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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Feb. 24, 2024

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No Seattle schools will close next year, superintendent says


SEATTLE — Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Brent Jones is not recommending the district close any schools next year, a move that surprised many families bracing for an announcement Wednesday.

But school closures and consolidations could come in the 2025-26 school year, as the district begins to reduce the number of buildings as it transitions to what officials have deemed “a well-resourced school system.”

Instead of closing schools in 2024, district leaders will adjust programs and ask the Legislature to extend SPS’ ability to use loans to shrink the district’s projected $105 million deficit.

The proposed plan, which was posted online in advance of a Seattle School Board meeting Wednesday, states that in order to balance the budget, Jones will consider reductions in staff, cuts in expenses, changes to student transportation offerings, program adjustments and restructuring, and the lease or sale of nonschool properties, among other options.

At the meeting, a handful of parents thanked the board for waiting to close schools but still expressed concerns about the board’s future transparency.

“While it’s great news that you have changed course on closing schools for next school year, knowing that this is still very much a focus in the following year puts a lot of stress on our families and school communities who are still suffering many years into this pandemic life,” said Erin MacDougall, the parent of two SPS students.

“Before you commit to cutting programs, please have an honest conversation with the community about the budget needs,” MacDougall said. “Right now the broader parent community is not feeling engaged.”

Amy Carroll, an SPS administrative secretary at the district, took a different view, saying closing schools will save the district money and will make it more likely that schools will be fully resourced.

“Deciding to close schools isn’t easy, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Carroll said.

Jones will present his strategic plan to realize the “system of well-resourced schools” by May 8.

In August, district officials began conversations about what exactly that means. Bev Redmond, district chief of staff, wrote to families Tuesday night, informing them of Jones’ recommendation but also noting that school closures are an option for the 2025-26 school year.

“We know it takes time to plan and implement large-scale changes and will include our community to provide feedback as we move through the process,” Redmond wrote.

The School Board will vote on the plan Dec. 13.

On Tuesday, the website that hosts the “Seattle Hall Pass” podcast published an early draft of the plan. It included stronger language about the need to consolidate and reduce the number of buildings in the 2025-26 school year.

“School consolidation is a necessary step towards a sustainable financial future,” the draft read.

Seattle School Board member Vivian Song said the draft was circulated among board members so they could offer feedback.

“It was not consistent with what I thought was going to happen, but upon further consideration I think it’s a good decision,” Song said before the meeting, speaking to the need to do community work and delay school consolidations until the 2025-26 school year.

Liza Rankin, the board’s vice president, agreed.

“It’s really good that we are being thoughtful about it,” Rankin said before the meeting. “That was always my hope and understanding.”

Rankin said she was interested to hear more “about how to make sure we do not repeat the experience of this October,” when the district reshuffled classrooms in dozens of schools. She said the district needs “a slightly longer timeline and more time to evaluate all our options and plan several years forward.”

A recently formed parent group called All Together for Seattle Schools has asked the board to pause any decision about school closures until after the legislative session this spring, with the hope that the state will increase the district’s funding.

“I was really glad to see such honest and transparent communication from the district,” said Alex Wakeman Rouse, one of the group’s leaders, before the meeting. “At the same time we don’t want the board to commit to closures for next school year or any school year. Now is not the time to commit to such large-scale changes.”