Do you remember your school nurse? Your school librarian? Your school guidance counselor, or even your custodian? Well, the kids who attend Seattle Public Schools probably don’t! At current funding levels, the district doesn't have enough money to pay for a full-time librarian, nurse, guidance counselor, and custodian for every one of its 102 schools.
Right now, for instance, we only have .62 nurses working in each of Seattle's public schools. And the only reason we even have .62 nurses per school instead of .1 nurses is because Seattle pays for a majority of its nurses with money from an operations levy. (The state only pays for 9 nurses for 102 schools; the district employs 63 nurses with those funds plus the levy.) That levy, as well as another levy that funds badly needed building improvements, is up for a renewal vote this month. You should vote YES to renew both of them, or else our kids are going to be wandering around in freezing cold, crumbling elementary schools and giving each other measles-cancer.
We wish we could be a bit less apocalyptic, but, fuck! Have you been following the news about all this? No? Okay, we forgive you. But let us back up and fill you in.
The levy renewals are split into two propositions. Proposition No. 1 Replacement for Educational Programs and Operations Levy represents about 17 percent of the district’s budget right now, and renewing it will give the district the authority to raise $815 million over the course of three years. With this money, the school funds its nurses, librarians, guidance counselors, custodians, special education needs, programs for English language learners, and several other things you’d think would just come with schools, but they don’t. Proposition No. 2 Capital Levy will fund $1.4 billion in building improvements at eight schools, as well as major maintenance upgrades at 72 schools. Eight of the schools will be renovated or completely rebuilt, including Rainier Beach High School.
Even if both of the levies pass—assuming the state maintains its current levels of education funding—Seattle Public Schools is still looking down the barrel of a $40 million budget shortfall for the 2019-20 school year. The district predicts it will need to cut 90 staff positions across the board. Now, not all of those positions will be teachers—some of them will be nurses! And librarians. And custodians. And guidance counselors. And administration staff.
Again, because of a bunch of idiot Republicans and spineless Democrats in Olympia, the funding situation in Seattle is so bad right now that we’ll lose those positions even if voters do the right thing and renew these two levies.
And what if we don’t pass the levies? Well, if we don’t pass Proposition 1, the district will have to cut 1,100 staff positions at Seattle’s 102 schools. That’s 1/7 of the district’s total workforce. It would be Armageddon for the public school system in this city.
Wild, right? Who would want to do that?
As it turns out, there doesn’t appear to be any organized opposition to the levies, with the rather large exception of the Seattle Times Editorial Board. STEB is endorsing Prop 2, but they’re refusing to endorse Prop 1 because they’re convinced the school district is trying to “play” the good people of Seattle by—let’s see here, ah yes—asking for the amount of money they need to provide a barely adequate number of nurses, librarians, counselors, custodians, teachers, and special education staff to teach its 53,000 students.
STEB calls the district’s levy proposal “disingenuous” because it would raise more money than the state “legally" allows it to collect, implying that somehow Seattle Public Schools is engaging in illegal behavior. The fact is that the district always asks for more levy authority than the state caps allow because lawmakers raise or lower the state caps from year to year. Meanwhile, state law says the district can’t collect more money than it asked for in its levy proposals, so the district always asks for as much as it needs to ensure that they don’t leave money on the table if the state decides to raise the cap. If lawmakers end up lowering the cap on the district, however, the district will only take the amount it can legally take.
Now, don’t get the Seattle Times Editorial Board wrong. They want to fund the schools. They promise. They just want the district to wait and put the levy on the April special elections ballot instead of the February special elections ballot. Their reasoning is that we’ll have a better idea about how much money the state plans to spend on public education by mid-March, which is when lawmakers start circulating their serious budget proposals, and so the district will be better able to name a more informed asking price in its levies then. The only problem with that idea is that the filing deadline to get on the April ballot is February 22nd at 4:30 pm, well before the middle of March.
None of this is new information. The Seattle Times knows when the filing deadline is. They know that districts throughout Washington are forced to ask for as much money as they need—knowing they might not be able to collect all of it—in order conform to the state legislature’s schedule. The Times is just making a big deal about all of this procedural stuff this year because they’re desperate. They hate taxes, and they want to see the public schools crumble so charter schools can swoop in and save the day. Opposing the operations levy is their best chance to make that happen. Don’t let them get away with it. Vote YES on Prop 1 and vote YES on Prop 2. And then run to Olympia, pound on the doors of your state representatives, and demand they fulfill their constitutional duty to “amply fund” public education, which they’re still not doing!