Last Wednesday, the Board approved Option 2 for Denny/Sealth. I could go on about why this is a bad decision on so many levels, both for Denny/Sealth and the district, but you can go back and read what Charlie and I have written about its possible outcomes. (I will admit -it just might work but the problem is that the district has sent it off on the wrong foot, in so many ways, that it is unlikely to do so. And that is one of the reasons that it shouldn't go forward.)
There are two bigger picture issues to this particular challenge that I want to address. One is the Board and the other is voters.
The Board, most of them, spoke eloquently although without great passion, about the project. Director Carr pulled out the multi-purpose "reasonable people will disagree" bromide. (That was almost as useful as Cheryl Chow's previous statement "I don't need 100% buy-in on this project.) Of course, these are true statements but not necessarily useful to making a case.
No, it was odd that despite saying they were voting for the proposal, many of their statements acknowledged the myriad of problems in getting to this vote. You would have thought, listening to each other, that it might have given them give pause to say, "boy, this is a lot gone wrong here. Maybe we need to rethink this."
Michael de Bell - there is "a lot of risk" is going forward.
Sherry Carr - "the academic benefits were not the reason for this proposal", acknowledgment of the lack of Board policy and lack of good community engagement "it absolutely could have been done better", Option 3 would have "been $15M more than planned" (meanwhile Option 2 is $10M more than planned).
Peter Maier - the project "is better for the broader community" without explaining why
Option 3 - doing the repairs on Sealth and rebuilding Denny on its own site, - well, the stats on doing that never really saw the light of day. Despite BEX staff saying that we would lose $20M on Option 3, BEX staff never quite got around to explaining, in hard cold figures, how much money we are losing from tearing out previous BEX II work. It is interesting how when BEX staff want to prove a point, they only take it in the direction they want to see happen instead of providing full information.
And, that the Board didn't hold their feet to the fire for this information.
(Director Harium Martin-Morris said he couldn't vote for this project for the simple reason that he had run on: that he couldn't vote for anything that would not help/push forward academics for students and the teachers who teach those students. This project has no academic vision, plan or outline as the Board AND Carla Santorno all acknowledge. This district has to have an absolute laser vision on the clear academic benefit in all that they do. All they will acknowledge on this project is that there are potential benefits.
As well, Director Bass acknowledged, without saying it directly, that she is tired of staff putting everything on a rush, rush basis. She said that this push of "the train has left the station and is starting down the track" cannot be the constant driver for decisions.)
That is key because the two things that bother me so greatly about the Board's actions are that they acknowledge up and down a wall that things were handled badly but yet they couldn't even turn to the Superintendent and say "We need to see better handling of these things in the future and expect to see new processes for them AND that staff needs to clearly understand that we will NOT go forward on any new plans if these are not followed."
There, that wasn't so hard. No name-calling, no humiliating anyone in public, just the public acknowledgment that this district will not go about business as usual.
But that didn't happen.
Because, once again, I think we have a Board that doesn't want to or doesn't realize that they are the supervisors of the Superintendent. This doesn't have to be a micro-manage or Sarge Marge role, that won't work. But yes, the Board can explain Board policy to the Superintendent, allow her to carry it out and then, if she seems to going on the wrong track or ignoring it, clearly letting her know the consequences (and I don't mean firing her; I mean letting her know that funding won't happen if policy is not followed).
My second point is the damage done in voters' eyes. What has/will happen because of the Denny/Sealth project could make people wary of voting for levies/bonds (more than any research or speaking out that I could ever do). Namely,
- to ask for, and receive, money from the voters in BEX II and carry out the projects at Sealth, only to now want to rip out/alter some of that work just a few years later is a huge problem (I'd estimate at least $2-3M worth of work). Oddly, neither the staff nor the Board want to speak about it but it's the truth and the truth usually does win out, sooner or later.
- The district stated to voters that there were air/water quality issues on this BEX that HAD to be addressed and used that as leverage to get the BEX III passed. But with a wave of a hand, the district now turns around and says that they need the money for another project (Denny/Sealth, not an emergency mind you) and that some schools air/water quality issue (Summit, Salmon Bay and Ingraham) can wait? That's something of a bait and switch. Either it's important or it's not. This all comes out of the Infrastruture pot of money which is also resurfacing playfields. So resurfacing playfields is more important than addressing air and water quality issues? (Or maybe that particular pot was loaded with projects that weren't at all urgent and it was a slush fund for BEX staff in case they ran out of money. I got so much grief about speaking out against BEX III precisely because it covered these air/water quality issues and yet I don't hear a peep now.)
- That last issue also brings to mind the issue of how Ingraham has $22M in BEX III and yet they were also listed as a school to also have air/water quality issues addressed? That's somewhat confusing.
- So I had wondered why the BEX staff would have asked (and the Board granted) the right to take every major project's 15% contingency fee and put it in one big pot. Well, that would be because the $20M Reserve Fund for BEX III is almost gone. That's right, only a year out of voting this in with nothing built and the reserve fund is almost gone. (Nearly $15M has gone to "cost escalation" at Hamilton and New School and staff just took nearly another $3M to fix up Lincoln, Boren, Columbia and Hale as interim sites.) That 15% contingency fee pot is about $54M which sounds like a lot but the way the costs escalate and overrun, it likely will not last long. (Ironically, Denny's project which comes at the end of the cycle, may be the one to suffer.)
- In the Voters Guide, voters were not told, either in the "pro" statement for BEX III or in the official (no word length) description of the bond measure, about co-joining Denny and Sealth. This is a huge issue because I can't tell you how many people told me (and I was surprised) that they toss all campaign literature and only read the voters guide. It is the official word of the elections so you would have thought it would have mattered to the district to get it right. Unless, of course, they did write it exactly as they wanted to because they didn't want voters, especially in West Seattle, to say, "hey, what's this?".
So, to my final point, we will have a BTA levy coming up in 2010 (which used to be Buildings, Technology and Athletics but is now Buildings, Technology and Academics) which is a bit of a catch-all maintenance levy. Last time they asked for $178M and usually only half of that goes for maintenance and the other half for technology/academic upgrades.
They won't be asking for any $178M this time, not if they want to catch up on the repairs. Even putting the full amount towards repairs wouldn't do it. So how much can they ask for? What about the credibility gap they have now created between the district and voters?
These issues may be the the ripples from Denny/Sealth that can hurt the district in the long run. Someone in the district might want to think of a better plan than just saying, "it's for the kids".