(The Center Square) – The teachers strike in Seattle is over, but Seattle Public Schools now face a bigger challenge: high budget deficits over the next four years.
The newly ratified agreement between the district and the Seattle Education Association will give union-represented educators and school staff a 7% raise in the first year. In the 2023-24 school year, salaries will increase 4% followed by a 3% raise in 2024-25. If the cost of living increases in the second and third years of the agreement, wages will increase to match it, according to Seattle Public Schools
While union-represented teachers are seeing their salaries increase, the school district will now face more than $200 million tacked on to its total expenditures over the next three years. While the district’s revenue has passed over $1 billion since 2020, total expenditures have as well.
In fact, prior to the newly ratified teacher contract, Seattle Public Schools projected budget deficits of over $100 million in three out of the next four years. Superintendent Brent Jones acknowledged it in the 2022-23 adopted budget in July.
“This budget also is grounded in the reality that deficits are projected for future budgets beginning in the 2023-24 academic year, signaling significant work before us to bring costs into alignment with available resources,” Jones said in the adopted budget.
The adopted budget for the current year projects a budget deficit of $101.2 million, followed by a slightly smaller deficit of $96.6 million for the 2023-24 school year. By the 2025-26 school year, however, the district foresees a budget deficit of $128.4 million. These estimates came prior to the ratified contract agreement.
According to the budget, only 47%, or 3,347, of employees in Seattle Public Schools are classroom teachers. Liv Finne, the director for the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, estimates that the added $228 million from the contract agreement is an average increase of $32,500 per employee.
The current operating budget is $1.14 billion, or $22,200 per student. The 2022-23 budget expenditures dedicates 71.8% to teaching activities and teaching support, but that will be increased if the school board agrees upon the ratified teachers contract. As the dedicated budget for teachers increases, enrollment has steadily declined. The school district is even projecting a 5% decline in enrollment over the next three years.
Finne claims that teachers unions in Washington have the leverage to increase the budget dedicated to teacher salaries.
“[The Seattle Education Association] has so much leverage. They wait to strike the first days of school and every day the school doesn’t open, parents are going nuts,” Finne said to The Center Square in a phone call.
The district’s leftover dollars, which act as a savings account, are drying up as well. The ending fund balance for the district is showing a significant drop. The ending fund balance for the 2022-23 school year was $96.9 million. The district’s current year budget expects the ending fund balance to drop to $59.7 million.
Seattle Public Schools told The Center Square in an email that the teacher contract is not final until approved by the school board on Sept. 28. The board will also begin the budget development process for the 2023-24 fiscal year in October.