Seattle schools order hiring, spending freeze as shortfall looms

SEATTLE - With a potential $18 million budget shortfall looming for the 2013-14 school year and with state legislative funding relief still uncertain, Seattle Public Schools is implementing a hiring and spending freeze until further notice.

The freeze applies to noncritical positions that do not affect safety or classroom instruction, and is expected to save at least $2.5 million, which can be carried over to assist in building a balanced 2013-14 budget, officials said.

The action comes as the school district develops a general operating fund budget for the next school year, which must be approved by the Seattle School Board in July.

"The district will prioritize activities that contribute to accelerating academic progress for all students, while at the same time being responsive to the significant financial issues that both the school district and the state face," district officials said in a prepared statement.

Over the past five years, Seattle Public Schools has closed combined shortfalls of more than $120 million.

During this time, funds have been prioritized for the classroom and the majority of reductions have come from central office. The percentage spent on central administration has dropped from more than 9 percent to less than 6 percent of the total budget, school officials said.

"While dramatic enrollment growth has increased the overall budget amount, multiple years of state and federal funding reductions have left the district with a shortfall each year, which has resulted in the elimination of jobs, programs and materials," said a school district statement.

"We know these measures impact our employees, and we appreciate everyone's understanding of the need to take this action," said Duggan Harman, the district's assistant superintendent of business and finance. "We are hopeful that the legislature follows the recent Supreme Court order and funds the K-12 increases it has previously committed to. If this happens, the path to a balanced budget becomes clearer."