Seattle Teachers Vote Down School Building Budgets In Protest Of Looming Staff Cuts

Mar 13, 2014

Teachers in 25 Seattle Public Schools have voted to reject their buildings' budgets for the next school year, and more may follow suit in the coming week.

Local teachers and union leaders coordinated the vote in hopes of forcing district officials to avoid cutting the equivalent of more than 50 full-time staff positions — clerical staff, assistant principals and school counselors — across the district's 95 schools. 

A team of building administrators, parents and teacher representatives in every Seattle school meet annually to decide how to spend an allotment of funding from the district. Though only two-thirds of a school's staff must approve the plan, both union and district leaders say it's unusual for so many schools to reject their building budgets simultaneously.

But district officials say there's less wiggle room in the district-wide budget than union leaders claim. Sarah Pritchett, who oversees schools in the district's central region, says the district has already cut overhead costs and transportation budgets to make up for a projected $9 million shortfall.

Pritchett says avoiding staffing cuts would jeopardize funds needed for supplies and curriculum development.

"Those are things that also touch schools," Pritchett said. "So if we start pulling from that [funding], then when do we buy books? What do we buy books with? How do we support our teachers in the classrooms?"

Representatives of the Seattle Education Association, however, say the district likely does have the funds to avoid eliminating staff positions.

“The teachers have had it. The educators, in general, have had it with the cuts at the building level," said SEA vice president Phyllis Campano. "It affects our jobs. It affects the kids.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, teachers at three schools had accepted their building-level budgets. Teaching staffs at more than 60 schools will be voting on their building's plans over the next few days.

In schools where teachers have rejected their budgets, district officials will enter into talks with union representatives and building staff in hopes of resolving their difference. If they remain at an impasse, a designee of Superintendent Jose Banda will have the final say.