Budget Cuts

A few weeks ago, questions about the proposed Garfield budget began to spread around school. Is my teacher getting cut? Why are they doing this? What will next year at Garfield look like?

The Garfield budget is determined by the BLT (Building Leadership Team), a group of people who help Mr. Howard create the proposed budget plan for next year, that he will then present to the Seattle Public Schools district officials.

The BLT is given an estimated amount of money from the district to fund the next school year and then create a proposed budget plan based on that amount, even though it may be subject to change.

“This is the ugly part of my job,” said Howard. “Not having enough money and sitting down to try to make this work.”

With the opening of the new Seattle High School, Lincoln, Garfield’s projected enrollment is down for next year, as many prospective students from the North End will be funneled there. It is estimated that 281 fewer students will be attending Garfield next year.

Also, the district reduced the money allocated to fund programs and support to aid the class of 2021 and onwards in earning their 24 graduation credits. It was reduced from $715,584 to $158,431.

To understand the consequences of these cuts, the Messenger looked closely at the Science Department.

“[Because the budget is] based on the number of students Seattle Schools projects that we are going to have enrolled, it was decided that the science department only needs 8 full time teachers,” Dr. Rachel Petrik-Finley, co-chair of the department, said.

Next year’s budget is 75% of this year’s, and will result in staff displacements in various programs schoolwide, especially those who are part time teachers.

“It’s really upsetting that up to 18 teachers are being displaced from Garfield. I think this will really be traumatic to our community,” Jesse Hagopian, a beloved teacher of the Ethnic Studies course, said.  “It’s outrageous really that in a city with as much wealth as ours, we can’t find enough resources to build a stable faculty and the kind of community that you can only have if you’ve been working together for years.”

This directly affects Garfield administration’s goal to increase faculty diversity.

“We went out and did that,” Howard said. “We brought in more people of color. The way the contract is set up is: if you’re first one hired, you’re the last one removed.”

This is evident in the displacements in the Science Department.

“We as a science department have tried to increase the diversity of our teachers and that came with the new hires and new teachers from last year,” Petrik-Finley said. “It’s really frustrating to see that be taken away.”

The displaced teachers will have the opportunity to apply to other schools within the district, but this does not mean they are guaranteed a position elsewhere.

“It’s been really hard. The past three weeks have been really awful, because I don’t know where I’m going to go,” biology and chemistry teacher Stephanie Edmisson said, who is currently displaced.

However, if Garfield receives more funding from the state, some displaced teachers may be able to return and will most likely fill gaps in core classes.

Mr. Howard presented the budget to the district for formal approval and is now waiting while administration meets with departments to discuss displacement and a plan moving forward.

Staff did have the opportunity to reject the budget. If this had occurred, the BLT would have attempted to re-work the budget with the allocated money. This could have also resulted in mediation with the district and the union, which occurred last year.

The Garfield Science Department is not fully funded from the district, as it relies on donations from students to buy the needed materials. Even as the ratio of students to teachers decreases, and the required funds decrease, there are still consequences.

For example, the Science Department may not be able to offer a fourth year science classes, instead prioritizing the three years of credits that students need to graduate. This solution comes with downsides.

“If students need three years of science to graduate and we’re unable to offer a full load of fourth year science classes it restricts the ability of students who have not earned a credit in science, to retrieve that credit,” Petrik-Finley said.

What is happening in the science program is occurring all around Garfield. Threats of new and old teachers being displaced are present in almost every single department.

“I feel like Garfield’s my second home,” Hagopian, a Garfield High School graduate, said. “I could potentially land a second teaching job in the district but it won’t be in my community. And even that is uncertain, that I can find another part time position, especially teaching Ethnic Studies.”

Because this is Garfield, an activist response is already forming.

“If people are outraged they have to direct their outrage, and I hope people do, to the legislature to lift the levy cap and fully fund education,” Petrik-Finley said.

Howard echoed this sentiment.

“If you’re going to fight, you’re going to have to talk to the state,” Howard said. “It’s not the school district. It’s not anybody here in the building. It’s at state level.”

Rose Clarke, a sophomore at Garfield, is one of those students taking action. After learning about the budget cuts, she organized a day, Friday the 22nd, for students to call their legislators.

“We want to get people more informed about why the budget cuts are happening and we also want people to get active with contacting their legislators and trying to make change,” Clarke said.

In the meantime, the BLT must utilize the funds they are allotted as of now. The current plan is to pad the budget by asking the PTSA for support. A restoration plan is in place, created by the district. The first priorities include funding the librarian to a full time position and restoring the third Assistant Principal.

The displacements and final budget plan should be solidified by spring break, as estimated by Howard. All programs and classes should still be in place, however the master schedule will ultimately determine what will be offered.

“I don’t anticipate classes being dropped. But it’s still too early to say,” Howard said.