So it was just me and Chris Jackins (a long-time activist) and Kelly Anthony from Stand for Children (they do seem to attend a lot of meetings - don't see much of CPPS folks) and about 15 staff at the first levy meeting. Peter Maier attended for an hour and then left for the Special Ed PTSA meeting.
Staff gave their rather dry presentation about levy rates, what the money is being spent on, etc. Kathy Johnson did say something quite funny which was that the "Board can change the list right up to the final vote." Do you know what staff would say if that happened? Yeah, when that happens, pigs will fly.
Then they invited questions and comments. Between Chris and I, we asked about 30 questions. Interestingly, they seemed to have answers for my questions (which leads me to believe a few staff are reading this blog - hey kids!) and didn't have as clear answers for Chris'. Kelly asked just a few questions and made a request that the presentation be friendlier.
Here's what I can tell you about where the BTA III levy is going so far. Let me just say that I found many answers have to be either untruthful or implausible; they just don't make sense.
What they said:
Staff gave a very different presentation to the Board. I pointed this out and they seemed puzzled but they knew it was true. There is virtually no mention of the maintenance backlog in the handouts and it was lightly brushed over in the presentation. Kathy Johnson said they were "managing" the backlog across the levies and general fund. If you didn't know better, you might think they had it under control. They don't.
What I said:
Why is the presentation different? Why is there no mention of the almost half-billion dollars in backlogged maintenance that this levy is not even really going to make a dent into? Their answer to the first was to basically shrug but Fred Stephen, head of Facilities, said yes, we do have a huge backlog. (Fred actually seems glad that I am pressing this issue of backlogged maintenance which leads me to believe that pressure on the Board might help.)
What they said:
In the handout they mentioned 4 levels of support from the levy they could ask for: $210M, $240M, $270M and $300M but they only handed out sheets for the $240M and $270M. Turns out that seems to be what the majority of the Board is leaning towards.
What I said:
Great, so why don't you just say that? It's confusing to read there are 4 and only get sheets detailing 2 of them.
So what else did I ask?
Won't the reopened buildings have to be the first projects in line if the BTA III passes? Meaning, doesn't the district need to get them online as soon as possible to solve the north end capacity problem?
We have to wait until the SAP is rolled out and see.
Wait a minute. The district knows it has enrollment problems in the north end, is allotting money towards it in the BTA levy to reopen closed schools but nothing is going to be done until the SAP rolls out?
Yes, we have to wait and see.
Oh, north end, it looks like y'all have to squeeze together for a couple of years because it seems the district isn't going to do anything (not even apply for the all-important city permits they need?) until the new SAP rolls out.
What happens if a project is on this list and then that school appears on BEX IV for a remodel/renovation?
The money stays with the school because it is likely a project that will coalise with the BEX project.
Which led me to this question:
How do you explain putting in tennis courts/softball field at Denny under BTA II and library work at Sealth under BTA II only to tear it out once you decided Denny and Sealth would co-join?
Oh, we didn't do a "premium" job on those items at Denny because we knew we were doing the BEX project. And, that they didn't think much of the work done at Sealth under BTA II had been taken out.
This was probably the most bullshit answer in the bunch. When I asked about documentation, I was told to file a public disclosure request for the documents which they claim will prove that they wanted to co-join Denny and Sealth more than 6 years ago. This I have to see (and yes, I already asked for it). I don't believe that there was a plan more than 6 years ago to co-join them.
Did you ask the community/parents in and around Cleveland if they thought a STEM program there would bring students back?
Answer: (from Michael Tolley, high school director)
No. Cleveland had already started down the road with the academies anyway and parents indicated they wanted a focus at both RBHS and Cleveland. (I didn't ask but the academies really didn't work out.) Then I asked, "Given you have already built a new building at Cleveland, poured more money in via SE Initiative and now are allotted - in two separate line items in the BTA - over $2.7M, when will it end? How can you justify this continued support when so many other schools have terrible backlogged maintenance?" Stone-cold silence.
Look, I don't want to give up on Cleveland. I think that the decision to make Cleveland a STEM school and then deciding to make it an option school, may seal its fate (that and a not good reputation). Kids who do not want to go to Cleveland (for any and all reasons) will then be funneled to RBHS or Sealth. (I'm just saying those schools because they are in the south end but if students get Open Choice seats, they could go anywhere.) How will STEM succeed where the academies didn't? (Interestingly, one translator - there were 6 - shook my hand and said thank you for asking the questions. He said he just took his kids to school and hoped it was alright. He asked me why they would put more money into Cleveland if it was a state-of-the-art building and I told him that was a mystery to me as well but that's what they want to do.)
How come the numbers of schools named per line item doesn't match what is written as the number of schools in the handouts? (There were several errors at the Board presentation, two of which got fixed but I'll be darned if there weren't two more.)
"We'll take that count under advicement." They can do whatever they want but a 1st grader can count a list and get the right number (this is a list of 15 schools or less). Kathy Johnson seemed to shrug this off but I pointed out if they can't get a simple count done on a presentation, what does that say about the management of the program?
Chris asked several questions about money coming in because of defaulted mortgages, losses on investments, etc. He also got them to state that the Meng report in 2002 was commissioned by OSPI and not the district (even though the district has used Meng before). So this firm, Meng, did facilities sweeps at least 3 times (maybe 4) in the last 7 years and yet, the new management guy says no one took notes (or was directed to) on internals like boilers, noting their age, make, condition. So he says we need ANOTHER facilities analysis. Great, that's money we have.
Chris also asked about the athletic fields. Now here is one place (and it may be the only place) where basic maintenance is automatic. Kathy said they automatically replaced the tracks and fields because they wear out after 10 years. Not that they have but that's what they say will happen and they HAVE to replace them. I didn't get to ask what other systems are on automatic replacement.
Also, there was going to be a 2% law ( 2% from a district's General Fund for basic maintenance) from OSPI but it failed. I'll have to look into this because if the Board won't do this on their own, maybe the state can make them.
I can't go to Thursday's meeting (although I would love to go and ask my Denny/Sealth question there) so if you go, let us know how that one goes.