Tacoma Public Schools to lose $30 million in funding

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tacoma Public Schools (TPS), one of the largest school districts in Washington state, serves approximately 30,000 students in K-12. These students, combined with the over 2,000 staff members employed by Tacoma Public schools, will be affected by the latest budget cuts — a loss of $30 million in funding.

On April 18, a School Board Budget Work Study Session was held at the Lincoln High School auditorium in Tacoma. This is one of several community work sessions for the school board to gain insight on how to best address this loss of funding. The school district has already taken action to address this issue; for instance, they have eliminated 43 administrative and central office support positions — approximately 15 percent of the administrative workforce — made additional spending cuts of more than $16 million, and used more than $4 million in reserve funds. However, the cuts are still massive, requiring a great deal of care in deciding what to cut, especially considering that Tacoma Public Schools is the fifth-largest employer in the city.

And Tacoma schools are not alone. According to Chief Financial Officer of TPS Rosalind Medina, over 235 school districts in Washington State will see a revenue deficit in the coming year. The issue is due to a loss of local funding; though voters approved $70 million for the Tacoma levy in 2018, changes in funding formulas due to a state Supreme Court case capped Tacoma’s school funding at $38 million dollars.

According to The Seattle Times, “The court’s 2012 ruling found the state had violated its constitution by underfunding K-12 schools and kicked off years of fierce debate in Olympia over school funding and policies. It forced lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee to pour billions of dollars into the K-12 school system over the years and even sparked the court’s first contempt order against the state in Washington’s history.”

The McCleary decision, or the end to the 11-year Supreme Court case, found that Washington schools were being overfunded and implemented a new funding plan. Incidentally, the court has been paying a $100,000 dollar “contempt” fine for each day that the case had been open since 2015.

The McCleary decision will affect many realms of Tacoma Public schools. Many school officials and community members came to Thursday’s work session to express what they felt were the most critical things to keep.

Several teacher-librarians spoke to the board to emphasize the importance of the library in a child’s education. One teacher-librarian from McCarver Elementary School asked the board not to cut library programs, stating that these programs have already seen cuts, as less than half of the elementary schoolers in Tacoma have access to the library every day. Many schools have opted to save money by only opening the library on some weekdays.

“Intellectual freedom is the key to a sound education,” another teacher-librarian said. “Two of our best and brightest teachers here in this building are leaving the district and public education. This is happening for several reasons, but one reason that was given is because of the impossible workload on teachers’ shoulders today.”

She gave the example of Spokane public schools, which have combined the duties of teachers and school librarians. “To that I say, good luck with that, Spokane. When it comes to decision-making … please choose to protect the very heart of the school: the library,” she said.

One more teacher-librarian from Washington Elementary also spoke and emphasized similar ideas: “The libraries aren’t just additional things, the library is the heart. And we are trying, desperately, to create an environment where every child is welcome, every child is safe. I’m thinking about diversity, I’m thinking about equity, I’m thinking about access.”

One school nurse also spoke, asking the board to prioritize student health. She explained that she currently works at two, sometimes three different schools, and has noticed a rise in student health problems in the last few years. She also suggested that one possible area to cut could be field trips.

Another speaker was a mother of a first grader, who encouraged the board to consider their cuts through a lens of equity, and to consider how cuts will impact marginalized communities more greatly. She also urged them to consider enhancing the professional development program and to build trust with parents, teachers and communities by being transparent throughout this budgeting process.

Overall, the cuts to Tacoma Public School will be large, but hopefully the community input from these work sessions will be taken seriously when the Board makes their decisions.