Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What are the Priorities? How were the Selections Made?

Tonight, the district got 2 full hours of public testimony on BEX III. I only stayed for the first hour, but it was interesting. I think Ingraham High School had at least seven speakers. Denny, Sealth and Nathan Hale were all represented, along with Sherry Carr (PTSA), Peter Maier (Schools First) and the usual public hearing crowd (Chris Jackins, Don Alexander, Eric Montgomery, etc.).

Since I don't know much about BEX III, I used my few minutes to raise some questions:

  • What are the priorities that got these projects on the list? According to district documents, the choices were based on the facilities master plan, but they don't seem to match to me.

  • Why is the BEX III proposal not discussed in terms of how well it does (or doesn't) fit with other district efforts (school consolidation and closure, restricting choice and transportation, changes in the weighted student formula)?

  • Are the cost estimates for these new buildings accurate?

  • What is happening with all the BTA II money that has not yet been spent?

  • What oversight will be put in place to make sure that if BEX III bond passes, the money will be spent on what was proposed and will be well-spent, not wasted?

In my testimony, I mentioned that I didn't understand how the New School, an educational program that has been trying to solve its facilities problem for less than 5 years, was getting a new building when Pathfinder, a program that has been trying to solve its facilities problem for 15 years is not considered.

I prefaced that statement with my deep admiration and respect for the New School. I think it is a wonderful school and Seattle needs more, not fewer schools, that serve children as well as the New School does.

Some New School parents, however, heard my testimony as me pitting Pathfinder against New School in a competition for facilities. That was not my intention. I think both programs deserve decent school buildings that are large enough to house their excellent educational programs.

But whether it was the New School or Roxhill or Sacajewea or Broadview-Thompson or any other K-5 or K-8 school in Seattle getting a brand-new building, I would ask the same question:

- How was it decided that X school gets a new building as part of this BEX III bond, and schools A, B, C and D do not?

Maybe there are good reasons behind these selections, but I want to hear them. It should not be a mystery which buildings are included in this BEX III proposal and which ones are not.

8 comments:

ws blog said...

The project on BEX III that bugs me the most is the Denny/Sealth $125 million revamp. If it stays as-is, I will vote against it ... probably the first time in my life I've ever voted against any kind of money for schools or kids. In the district's current straits, with its current priorities, the last thing it should be doing is spending nine digits on ANY single project, in my personal opinion. I think the no vote on I-88 (though I voted yes) is a strong message that the district would be unwise to ignore ... get your act together, or lose any goodwill you have left in the community.

Ben Wilson said...

"How was it decided that X school gets a new building as part of this BEX III bond, and schools A, B, C and D do not?"

The district staff went over their logic for their proposals at the operations committee meetings this summer. They were interesting, whether you agree with their recommendations or not. I didn't notice if minutes were taken at those, but it's where this very issue was discussed. The facilities people talked specifically about the buildings themselves, and the costs and options of particular issues. The presentation of how the levy recommendations fit with the district's educational goals was discussed at the BEX III work session on August 30.
If you look at the timeline, and the legal requirements, working backwards from the Feb election to the Nov deadline, and required meetings, it is clear that the majority of the analysis was complete last spring and in the early summer.

Speaking as a New School parent, one thing that we have learned, in several years of fighting for existence, is that it can be very difficult to advocate for your own program without unintentionally advocating against someone else.

Melissa W. said...

WS, why does the Denny/Sealth revamp upset you? Even following BEX III, I don't know a lot about it but it seems like a joint campus and the addition of the IB program in a new building would recharge those schools. I'm interested in your thoughts.

I'm having a meeting on Monday with Director Soriano and Facilities Director Fred Stephens about many of these issues.

Beth, please let us know what Hale and Ingraham had to say. I think they both might be under the wrong impression about why their schools are on the list. When the Meng Report was made there was seismic analysis of every building. I only received the analysis for Hale and Ingraham which looks very dire indeed. I have a feeling neither school's population realizes how dangerous their building would be in an earthquake. (However, both survived the Nisqually earthquake - 6.8 - without any apparent damage.) However, without seeing all the reports, I have no idea if Hale is the most likely school to be renovated because of safety issues. I have to wonder about schools like NOVA in its very old (and, to me, rickety building) or any of a number of elementary schools.

The staff may have presented their logic but it is only logical to them. There are many issues not addressed or set aside as the staff pushes on to what they believe is best. Well, I would go with their expertise if the list made sense. It doesn't and some of that is lack of information.

Beth Bakeman said...

Ben, I appreciate your comment. I am definitely coming very late into the BEX III discussion and (as was the case with school closures) every time someone comes late into a process, they ask basic questions that have already been discussed and answered.

I spent much time looking for the minutes from BEX III meetings on the web yesterday, and found an occasional meeting agenda, but no notes. If anyone else locates them, please post the link here so we can all read them.

And, as is the case with many other people, I have come to distrust, not trust, much of the district staff. That makes it harder for me to accept any "we know what we are doing, just trust us" arguments, and puts an increased responsiblity on district staff to communicate, communicate and over-communicate about what is going on. This is particularly crucial when it is an issue like BEX III that needs public support and a public vote.

Beth Bakeman said...

The Ingraham people (kids & teachers) got up and told horror stories about their building, particularly the separate math portable, which it appears would be replaced in BEX III. They wanted to make sure that Option 1, which includes their remodel, instead of Option 2, which does not include them, is passed by the Board.

The Nathan Hale student just talked about how awful some conditions were in his building.

Melissa W. said...

That's interesting that the Ingraham/Hale folks talked about building condition without mentioning seismic issues. Which is pretty much what I thought would happen because the district is telling me one thing (I believe to shake me off the BEX III) and leading Ingraham/Hale folks to believe something else. Namely, that Hale is getting a remodel (it's a renovation; a remodel would be many millions more but they will get some sort of facelift out of it)and Ingraham a new math area (which they do need). I just found out from Principal Floe that he had never seen any seismic report on Ingraham. Looks like I need to go down to the district and read every single seismic report.

Eric B said...

As a geologist who teaches about seismic safety and hazards, I would warn you that I could justify a rebuild of almost any of the SPS facilities based on seismic safety. In my own area of West Seattle, there are significant seismic safety issues at all but one of the SPS buildings I have visited. To deal with this problem would take billions of dollars. A report in 2005 by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and Washington Emergency Management Division estimated that in a moderate (M6.7) earthquake on the Seattle Fault 55% of the schools in King County would have moderate to severe damage. Seattle would have a disproportionate number of those seriously impacted schools because of the proximity to the fault and the age of SPS's building stock. I have read the seismic conditions of many of the school buildings as a result of my work with the Pathfinder community, and I can tell you that they are seriously incomplete - ignoring such things as what type of soils are underneath the building, and similar problems.
None of what I say should be misinterpreted as a critique of the facilities folks - the truth is that the nature of our local seismic hazard is constantly being revised as new information comes to light. Building codes change frequently (there was a major change in 2004 that I am aware of). And, let's face it, the scale of the problem is so daunting, it is hardly something that can be dealt with at this point.
References: Seattle Fault Scenario: http://seattlescenario.eeri.org/documents.php (Chapter 6 is where the schools info is)
Excerpt:
Following the scenario earthquake, however, many schools will not be immediately functional because of very high ground motions. Schools in King County will be particularly hard hit; more than half will experience at least moderate damage. Damage inspections and repairs will be necessary and some facilities may experience partial collapse. The campuses with the greatest level of damage will be those with unretrofitted, older buildings. Schools on poor soils also will experience higher levels of damage. Table 6-3 shows the expected level of damage to schools by county for the scenario earthquake. Buildings with slight and moderate damage will need inspection and repair but should be useable within a short time following the earthquake. Buildings with unrepairable damage will be demolished and rebuilt.
Looking at projected damage on a neighborhood level may paint a more alarming picture, depending on site-specific construction type and soil characteristics. For example, a recent study by the City of Seattle Emergency Management of six schools in Southwest Seattle using the M6.7 scenario earthquake predicts severe structural damage. Four of the six schools have a 60 percent or greater chance of experiencing extensive or complete damage.1 All six have a low likelihood of being functional immediately after this earthquake.

Melissa W. said...

Well, the BTA fund has $24.6M slated for Exterior Renovations including some seismic mitigation. I have no doubt there are many buildings with seismic problems. So why Hale?