This morning's PI has an editorial supporting Prop.2, the operations levy for the Seattle School district, Seattle School Levy:Essential Vote. I'm probably reading too much into it but it seems that the PI usually endorses linked measures at once and there is nothing about the school bond measure. It may just be a separate editorial that is coming.
This is a good time to speak out about my opposition to the list of school renovation/construction projects that is on Prop. 1, the school bond measure. I took a special interest in the list because of my work on closure and consolidations. I had expected to see some nod to that situation because of the buy-in the Board and the district need (and seem to want) from parents and the public.
There is nothing on this list that supports C&C. I heard from a reporter that an administrator way up the food chain said the district would have liked to align it with C&C but that the staff had a plan of how buildings are chosen, blah, blah. Cheryl Chow alluded this to me as well saying that things were already happening by the time she got on the Board. What? If the people who are pretty much at the top can't do it, then you have to wonder if they wanted it to happen at all. To say that maybe the next list (which would come out in another 6 years) could align with closures and consolidations is a slap in the face of school communities who are going to take it on the chin this fall.
Another problem I have with this list is that there are schools on it that have not waited as long as others and/or whose buildings are not the worst ones. You have to wonder why or how that happened. This ties into another problem which is that this list is not equitable or fair.
I did careful research on this issue. I have a report that I am hoping to post on a website soon. (In the meantime, anyone who would like to read it, please send me an e-mail - email@example.com - and I will e-mail you a copy.) I draw about 95% of my information from district documents and information from staff. The district made me wait (and have to file a Public Request for Documents form) in order to see many items, mostly minutes of public meetings. Why would that be? Why couldn't anyone ask to see public minutes of public meetings and why would they get doled out to me piecemeal? District staff has been unfailing polite but have also stonewalled me on data requests and not answered questions (they pick and choose which ones to answer).
The minutes, I feel, are fairly damning. They do not reflect a clear line of planning or decision-making. Since they are the only items available to try to understand how BEX II went forward, you have to draw the conclusions that staff just didn't care enough to document the process. There are no documents to understand how they drew up the BEX III list.
The BEX III list is drawn up geographically (meaning a school in most regions although there are none in Queen Anne/Magnolia/West Seattle or the Central area) and I get that from a equity stance. However, if you are not reaching the worst buildings, the district should have adjusted the list to reflect that issue. I was initially told that the list wouldn't reflect any buildings in the CAC review (that would be alternatives, elementaries and K-8s). Well, there is one; New School. I was then told, oh, we only meant elementaries (although there are still no alternatives on the list).
The Facilities staff told me, after I showed them a list of schools that had additions/renovations broken out by grade level, that it looked like the district was rebuilding all the high schools and indeed, that's the plan. Sadly, the building in the worst condition (not just among high schools but the district) is Nova, an alternative high school that sits opposite Garfield (which is in the process of being rebuilt). Nova didn't make the list, I was told by Facilities, because the academic side told them that Nova may move. This was a surprise to the principal when I spoke with him but as usual for alternative folks, he was pragmatic about it. No one in Facilities or on the academic side can identify who might have made this statement.
The two biggest problems on this list are Nathan Hale High School and the New School.
Hale, just speaking from an equity view, has a new athletic field (BTA 1) and a new Performing Arts Hall (BEX II). They are seismically challenged as their building is not anchored to the foundation and the school was built on pilings on top of a bog with a creek running through it. The Facilities staff offered the Board two options; a modest $1M shoring up of the library (the worst area of the school) and taking down the chimney or a $77M renovation. The Board chose the latter. Okay, here's what to know. One, this renovation will only last 25 years instead of the district standard 50. Why? Because it is a renovation and not a rebuild. Why not a rebuild? Because city permitting has changed and they could never get a permit to rebuild. Two, the renovation will only make the building safer, not bring it up to seismic code. Three, so at the end of this process, the taxpayers will have paid almost $90M for a 25-year building. That is ridiculous and it's even more ridiculous when you realize they have a solution right across the street. They could move Summit K-12 (which, if given a good location and decent building, would be willing to move) and renovate the elevated, non-bog location of Jane Addams for Hale.
Onto New School. First, New School has not waited as long as other school communties for a renovation. Two, the South Shore building which houses New School is a poor building but not the worst. Additionally, facilities staff, in minutes, state that even if BEx III does not pass, New School could remain in the South Shore building several more years. Three, reading the minutes carefully and watching the timeline, it is apparent some event happened to force this decision. The only one I can find, from the timeline, is the new memo of understanding signed by the New School foundation and the district. Meaning, I believe the Foundation put pressure on the district for a new building. Oddly, despite documents, maps and minutes that identify this project as New School, despite minutes that reflect that the building is being built for the New School's program, the district is trying to call it a generic term of "PreK-8/middle school". You have to wonder why.
Four, the district is trying to say that they need to build New School because they need more middle school capacity in the SE. Nonsense. Their own 2010 Facilities Master Plan (which they state in the minutes is the basis for BEX III) says there will be no need for more middle school capacity in the ENTIRE district and if there is, it will be in the NE. Additionally, both middle schools in the region are underenrolled by at least 300 students, each. There are still more middle school seats at African-American Academy (although the district choses to only count regular ed building seats).
Also, the Facilities staff plainly stated to me that the reason to build Denny Middle and Sealth High school at the same time is for design cohesion and cost savings. (The is a $125M project; I hope there's some savings.) However, the South Shore building houses both New School and the Rainier Beach Community Center (the building is jointly owned by the Parks Department and the district and they share many parts of it). If design cohesion and cost savings can be realized in the Denny/Sealth project (which are two different buildings), couldn't you realize even more with a project that is one building? Why not wait for the city to kick in its share and have a lower-cost (to the district in terms of using BEX III dollars) project? The city already has about $150,000 to contribute to the plaza design and will likely have $100,000 in the 2007 City Budget to review the community center? Why not wait?
Lastly, if New School is built, you will have, in just over a one mile area, 2 K-8s, 2 high schools and 1 elementary school (Dunlap, right in New School's backyard). (Oh, and let's not forget, possibly another program - the TAF academy - at Rainier Beach HS. How is that a good use of facilties money or academic programming? How will this set-up not marginalize and hurt at least 1 or 2 of these programs?
This is about using the money fairly and wisely. If this bond measure doesn't pass, the Board can bring it back up for a vote in 6 months. It would be delayed, not denied.
I've been told I'm hurting the kids. I'm surprised. If that's true, then why didn't the latte tax for preschool or I-88 for academic programs pass? They only had to get 50% of the vote and yet parents clearly didn't support them. Also, when I was on the CAC, I and my fellow members had our work attacked and the reasoning was, time after time, the district supplied data. If someone thought the district's data on schools was flawed, why wouldn't that same person be willing to believe there could be flaws (or misreading) of the district's data on buildings?
I just ask that you read the report, consider where I got the information and you can make up your own mind. At least you will be a more informed voter no matter how you vote.