The district has several different pots of money but basically for us there are two; the operating budget and the capital budget. The operations budget covers just about everything day-to-day including buildings except for the following ( big maintenance, renovations and what's in them that's non-human). That is covered by the capital budget.
The state (and to some degree, the fed) covers the operations budget except for about 23% that we go to voters every 3 years and beg for. As you can probably surmise, losing 23% of our budget would be catastrophic so the operations levy is vital. (But is this any way to run a district? Again, I say to the Legislature; shame on you. It should not be this way.)
Now, according to OSPI, the operating budget should contain money for preventative/basic maintenance. They think it should be set at about 4% of your operating budget. SPS used to do 2% and has been at about 1% for at least 3 years.
Okay, show of hands. How many of you own a home? Good for you and now, how many of you know the joys of home ownership i.e. upkeep? Right, nothing like spending money on non-sexy items like insulation, roofing, plumbing. But it has to be done, right? Because as we all know, if you do not take care of a house, it will only get worse AND cost more the longer repairs are put off.
So do the math and you can probably guess where we are today in terms of backlogged maintenance in SPS (number to be revealed at the end).
Okay, so the capital budget. Before 1995, major renovation/major repairs were done in a low-key piecemeal kind of way. But then they created BEX (Building Excellence). From SPS:
"More than a third of the 100 buildings in the Seattle School District's current inventory are more than 50 years old. Seattle voters approved Building Excellence I in 1995 and Building Excellence II in 2001. Together, these levies replaced or renovated 35 schools."
BEX is the major renovations/remodels where the mega-bucks get spent. And folks, that's a lot of buildings that they have gotten done. It is pretty amazing that that many buildings have seen the kind of renovations that they have. However, this program is rife with money getting moved from place to place, no real public accounting for where all the money goes (and believe me, I've tried), cost overruns, etc. I also believe we overspend on design. Look, I think we have some beautiful buildings and my kid is sitting in one. But I feel we could spend far less on good, solid, safe basic buildings and be doing more with the money. (Go look at Garfield and South Shore and tell me those are "basic" buildings.)
Then there's BTA:
"BTA I Levy - Building Renovations, Technology & Athletic Fields. BTA I levy focused on updating or replacing existing systems in facilities to provide students with safe and secure buildings. Voters approved the $150 million dollar capital levy in February 1998. The six-year levy financed more than 465 small and large facility improvement projects at every school in the District and runs through 2004. "
BTA has changed its name somewhat for the "A" to be Academics/Athletics. (And here's where it got off the track somewhat.)
BTA funds the big stuff: roofs, HVAC, windows, exterior renovation, interior finishes, life safety/ADA, playgrounds, seismic, waterlines. That's under the "B" (and yes, it does seem odd that playgrounds wouldn't be under athletic.)
The "T" is for technology. That's data management, school services, district, classroom services, IT infrastructure and business operations.
The "A" covers a real lollapalozza of items; classroom renovation for specific uses, computer/science labs/athletic field replacements (those non-grass fields get worn down mighty fast from constant use), program placement (odd, I know), you name it, it gets tossed in here.
So basically, BTA went from doing large/small facility improvements to throwing everything except the kitchen sink in. And that's because people in the district are desperate for money and try to find it where they may.
The problem is that we are backlogged on large and small facility maintenance to the tune of $535,210,000 and the initial priority costs (this is PRIORITY) are $431,794,000 (plus seismic at $119,427,095. Takes your breath away.
So basically, the district has been robbing Peter (basic maintenance) to pay Paul (operations). I'm sure they'd say that they wanted to keep the money in the classroom except that if the classroom is hot/cold with crumbling tile and dirty water in the fountains, it isn't a safe nor decent place for learning.
Okay, to recap:
BEX - major renovations/remodels. There have been 3 BEX rounds (2 levies and a bond measure) with each escalating in cost. The first one I can't find a real figure but I'm guessing around $300 with the second at $398M with BEX III at $490M and as you can guess, BEX IV will likely be around...$600M.
BTA - large/small facility improvements but with a whole lotta other stuff thrown in. Again, the reduction of basic maintenance from the operating budget has made this list grow and grow plus the addition of other wants and needs from other departments. (Interestingly, the Legislature passed a bill, ESHB 1619 so that preventative maintenance and painting can come out of capital funds. However the money goes out of the capital fund into the general fund which worries me somewhat. But, maybe more basic maintenance will get done. Communities love curb appeal.)
We have a levy/bond every 3 years ; each time for the operating levy and then, either BTA or BEX. So, this Feb., it's the operating levy plus BTA III and we are in year 3 of BEX III.
So lastly, why does this matter to you? It's all fixing buildings that need it, right?
Sure, except, what if they are overdesigning buildings and if they scaled back, BEX could do 6 instead of 5 buildings? What if they actually did basic maintenance so that we aren't paying double to fix problems in buildings? What if we got rid of half our closed/interim properties so we are not paying for upkeep on them?
And what if they DON'T fix the buildings with the worst safety, building condition and capacity needs? How is this district going to get ahead if we don't cover those buildings first?
Example, I knew before BEX III that Mann (Nova) and Genesee Hill (Pathfinder) were two of the worst buildings in the district and I told everyone I could when they weren't on the list. And, they were never even discussed at the preliminary meetings about BEX III. Well, now we know why. The district was planning on closing them. I knew that the South Shore building (New School) was nowhere near the worst building and yet, there they were on the list.
So it passes and again, I knew AAA was in danger. The district could have moved New School there and either closed AAA or moved them to another, smaller building thereby freeing up the South Shore money for another program (like Pathfinder). If Pathfinder's building had been rebuilt, Cooper wouldn't be closing.
Or, given that they knew that there were looming NE/N capacity issues, they could have put an addition or heck, renovated all of Laurelhurst or John Rodgers and had it done and on-line by this fall. And how do I know it could have been done that quick? Because South Shore's (New School) project was put on the fast track (which I have never seen before) and from teardown to total rebuild - 16 months using overtime. It could have been done and you wouldn't see parents in the NE/N as worried about where their kids would go to school. (Would have solved the entire problem? No, but it would have gone a long way.)
Also, if your school experiences building problems, consistently and long-term, if you or your principal, don't speak up, the district won't worry about it. You really do have to advocate for your school's project on the BTA list.
Here's the latest updates from facilities on our buildings from the Meng analysis. Go down the page to "Planning for the BTA III levy". There's a link for "2009 Building Condition Summary", 2006 and 2009 Building Condition Scores" and even a "Potential BEX IV schools" list.
I said this would be short; I was wrong.