(Update: I totally left out parent Bruce Taylor's great remarks about how we might be making a mistake opening Sand Point when the district projects more than 100 open seats at Laurelhurst in just a few years. He asked if it was worth spending $7M for 134 seats. Saying Sand Point will fail if Laurelhurst is a choice people can make because there's space at a good program, he urged them to put in an international program there. )
This was a quiet affair, 4 Board members, 7 staff and 7 speakers. We were in and out in 20 minutes. However, that didn't mean it wasn't interesting.
First of all, Peter Maier ran thru the pleasantries and it was announced that the other 3 Board members AND Dr. Goodloe-Johnson couldn't be there because of a commitment to attending a fundraiser at Chief Sealth. Good on Sealth for getting all these people to attend. However, this was a public hearing, a legal obligation, and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson couldn't be there? There were already 3 Board members at the function. (I mentioned this at the end of my remarks and said I thought it disrespectful of her. Do I believe Dr. G-J is going to listen to the audio of these remarks? I do not.)
So there was one speaker, Dora Taylor, worried about seismic issues at Meany (and rightly so except that the district's version of seismic is shoring things up, not necessarily bringing everything up to code - there are different levels of seismic safety allowed). And, some of the work at Meany wouldn't be done until 2014/2015 which is quite a long way off.
Chris Jackins mentioned numerous issues including oversight of BTA (there is none), green initiatives and yet the District still wants to cut down some of the grove of trees at Ingraham, an accounting of closure and reopening costs for Rainier View and Viewlands, the loss of Cleveland as a comprehensive high school, etc.
I spoke about my usual issue with BTA. I did include some new information so I'll just exerpt my remarks here:
"The BTA III levy will NOT get us out of this mess. It will barely make a dent and that’s because nearly about 18% of the $270M sought for the levy is for just 5 buildings, all of them over 50 years old, that aren’t even schools yet. One of these buildings, McDonald, was toured by Director Carr who said she was appalled and shocked at the condition of the building and couldn’t imagine its stated use as an emergency site.
Additionally, I note that the “B” in BTA spending is slowly going down. The first BTA was at about 65% for buildings and the second was 53% and now this one is down to 51%. With the lack of basic maintenance AND spending on buildings going down in this BTA, realistically, how do you expect to get ahead on maintaining our facilities?
I ask for two things BEFORE the levy election. One, a good faith measure by the Board to show that they will, in the next budget, put more money into basic maintenance by bringing spending up to 1%. That good faith measure could either be putting it in writing that you will bring up the spending in the next budget OR dipping into reserves slightly to prove you are serious about change. The second thing is a promise that there will be a bi-annual accounting report made available to the public that shows where the BTA and BEX money goes. Not a mere list of projects but actual accounting."
Heidi Bennett, who is the Legislative person for the Seattle Council PTSA, spoke about good things on the BTA list (and yes, there are lots of them) but interestingly, had issues with the Operations levy. She feels there isn't as much transparency in what happens to the money (although she said she just saw some newly-updated info at the SPS website).
Then, there was Betty Hogland. Betty is another long-time education activist and she is currently the president of Schools First which is the citizens group that runs the levy campaigns. Betty, like me, has been around a long time and is very knowledgable about the district.
So she came out first with her Schools First talk about BTA being the workhorse levy affecting every school, needing technology in every school, etc. Then, unbelievably, she took off that hat and put on a taxpayer's hat. She, too, said we have a huge backlog of maintenance that needs to be addressed. Yay, Betty!
She said, "We need to protect these investments." and it's a great point. What schools are at the very bottom of the basic maintenance list (besides the closed ones)? That would be the newly-remodeled schools. That makes sense, right? However, just like every building that is not being maintained, these spanking-new buildings will start looking shabby sooner. They will have issues long before they should. What will Roosevelt look like in 10, 15, 20 years? These are building that are supposed to be built for a 50-year cycle because we have poured tens of millions of dollars into them. Quite the investment to allow to decay quickly.
She had an interesting thought. She said that in the next BEX cycle (which will come up in 3 years and the list is forming now), they should NOT redo a school and take that entire sum of money (which could be anywhere from $55M to $100M depending on what type of school leaves the list) and use it towards basic maintenance. Very intriguing because that would be a HUGE amount to put towards getting things done and righting this ship. However, that is more than 3 years off (and things will only get worse) AND I'd have to see it in writing that the district/Board will do this.
My takeaway is that the district has a lot of dissent out there from many corners. It's not going to be enough to say, "It's for the kids." and think it will win the day.