With recent budget cuts and dour economic forecasts, the Seattle school district has been scrambling to reduce a $37.1 million budget gap next year. This has lead to drastic solutions including the call to close schools, move programs, reduce busing, and freeze hiring.
Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson broke the news on 11/25 that in order to operate on their projected budget, seven schools would be forced to move to other premises and their buildings would be closed as a way to save money. Then on 12/03 Goodloe-Johnson upped the number to nine including Rainer Beach High School, the first high school on the list. The updated plans also formally considered the option of permanently closing some of more unique school programs like the Summit K-12 program (the only one in the district), and the African-American Academy. Other money saving cuts included a hiring freeze and cuts to the district busing program.
While the term “closing schools” inspires a special sort of panic, the reality is much different. Seattle city school district currently has more seats than actual students. The reported numbers vary from 7,000-9,000 seats, but still enough to warrant some consolidation. The reason for most of the specific closures – mainly moving programs in North Seattle to South Seattle is manifest in the socio-economic divide between the two areas. Lower-income families in South Seattle have taken to busing their children to better funded schools in North Seattle to get a better education, creating a perverse imbalance of students. Many of the schools in North Seattle are overcrowded, where as South Seattle schools are struggling to teach full classrooms. These movements are all intended to correct these imbalances, and save cost on maintaining extraneous buildings.
However, public discussion of these matters has been less than flattering. Some racist remarks have been bandied about – giving programs back to the poor – and those schools who have made great strides in the wake of the flawed No Child Left Behind Act are crying foul. Another concern specific to Rainer Beach High School is an escalation in gang violence. Under the current plan, Rainer Beach would be merged with rival school Cleveland High School. There is some animosity between the schools and parents are concerned that these feelings would escalate if the schools were to be combined.
Currently there are many public hearings scheduled for individual schools prior to the final recommendations being released on January 6th. For a full list go here.