South Seattle lawmakers want to split Seattle Public Schools

House Education chair says the district is too big.
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Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos

House Education chair says the district is too big.

Seattle Public Schools would split into two separate districts under a bill filed Friday by Reps. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Eric Pettigrew, both south Seattle Democrats.

The bill would force the breakup by forbidding the existence of any school district with more than 35,000 students. With roughly 52,000 students, only Seattle fits that description. Spokane, Tacoma and Kent's school districts are distant runners-up with roughly 29,000 pupils apiece.

The Seattle district is just too big to effectively work with students and parents, Santos said. "This isn't about smaller classes, but about smaller school districts."

She added, "What we have in Seattle is a corporate culture. What we need is a community culture."

Santos and Pettigrew did not consult with Seattle school officials on this bill. Instead, the bill evolved from years of frustrations for both of them that less-affluent, multicultural, blue-collar south Seattle has been getting less attention from the district than the more affluent north side. "At some point, you run out of options. (Pettigrew) and I agree. This is a great place to start," she said.

Seattle School Board President Sherry Carr said this afternoon that she could not comment until she has time to review the proposal.

While Pettigrew and Santos represent the same southeastern Seattle 37th District, they frequently clash on education-related issues — making Friday's bill an unusual time that they strongly agree. They expect the bill to go to the House Education Committee, which Santos chairs. They hope a public hearing on the bill will be scheduled between Feb. 9 and Feb.13.

Santos said she could not guess at the bill's chances of passing the Legislature. Pettigrew deferred questions to Santos.

Santos said she does not have a preference on how the Seattle school district would be divided.

Pettigrew and Santos' bill would also limit the number of school board members to five. The Seattle School Board has seven.

Under the bill, the state superintendent of public instruction would convene the appropriate education service districts plus other officials to map out the two districts' new boundaries. They would also develop a plan for addressing financial issues, dividing employees between the districts and dealing with union contracts. The full plan, including proposals for new laws that would be needed to carry out the split, would then go to the governor and the Legislature by Dec. 1. The bill does not set a specific timetable on dividing a district.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8