It is dawning on more and more people who read this blog (and, I hope, thinking parents everywhere) that a lot of the success (or even rollout) of the new SAP rests on the shoulders of voters.
Meaning, that the BTA III levy contains the money to fix up the 5 reopening buildings. Three are in the north end, 1 in QA and 1 in the SE. Viewlands and Rainier View would open later than the other 3 which are needed ASAP to deal with enrollment issues.
Yesterday, being a glutton for punishment, I attended another Work Session just after Tuesday's Work Session on the SAP. This one was for the levy. I have some fairly jaw-dropping and interesting news.
The jaw-dropping part is that the cost of fixing up these buildings has grown and they still need a final figure for Rainier View. The original "placeholder" figure in the levy budget for 5-6 buildings was $34.6M. It is now at $48M. As Director DeBell pointed out, it is the largest single component of the levy. The largest single component of a levy that is supposed to benefit schools across the district, that is supposed to be for big maintenance items on existing school buildings (among other things), is going to reopen old buildings that clearly are in horrible shape. Oh yes, and we get to pay more at Viewlands because it was heavily vandalized.
I'm not even sure where to start here.
First, yes, I know these schools need to be reopened.
Second, here are the figures for each building:
Sand Point - $7M, proposed functional capacity by 2015 - 250 with portables (it's a small building)
Viewlands - $11M, capacity by 2015 - 420 (they didn't put with portables but I think that has to be the case)
Old Hay - $7.5M, capacity by 2015 - 350
McDonald - $14.9M, capacity by 2015 - 370
Rainier View - $7.4M, capacity by 2015 - 305
Third, we are repairing buildings which are not great to begin with. RV and Viewlands and McDonald are almost not worth sinking that much money in but we are desperate. I almost think it would be better to lease space and rebuilt them, in a basic manner, under BEX IV. We are not just sinking a million to fix up a building but we are pouring MILLIONs into each building.
Fourth, again, levy money comes in chunks, not all at once like bonds. So, the very first money (and I'm not even sure we get $50M straight off) will go to repair these buildings. Everyone else in a building that needs maintenance gets to wait longer.
Fifth, the head of maintenance said at a Board committee meeting that they don't really do any basic maintenance. All they do is put out fires. So with the commitment of this chunk of money, we put out a huge fire (except that we are not enhancing worthwhile buildings, just making them usable).
Sixth, where is the so-called cost savings from closing buildings and getting bad ones off-line? We closed some schools last year but not many buildings. And now we are putting more buildings into the mix.
I have proof that the district knew there would growth in the north end several years ago. They knew and did nothing. Why? Maybe they thought it would be small growth and they could just get away with stuffing classrooms. Maybe they thought that a new SAP would shift south-end kids attending in the north back down to the south and there would be room. (Although not very many south-end kids go to elementary schools in the north compared to middle/high schools.)
I have no answers as to why the knowledge of north end need for capacity was not addressed before now.
I know that the district, even after the loss of a levy in the '90s, starting cutting back on basic maintenance. We now spend less than 1% of our General Fund on it. The BTA will NOT get us out of the hole. It's like putting your finger in a dike and now, bringing more bad buildings into the mix, just makes it worse.
So past Superintendents and Boards knew this was happening. You can go back to the Times or PI archives and read person after person saying, "Boy, we really need to address that backlogged maintenance." The first one I read was when we were at about $100M. We are now at $500M and counting.
You can say, "So what good is to blame? It's done." Very true. I guess I could do a public disclosure request to finger the Superintendent and Board members who started us down this path. I could do a timeline to see when and by how much the basic maintenance budget continued to shrink. And then we would all know.
I don't care. What I care about is to stop the bleeding. We CANNOT continue this way. Okay?
It has to stop and it has to stop here. We need to demand that the Board direct the Superintendent to raise the basic maintenance budget to 1% (really 2% but 1% would be a good faith move). We need to demand oversight on the BTA and BEX monies with a twice yearly accounting, in clear numbers of where the money is going.
Where to find the money? Well, as parent Meg Diaz points out in her fantastic analysis, certainly central administration. There are about 44 people at the headquarters who make over $100,000. I'm not even sure that's true for the City.
In the end, do we need fancy buildings? Do we need academic coaches and Broad residents? No. I can't tell you how many times in the last 3 days I have heard staff refer to consultants and other outside help. It needs to stop or at least pause. If we are bare bones and paring down, all we need are decent, safe buildings with good teachers and administrators to guide those teachers. We need to take away the big plans because with big overarching plans comes more staff and more outside help. I'm not saying don't have a vision or direction but pull back on it.
Otherwise, I am NOT voting for the levy. If this district needs a smackdown to get its attention, that's what it may take.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By that definition, this district is insane.
(P.S. One other interesting bit of information at the Work Session. John Marshall is listed as "Essential interim - Emergency site". They also have Columbia down as being vacant for 3 years - tbd. Hmm.)