fall for Seattle Public Schools (SPS). This fall was different because of an enrollment prediction error. For the first time in 10 years, Seattle's overall enrollment rate was lower than the year before.
Actual enrollment was lower by 724 students than anticipated. The initial predictions were made in June. The district was short $7.5 million without those students in seats. The district allocated $4 million to cover staffing changes but still wound up short. Across Seattle, 31 teachers lost their current positions and were, as SPS puts it, displaced.
Last week, students at Nova High School walked out to protest two of their teachers being displaced. Garfield High School students and teachers stopped work and hosted a sit-in in the gym because two of their teachers were also slated to transfer. The Stranger reached out to SPS for comment.
According to SPS*, schools have known about these staff changes since June.
"Any disruption to the school year is challenging," the district wrote in an email, "In fact, that is why we moved up adjustments from October to September. The decision didn’t come late. Many schools chose not to fill vacant positions and some schools chose to take a risk with the hope that more students would arrive in the fall.”
GHS only received one more student in the fall than they had enrolled as of June. As things stood, GHS was 79 students short when school started in September.
How can you fuck up enrollment rates that badly? SPS chalks it up to rising housing costs and the cost of living in the district and surrounding districts.
"This needs to be investigated further," SPS wrote.
There was some suspicion that these displacements came when they did—three weeks into the school year—because of the teacher strikes and the new contracts that were negotiated around that time. SPS said the contracts had nothing to do with these displacements.
"With that said," SPS added, "we do have tighter budgets because raises were provided."
Displacement isn't great, but it's not horrible. It's a loss for students, especially when teachers are displaced after school has already started, like what is occurring now. This impacts younger students significantly who form close bonds with their teachers in the first few weeks of school. But, according to SPS, though it's inconvenient for the teachers, they remain fully paid and are relocated.
"Every teacher was needed in another school," SPS wrote. "All teachers have been placed."
The teachers were sent to schools who have higher enrollment rates than predicted. Districts further south, for instance, saw increased enrollment, SPS said.
The schools themselves make the call when it comes to which teacher will be transferred. First, it's opened up to volunteers. Then, when no one steps forward, the decision is typically made on either a seniority basis or, to throw some school jargon out there, category—what the teacher is certified to teach.
For some schools, the newest teachers were on the chopping block. For others, like GHS, two teachers in general education fields—one was a gym teacher, the other a health teacher—were transferred. To teachers and students at GHS, this read like an equity issue. Those transferred teachers taught students from all walks of life, not just the cream of the academic crop.
"The main reason we acted today," Rosa Powers, a language arts teacher at GHS told The Stranger last Friday, "is that the teachers who were cut today serve mostly students of color and lower income students. If the AP (Advanced Placement) classes had been cut it'd be a completely different story."
When asked if this was a race, gender, or economic-equity issue, SPS flatly denied it.
"The district strongly disagrees with these statements," SPS went on to explain how displacement candidates are selected. "There is no merit to these claims, but one can assume they are to garner support."
*SPS responded over email and asked that all responses be attributed to SPS as an entity. SPS doesn't currently have a media relations person. They haven't had one since May. That position will be filled on Oct. 15. Hence the email business.