The Seattle Public School district is attempting to dock pay from Garfield High School teachers involved in a sit-in three weeks ago.
On Friday, Sept. 28, teachers at GHS stopped work in protest of two of their teachers being displaced as the result of SPS staffing changes. SPS overestimated its enrollment projections for the 2018-19 school year; there were 775 fewer students than expected and the district was out $7.5 million. Staffing changes ensued and teachers were shuffled around to different schools based on actual enrollment levels. This happened three weeks into the school year.
GHS students and teachers gathered in the gym for two hours on that Friday in September. They are losing pay for that two hours.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Clover Codd, Executive Director of Schools Sarah Pritchett, and Garfield High School Principal Ted Howard sent a "Memorandum Letter" (sic) to GHS informing the teachers involved in the sit-in of their punishment. To them, this was a violation of the teachers' contracts.
"The decision to suspend the normal student class schedule, regular instruction, and normal student supervision was a unilateral action not sanctioned by the GHS administration or the District," the letter read.
After the sit-in, the district met with teachers on Oct. 3.
"During that dialog, we hope that we provided background on the state funding, overall district staffing needs, and the reason for the transfers to occur as quickly as possible," SPS wrote, "which in fact, occurred earlier than in past years."
According to SPS, Seattle schools may face a $45 million deficit next year because of the way the McCleary Decision allocates funding to local schools. The decision changed how funding for Washington schools was distributed. SPS still gets federal and state money based on enrollment and the types of students enrolled (there are federal grants for at-risk students and special education programs). But more of the money from local levies is allocated to smaller districts than big districts like SPS. Because of this redistribution, SPS is anticipating a shortfall in funding.
These staffing decisions as well as a hiring freeze at the district’s central office are the district’s way of bracing for the impact of this deficit next year, the Seattle Times initially reported.
Still, SPS is punishing teachers upset by this instability.
"While we understand that you wanted to express your dissatisfaction with the displacements/transfers, engaging in a teacher led action suspending the student class schedule and instruction is not permissible," SPS wrote to the disgruntled teachers. "You cannot unilaterally decide when to schedule classes or not."
Every teacher involved in the sit-in received this notice. Teacher leadership is currently drafting their response.
"Any future unilateral and unauthorized absence from your classroom will result in progressive discipline," the letter concluded. "At this time, the District has decided to not pay you for the time you were absent from your assigned classroom."