Seattle teachers take on layoffs

Vicky Jambor reports on a protest by teachers, parents and students against layoffs in the Seattle Public Schools.

Students, parents and teachers protest against threatened school closures in SeattleStudents, parents and teachers protest against threatened school closures in Seattle

SEATTLE--At her annual performance review on June 3, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson boldly gave herself an "A." But some 300 demonstrating teachers, parents and students had a very different assessment, as they protested outside district headquarters holding pink slips and giving Goodloe-Johnson an "F."

Why? Because two weeks before, the school district laid off 200 teachers, counselors and other staff.

The local teachers' union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), and a local teacher, parent and student activist group, ESP Vision, which formed against school closures earlier in the year, organized the rally.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) administrators claim that because of a $34 million deficit in the budget, the layoffs are a necessary step. At the rally, however, the message was clear: the district must recall all of the layoffs.

"Why am I out of a job?" said a laid-off teacher from Hamilton Middle School. "We know it's a tough economy for me and my husband. The most important thing for us? It's our kid. If she needed medical care, no family would hesitate to use their rainy day fund. It's high-quality teaching or $22 million? [The administration] chose the money.

"They are deliberately raising class size after assuring us that there would be no RIFs [Reduction In Force]. I can't concentrate anymore because I'm thinking about my job."

There are many ways to obtain the money, if class size and "excellence for all"--the catch phrase used by SPS--were truly priorities for the district. The district has the largest "rainy day" fund in the state. Seattle has about 5 percent of its budget, close to $28 million, in reserve. The district also has $22 million of interest earned on capital funds, which could be used to avoid layoffs.

The district has also announced increased student enrollment next September, with up to 500 additional students. Laying off teachers at a time when more students are entering the district is contradictory.

As Jesse Hagopian, a laid-off teacher and activist, said at the rally:

This district spends 39 percent more on administration than any other district in the state. It closed five schools and closed down 13 other programs. This is an economic monsoon. It's time to tap the rainy day fund. There's over $20 million in interest in the capital fund. It's a disgrace.

If we close schools, won't it increase class size? [Goodloe-Johnson] says class size had no impact. This isn't an academic debate. If they don't get the individual attention they deserve, they fall through the cracks. The city wants to spend $200 million on a new jail while they are laying off teachers and closing schools.

Protesters marched around the building, stood below Goodloe-Johnson's office chanting "Bring them back!" and then filed into the school board meeting. They continued chanting during the meeting, with "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Goodloe-Johnson has got to go" ringing out as the superintendent walked in.

SEA and the district are currently in negotiations for a new contract in the upcoming school year. It's going to take the organized effort of teachers, parents, students and staff to help make real change in our schools. This rally was a good first step.