Nine weeks into the school year and, for reasons that are anything

Nine weeks into the school year and, for reasons that are anything but clear, the Seattle School District has ordered Garfield High School to shed one full-time teacher. Students and parents are furious, and teachers at the school are obviously worried and bewildered.

This afternoon at 1:50, a student walkout is planned at the school to protest the cut of a yet to be specified core subject teacher. The time 1:50 was chosen, says PTSA co-chair Marie Doyle, because it represents the number of students – 150 – who will be affected.

“Nine weeks in and they do this!? It is unbelievable,” Doyle tells Seattle Weekly.

“These 150 students will be displaced,” says Student Body President Harald Hyllseth. “As far as I know, they will receive a notice next Monday that their teacher has been removed.”

Last week, interim superintendent Larry Nyland sent a letter to all school principals in the Seattle School District. The good news, he reported, was that nearly 52,000 students are attending Seattle Public Schools this year, according to the district’s official October headcount. That, he said, represents an increase of 978 students over last year and is within 1 percent of the district’s enrollment forecast.

The bad news: “While we have more students this year,” Nyland wrote, “the number is still lower than we projected, which has left us with $3 million less than we anticipated. With less revenue district wide, we will have to reduce the staffing budget from schools with lower enrollment and add staffing budgets to schools with higher enrollment to assure our class sizes and support personnel are equitably distributed to best support all students’ teaching and learning.”

With that, Nyland announced that some schools, including Lowell Elementary, Jane Adams Middle School, Laurelhurst Elementary, and Mercer International Middle School, would get to add a teacher. Those losing a teacher, along with Garfield, are Stevens Elementary, Hazel Wolf K-8, B.F. Day Elementary, and Madison Middle School.

Asked why Garfield was so up in arms, district spokeswoman Stacy Howard, told us, “They have an extremely involved PTSA.” (Garfield principal Ted Howard declined to make any comment.)

But here’s the thing that is not making any sense at this point: Stacy Howard reports that Garfield has a current enrollment of 1,622 students. According to the PTSA, Garfield projected before the school year began that they would have 1,611 students. If that is correct, they are 11 students over, and if anything, should be gaining a teacher or at least not facing the specter of eliminating one.

Howard would not address that question, as well as others we had, such as, is there not a waiting list at Garfield, how unusual is it to cut a teacher nine weeks into the school year, and what will happen to the supposedly 150 students affected? All she would offer was this e-mail, sent last evening: “As I mentioned earlier I likely would not have an answer for you yet. This is all we have right now. Discussions are continuing. And the enrollment number I gave you is from the principal. We are still working out the exact enrollment number based on information from the Enrollment dept.”

Superintendent Nyland, meanwhile, informed the principals that they have until the end of the day on Friday “to make their decisions [on who would lose their job] and must inform their employment analyst and copy Dana DeJarnatt in Human Resources.”

At this point, it is not known who will be removed from Garfield’s teaching ranks. What is known, though, is that it will be a full-time instructor teaching a core subject, language arts, social studies, math or science.

“It’s the district’s budget problem,” says Doyle, “and they are putting it on the kids. That’s not right.”

UPDATING: Responding to community pressure, Nyland sent out another letter today, this one addressed to the “Garfield High School Community.” In it, the superintendent implored students and Garfield staff to stay in class and not participate in the walkout.

He asked for their patience in sorting this out and to “check [the enrollment] numbers for discrepancies.” Finally, Nyland added, “While PTAs are allowed to raise funds to support a teaching position, it is not recommended and should be considered only as a last resort after careful review of all the data.”

The cost involved is $92,000, which includes salary and benefits.


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