Apr 10, 2023 - News

Seattle schools weigh cuts, including to beloved band program

Illustration of a pencil writing sheet music with dollar and cents symbols

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facing a $131 million budget shortfall for the 2023-2024 school year, Seattle Public Schools is proposing painful trims, including cuts to a popular music program at a Central District school.

Why it matters: Local school budget cuts underscore how the pandemic supercharged a trend toward declining enrollment at public school districts across the U.S. Between 2019 and 2020, public schools lost more than a million students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Between the lines: Public schools lose funding as they lose students and ultimately, this is a greater disadvantage to lower-income kids whose parents have fewer options, Axios' Erica Pandey wrote.

Driving the news: Students and parents in Seattle are mobilizing to save Washington Middle School's legacy music program. School leaders have proposed cutting the program in half next school year by eliminating the band teacher and consolidating the entire music program — choir, band, and orchestra — into a single teaching position.

  • The middle school's award-winning Junior Husky Jazz Band is a primary feeder for Garfield High School Jazz, which has won every major competition on the West Coast and regularly represents at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival at New York City's Lincoln Center, advocates for the program said in a news release sent out at the end of March.

Zoom in: About 30 students as well as parents and other band supporters spoke out against the cuts at the school board meeting last week.

  • Several said the decision will negatively impact students' mental health, well-being, and sense of belonging.
  • "Jazz is important to my culture or heritage as a Black young man," Washington student Saire Williams-Bullen told board members. "By taking away jazz band, SPS is robbing my academic experience."
  • Parent Ann McNally said band was the first subject her seventh grader, Luke McNally-Crain, enjoyed. "Kids who love band will stay in school," she told Axios.

Meanwhile: A yearlong virtual course on Filipino American history for high school students that satisfies Seattle Public Schools' U.S. history graduation requirement is another program that's facing the ax.

Zoom out: SPS isn't alone in its budget crunch. The Bellevue School District voted to consolidate two elementary schools after forecasting a $31 million shortfall.

  • Everett Public Schools has warned of potential layoffs with its own $28 million shortfall.

What they're saying: Declining student enrollment, increased student needs as a result of the pandemic, and inadequate state funding led to the funding gap, Seattle Public Schools said on its website.

  • Bev Redmond, the district's assistant superintendent for public affairs, said in an emailed statement that the district's budget allocation process has not yet been finalized and that staffing decisions are not yet complete.

What's next: The next public hearing on the budget is slated for May 3, and the school board is scheduled to vote on it at its July 6 meeting.


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