Seattle Public Schools considers consolidating schools

SEATTLE — The Seattle school district is facing declining enrollment and a growing budget shortfall.

Those issues are forcing Seattle Public Schools officials to consider consolidating some of its schools by the 2024-2025 school year.

It comes as the Bellevue School District is working to implement similar measures.

As school districts across the state face the same issues, the strategy may be gaining popularity, with saving money the biggest motivator.

Seattle Public Schools is projected to save $28 million if the district starts consolidating schools starting as early as next year, but the strategy is only something that is being considered.

An SPS spokesperson told KIRO 7 reporter Gwen Baumgardner, “There are no plans for school consolidation now. It is being discussed as a strategy that may be adopted for the ‘24-25 school year at the earliest. It would require board approval.”

But some school board members already seem to be OK with the possibility of consolidation.

“We believe that consolidating into larger schools that have the resources they need is a good strategy, whether you have money problems or not,” said Seattle Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Fred Podesta.

Though to be clear, SPS is facing money problems.

Following the contract agreement with teachers last fall, the district announced it was facing a budget shortfall of nearly $190 million.

But the biggest driver of the possible action may be declining enrollment.

University of Washington professor and researcher, Dr. David Knight, is an expert on school finance. He says the pandemic took a toll on public education.

“Here in Washington, the state is currently experiencing a seven-year low in public school enrollment. And so, we’re partly trying to figure out what’s going on here. And there’s not one clear narrative,” said Knight.

He believes a rise in private schooling and the housing crisis are pulling students away from city public schools.

Ten-year projections show the trend isn’t likely to change in Seattle.

“We need to recognize that we need to spread those resources serving a smaller enrollment — a projected smaller enrollment — so it makes sense to think about doing that at fewer locations. And have the locations we prioritize have all the resources they need and be the best schools they can be,” said Podesta.

While enrollment has decreased, school staffing has actually increased in recent years, which means in order to remain solvent, SPS may begin reducing staff or eliminating unfilled positions as early as this fall.

The Seattle School Board won’t officially vote to adopt a new budget until July.