Facing a number of undersubscribed schools, SPS Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones will propose consolidating up to 20 elementary schools

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle environment

The Seattle Public School Board met last week to discuss and share with the community its plans to build “very good” schools in the district.

With the district struggling financially but on the mend, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones had to make some tough decisions to balance the budget and establish a new fiscal and educational landscape.

SPS primary schools are reportedly oversubscribed. Empty classrooms can lead to decreased staffing, resources, and inequitable school-to-school offerings. In addition, the lack of students in the buildings is attributed to some of the budget challenges the district has been facing for several years.

According to Dr. Jones, the new, well-resourced schools proposal will include a consolidation and closing of up to 20 elementary schools, in addition to budget cuts already approved by the district.

“We had a structural budget deficit that we took on by trying to get out of that deficit by tackling a balanced budget through a $131 million cut last year and we’re going to tackle $105 million this year,” he says Jones. “We had a very smart approach; We thought about a lot of different scenarios and managed to balance our budget and we will have a balanced budget tabled for 2025-26 and we did one last year for 2023-24.”

Of its 104 school buildings, SPS currently has 73 elementary schools serving students in grades preschool through fifth grade, of which 29 currently serve fewer than 300 students.

As part of their endowment proposal, SPS will consolidate approximately 70 elementary schools into 50 endowment schools during the 2025-26 school year. Dr. Jones is not recommending any closures for the 2024-25 school year.

Some of the goals of the proposal, which were derived from community input, are to have more teachers per grade level, inclusive learning for every student, stable support staff, social and emotional learning support, art staff, music and physical education at each. school. Additionally, it is designed to provide a stable operating budget, safe, beautiful, and healthy school grounds and preschool in every building and community connection.

“We decided we needed to look at what a well-resourced school system looks like,” says Jones. “And so, we set out to talk to our community and ask what does a well-endowed school system look like to them?”

“We asked (students, parents and staff) a set of questions about how we use the space, what kind of programs and services they want, and they came up with some guidance for us,” Jones continued. “This helped us come up with our definition of a well-endowed school. And to get there, we need to make sure we have enough resources to be able to fund those things that the community wants.”

While the initiative may not be popular with everyone, SPS officials say school consolidation will help provide the comprehensive education needed to prepare all students for lifelong success and prioritize innovative, high-quality schools with special education staff.

“This is a huge challenge,” says Beverly Redmond, director of communications for SPS. “But I also embrace and lean into what can be and that we want our schools to be as strong as possible for each successive generation of Seattle Public School students.”

“I certainly think this is again an opportunity for us to come together to bring stability, reliability and predictability to our families,” Redmond continued. “We’ve watched over the last few years, at least since Dr. Jones has been in office, how many times we’ve had to go back to a board meeting or a session to find out how staff or a favorite course has been cut . was lost. So we want to bring that stability to the community.”

According to Redmond, the district’s goal is “to ensure that every student receives a world-class education tailored to their academic, social and emotional needs.”

Change is challenging and the School Board strongly believes that while this transition may be difficult for some staff and families, it will benefit all in the long run.

“We’re changing into something better right now,” Jones says. “We’re interrupting business as usual, but replacing it with something better. And so this could actually be a game changer for us as we go forward.”

Dr. Jones and his staff plan to present their preliminary recommendations to the school board in June, the school board will then consider the recommendations and provide community members and stakeholders with an opportunity to provide feedback.

“We hope the community will be able to join us at one of the upcoming information community meetings,” says Jones. “To ensure that SPS families have the greatest opportunity to participate, each meeting will present the same information, but will be held at locations around the district.”

“The community’s vision will provide a basis for framing the challenges and opportunities for SPS in the coming years,” added Jones. “It will help guide future strategic planning and resource allocation decisions, including funding for well-resourced schools, SPS planning that funds our future, the renewal of Seattle’s Strategic Plan for Excellence, and the BEX VI levy.”