Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The District Answers Questions (sort of)

Here are the questions and answers from last week's presentation on Denny/Sealth. Once again, the district manages to confuse the issues even more. One, I just posted over at the West Seattle blog that my questions did not appear on this document even though I went to the scribe and told her she had skipped one. Clearly, there's been some editing done. Someone else on the blog says the same thing.

Two, are they building a co-joined building with separate schools or a co-joined building with integrated schools? Here's what they said in different places in the document.

"To clarify: the schools are not together-they are not integrated and never will be."

"There are opportunities to create a 6-12 learning community with clear values, traditions, and ceremonies that connect the students as a unified community."

This should be quite the interesting meeting over at Sealth tonight especially since the district isn't in charge and won't be controlling the information.

Which is it? The district doesn't even seem to know.


Charlie Mas said...

Okay, I don't know how weird all of this is going to seem, but between the powerpoint presentation on the 4th and the answers to the questions - most of them, mostly answered - I'm a lot closer to being okay with the Denny/Sealth project.

My problem with the whole thing - from the beginning - has been the District's weird, neurotic obstinant refusal to communicate honestly with the community. While they have yet to do all they should - in fact, all they really must - they have come a long way towards that point in the past week. Now that the information about the project is available, it doesn't appear to be all that the District promised, but neither is it all that people feared.

Both sides have indulged in hyperbole.

The District is making a lot of promises that no one believes they will keep. It's a bad idea that erodes trust and confidence and I wish they wouldn't do it.

The District has overstated the spending on Sealth and the impact of that spending. They double count money spent in BEX II and BTA II when that work will be demolished in the BEX III job. he school will have some new fancy spaces, but it will not be transformed. The relocation of Denny will not magically create a 6-12 pathway, curriculum alignment, greater coordination between the staffs at Sealth and Denny, or reduce drop-outs. These things are done by people, not buildings. These things won't be notably easier or harder as a result of the relocation of Denny. These things should be done whether Denny is at its current location, on the Sealth campus, or ten blocks away.

At the same time, some fear mongers in the community are making a lot of dire predictions that won't come true either. The relocation of Denny will not cause a sudden spike in either gang recruitment or pregnancies among middle schoolers. The amount of mixing between the middle school and the high school population will not be notably higher. Let's remember, these schools are already practically across the street from each other. Students at each building already travel to and from school together, share music classes, share facilities, and mix in the neighborhood and at Westwood.

Will there be incidents? Sure, but there are incidents now. The same prevention rules apply regardless of the proximity of the schools.

The problem, for me, has been the District's choice not to communicate. The District didn't do any authentic engagement with stakeholders prior to making the critical decisions on the project. The BEX Oversight Committee and Facilities staff relied on the vendors to conduct the community engagement. That was a mistake. The vendor has no vested interest in community engagement. Their efforts were - intentionally - anemic and ineffective. The Committee and Facilities relied on the vendors' reports - now known to be false - of staff and community support for the project. The primary stakeholder contact was the School Design Team. Members of that group have reported that the merged campus concept was delivered to them as a given from the start and not open to discussion. As opposition to the merged campus grew vocal over a number of months, Facilities had no response - none at all - and the BEX Oversight Committee was actually belligerent.

Someone needs to remind the BEX Oversight Committee that their job is to control the projects, not to enable abuses and cover up mistakes.

So what has changed? First, Facilities has finally come out with some real information about the project. That has been a big help. They have answered some questions about what facilities will be shared and what will be separate. They have answered some questions about safety measures. A number of the answers - those about academic and safety practices - need to come from the building adminstration and staff rather than Facilities.

They have yet to explain a number of things about why Option 3 would be as expensive as they claim - their various stories about the time needed for plans and permits are jumbled and self-contradictory. If they would just sit and talk with people - have a conversation - that information could have a chance to come out.

In the end, it appears that Denny will be rebuilt, which is good, and Sealth will get needed improvements, which is also good.

Did the District make a lot of mistakes in their communications? You bet! They bolloxed it at nearly every opportunity. They screwed up their in their public engagement, public relations prior to October, and in their public relations since the controversy heated up. Seriously, they made just about every mistake available to them. We can only hope they learn from this experience. Of course, they haven't learned from any of the fifty or so previous similar experiences, but we can only hope. I did see a notice about a community meeting regarding the renovation of Hale.

We cannot change the past. We need to face forward. Setting aside the District's cultural inability to communicate, refusal to collaborate, and dysfunctional accountabilty, is the project a benefit to the students and an efficient and effective use of taxpayer money? It most likely is. It's too bad that a lot of work done in BTA II and BEX II will be destroyed.

Here's the weird thing about all of this: the real reason to rebuild Denny at Sealth is the cost savings. And nearly all of the cost savings comes not from the shared facilities, but from being able to accelerate the construction of Denny by two years and thereby evade two years of inflation in the cost of construction materials. The accelerated schedule is possible because the Denny and Sealth projects can be done at the same time because Denny can remain at Denny while the new Denny is under construction. Of course, we could get that same accelerated schedule if there were another interim site in addition to Boren where either Sealth or Denny could go during construction, but there isn't.

That's the driving force: runaway inflation in the cost of building materials. If we can speed up the project by two years, we can save something like $35 million. Everything else is window dressing.

Does the project - isolated from all of the errors in communications - make sense when it is presented like that?

Why doesn't the District just come out and frame it in those terms? Because the District is incapable of communicating effectively. Should this inability cost us all $35 million?

Anonymous said...

What assurances has the district made to keep Denny? Why should it? Does the district believe enrollment will be increasing?

How many sites? How many schools?
1, 2, or 3.

How many teachers, support staff, and administrators will you lose assuming the schools are rebuilt on Sealth?

How many students will be affected?

There is much that can/will go wrong, especially if the district and the vendors are not communicative.

The district will do what's best for the district, not what's best for a neighborhood.

dan dempsey said...


I disagree. After the Feb 13 board meeting, I believe there is no rreason to build a building on that site with 1500+ students grade 6 through 12. Let the SPS make life more difficult for every one.

What is going to happen to -----????

Watch the rerun of the board testimony for Feb 13 or as streaming video. There are way too many unanswered questions. As usual no one is held accountable for inadequate communication or anything else.

This is one big dice roll with the SPS. Remember these folks seldom roll a winner, for obvious reasons given their style of decision making.

Charlie Mas said...

I watched the Febuary 13th Board meeting live on TV from home. It was pretty shameful.

I couldn't help noticing that the Board approved another cost overrun for Garfield - this one for $2.7 million - without any question, comment or discussion. How many tens of millions of dollars is Garfield now over their original budget? Why isn't Sealth granted that same easy indulgence.

Sealth must feel like Cinderella watching her sister's go to the ball. Money is no object for them. Hey, whatever it costs we are happy to pay. But when Sealth shows up they get a significantly smaller project, they lose some of what they already have, and their plan for doing it differently is rejected out of hand because - after grave reductions in the scope of the project - it might cost $15 million. If the Sealth project only costs $15 million more than allocated it will be the most successfully managed major high school renovation project budget in ten years.

This is the inequity - not the scope of the project, but the easy indulgence granted to the cost overruns of the other projects and denied to Sealth.

Do you think the Board is going to hold the line on costs at Hale when they show up with cost overruns? No way. That project has already jumped from $77 million to $84 million before it has even started. And did anyone question or comment on this $7 million increase? No. Did anyone demand reductions in the scope of that project? No. Has anyone clucked their tongue about the need to be fiscally responsible? No. They didn't bat an eye. The indulgence was unconditional.

That's the inequity here. The Sealth project needs to meet an impossibly high standard to justify cost overruns while the other schools' projects don't have to meet any standard at all.