Children enrolled in Seattle Public Schools were enjoying the second day of an unexpected four-day weekend Friday after a move by district teachers that likely will cost the district millions of dollars.
“We recognize that the late notice creates challenging circumstances for many families,” the school district wrote in an email Tuesday. “We are aware of an unusually large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday, and do not believe we have adequate personnel to open schools with the necessary environment for high-quality learning.”
The district reported more than 600 teachers already had requested a substitute for Friday when “additional requests came in last week.”
“Based on historical patterns, it is likely many additional staff would take leave and not come in on Friday morning,” the district said. “With the current labor shortage of substitutes, and our current staffing levels, SPS does not have the capacity to ensure student safety and high-quality learning.”
One cause of that shortage is Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. There have been many reports of Seattle government agencies, including schools, experiencing staffing shortages because of employees who have been forced out or placed on leave awaiting news of an accommodation that would allow them to keep their jobs.
Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal expressed sympathy for the Seattle school district.
“Our schools are working hard to provide a continuity of learning for their students, despite the many challenges they face due to the pandemic,” Reykdal said.
Reykdal insisted students will make up the missed day of instruction this school year.
“The canceled day will have to be made up during the year or added on to the end of the year,” he said. “Students have a legal right to 180 days of instruction in the state of Washington.”
Meanwhile, Seattle schools will burn through money, both on Friday and on the make-up school day. The email announcing the closure laid out some of those expenses.
“Childcare, custodial work and other functions will continue in schools on Friday,” the district said. “Meal distribution sites will be deployed at a subset of school buildings.”
The Seattle Public Schools public affairs team was asked what it costs to keep the schools partially open for custodial work, child care, school lunches and the other functions the press release mentioned and to tack another day onto the end of the school year.
“I'll work to see if that data has ever been compiled,” media relations specialist Tim Robinson said. “I'll let you know if I find anything.”
Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, said $6.2 million a day is “a good, conservative estimate” of what the 100-plus Seattle Public Schools collectively spend per day of normal functioning.
Finne reached the estimate by dividing the school district’s current annual budget of $1.12 billion by the 180 days in the school year.
Not all of those expenses will be replicated by tacking another day onto the end of the school year. Salaried employees won’t make more money, for instance.
The total cost of custodial, heating, child care, the lunch program and other things that are happening Friday plus the additional expense of extending the school year by a day, however, likely will be millions of dollars.