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Originally published July 20, 2011 at 12:50 PM | Page modified July 21, 2011 at 4:37 PM

Seattle schools plan one-day shutdown over budget cuts

In an effort to show the public that state funding cuts hurt, Seattle Public Schools plans to shut down for one full day before school starts, and close school early on another day during the school year.

Seattle Times education reporter

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In an effort to show the public that state funding cuts hurt, Seattle Public Schools plans to shut down for one full day before school starts, and close school early on another day during the school year.

Principals have agreed to take Aug. 31 as a furlough day, and the district announced Wednesday that it has reached a tentative agreement with the Seattle Education Association for teachers and school support staff to do the same, plus a half-day later in the year.

The hope is to highlight the effect of $1 billion in school funding cuts statewide that lawmakers approved last spring, including the decision to reduce base salaries of teachers and school support staff by 1.9 percent, and those of principals by 3 percent.

"The state has somewhat arbitrarily cut this," said Duggan Harman, the district's executive director of finance, referring to the salary reductions. "Seattle doesn't have the choice except to shut down."

The Aug. 31 closure will be a few days before the school year starts Sept. 7. It will affect training and other activities scheduled for that day. The district's enrollment office will be closed, too. Nearly all district staff will be gone, Harman said.

The other half-day will occur in January or February, when the district and the teachers union may go to Olympia together to voice their concerns.

The union originally proposed scheduling both days during the school year, said Executive Director Glenn Bafia, but the district didn't want to do that.

Harman said Aug. 31 "was the day we felt worked best to ... minimize the impact on kids."

The furlough days are part of tentative agreements with teachers, principals and other school employees on how to handle the loss of $4 million in what the district gets for their pay. Under their union contracts, many affected employees didn't have to accept the reductions.

Similar discussions are going on in school districts all over the state. In some, teachers are absorbing all or part of the losses through furloughs. In a few, the district essentially is picking up the tab by using savings or cutting expenses.

In Seattle, Harman said, "we did not feel that, given the reductions we've already made over the last three years, that we could just simply ... backfill for this loss in state revenues."

The district's budget will be larger than last year, but officials said that's because rising expenses are outstripping revenues, and because enrollment is going up.

If approved by the union's representative assembly, teachers will take 1 ½ days of furlough in each of the next two school years, plus give up 5 ½ hours of training. The district will make up the rest, roughly one-third of the total loss.

For most teachers, the agreement essentially will negate the 1 percent raise they were scheduled to receive for the coming school year. The most any teacher would lose would be about $110 a year, according to the union.

Principals have agreed to one day of furlough on Aug. 31, giving up some training, and the ability to cash out two training days, Harman said. They are absorbing about 85 percent of the state's 3 percent cut to their base salary, Harman said.

The district also has reached a tentative agreement covering classified staff, such as school secretaries and classroom assistants, who are represented by the Seattle Education Association.

If the agreement is approved by their representatives, they also will take the 1 ½ days of furlough.

Because they also are scheduled to receive a 1 percent raise, none of them will see a net decrease in pay and some may still get an increase, according to the union.

The district previously announced that all central-office employees will take furloughs, too. Upper management will take four days; others will take two.

Bafia said the union sees the tentative agreement as a good compromise given the economic climate.

The union's representative assembly is scheduled to vote on the tentative agreements Aug. 9.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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