Seattle Public Schools proposal to close 20 elementary schools prompts boos from parents

As summer break approaches, many districts, including Seattle Public Schools (SPS), are grappling with budget deficits. SPS has announced that it might close around 20 elementary schools as a result.

On Tuesday, leaders from the district hosted a public meeting to explain why it was decided that closures are likely the best option to deal with budget constraints.   

SPS officials met with nearly 300 parents and caregivers at Roosevelt High School for an informational session on Tuesday evening.

There was no list given at that time, regarding which schools might close, leaving many frustrated and wondering if their child's school was under consideration for closure. 

At times, parents chanted and yelled at school officials from their seats during the meeting.

"This isn’t a conducive environment to have a back-and-forth," said the superintendent while on the microphone. 

"Why don't you answer some questions?", shouted a member of the audience.  

Because there was no public comment period, many were demanding to be heard.

"It was extremely disappointing because I felt like they were going to share more data, more information to explain their reasoning, and they didn’t," said Melisa Barbera, a parent of children at John Stanford International School. She was one of the audience members who stood up in protest. 

"On top of that, I was expecting engagement with the community, which I feel like they didn’t come here to hear our voices," said Barbera. 

District leaders say SPS is trying to make up for a more than 100 million dollar budget deficit by closing the schools. Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones said rising costs and declining enrollment were to blame.  

"It’s extremely condescending. It’s really the epitome of a dog and pony show," said Laurie Erickson, a retired teacher, frustrated with the presentation. 

"I was a bit shocked and disappointed. I thought there would be more time for actual engagement, that we were going to receive more data and information," said Debbie Carlson, an Olympic Hills Elementary School Parent. 

The district says it has around 23,000 K-5 students enrolled in 2023-2024, using 70 school sites. The new plan would reduce the number to 50.    

"We have to do more with less," said Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones. 

The schools that survive the chopping block would be turned into what the district is calling "well-resourced" schools.  

"We can have 3 to 4 teachers per grade…nurses more than one day a week," said Jones. 

The Chief Operations Manager, Fred Podesta, pictured below with parents, said the district would keep the land and green space despite any closures. He says cost savings would come from cutting staff positions. 

When parents asked him for an alternative plan at an informal question and answer period, following the public meeting, he said, "The alternatives would be higher student-teacher ratios." 

"In the simplest form, it comes down to people. Are they people maintaining buildings, mopping floors, providing the non-educational services….or is it teachers and instructional assistants?", he said. 

SPS wrapped the meeting by promising more engagement sessions. Some people responded by asking, "What engagement?"   

Tuesday's meeting was informational only. There was no official public comment period.  

Dr Brent Jones says the proposal was presented to the board on May 8, and the school district is planning to make a recommendation to the board later in June. More informational meetings are also being planned by the district. 


Seattle Public Library goes offline after cyberattack

Here's the 2024 average school teacher salary in Washington state

WA 5th grader to compete in National Spelling Bee

UW alum steers U.S. men's eight crew to 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

WA's Peninsula School District bans cell phones, ignites a shift in student engagement

To get the best local news, weather and sports in Seattle for free, sign up for the daily FOX 13 Seattle newsletter.