Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Other Side

(Update and just to make clear - I totally support Prop. 2 - Operations levy. My discussion here is ONLY about Prop. 1 - BTA.)

Just to make sure, why are you voting for the BTA levy?

As a SPS parent and certified (in one way or another) PTSA member, of course my first impulse is to vote YES. I mean, all of us here are regularly saying how there aren't enough resources for so many things and so the district needs money.

So I'll give you a survey at the end and you tell me.

But first, I am curious about how people feel about the building that houses your child's school. Does your school have facilities issues (of a maintenance kind, big or small)?

The district has to figure out somewhere between $35M-$45M in cuts for the budget. I do know that most people want to believe that cuts are made to keep money going to the classroom. But where is the visible proof of that? Is that wishful thinking or can we look at the district budget and say, oh here's where it is? The district makes announcements about trimming the budget "we have a hiring freeze" and then somehow, someone new turns up at the headquarters.

What is interesting to me is while we can agreed that there is waste and inefficiency in all governmental entities, we seem to give schools more of a pass. Can you tell me why you think parents and other voters might feel that way? Isn't fiscal efficiency the real goal? More bang for the buck?

It's funny because when I sat down with a couple of members of the Seattle Times' editorial board recently, they wanted to talk about the district for a long time before we got to the levies. It was a pleasant surprise. So what did I say? Obviously, I said what I think which is that in all the time I have been in this district (with a few short windows of exception), we have always been in churn and always on uneasy financial footing. Always. And I don't just mean lack of money but continuous issues with money.

Superintendents and Board members come and go and everyone, everyone wants to put their stamp on the district and start something new. If I were a teacher or staffer, it would exhaust and frustrate me. And the fact that this district can seemingly never get on a good financial footing makes me wonder. Does our reach exceed our grasp? Can this district not live within its means? Because honestly, that's what it looks like (and I think that's what it especially looks like to the Legislature). If we don't have the money, we just plain don't have the money. On that note, here's the survey:

I'm voting for the BTA levy because... (you can choose more than one)

a) I always vote for school levies
b) we need the money and it doesn't matter to me how they spend it
c) it doesn't make sense to me to vote for one levy and not the other
d) losing a levy sends a bad signal about our district/I consider a levy vote a vote of support for the district
e) if we lose the levy, it might be difficult to regain it back
f) all of the above
g) other (please specify)

One last question. What would be your take on this outcome? The Operations Levy passes but the BTA III levy does not.

40 comments:

nacmom said...

OK, I'll go first :-)

G) Other. Honestly Im voting for it b/c we need increased capacity. that's the main reason. $$ to re-open schools. Also, I agree with the mtc. issues. Our schools are in terrible shape, so yes more should go to mtc.

Also, just b/c of general funding shortfalls. I'm in the minority, but I think we don't pay enough taxes. I grew up on the east coast, where property taxes covered schools and varied by town/district. That has it's own equity issues, but the fact is, higher taxes equalled better schools. Most friends I know on the other coast pay between 3-7% property taxes vs. our ~1%. They also usually have income tax! this is why our state lags so far behind in school funding, IMO.

Definitely NOT B, C and D. I have the opposing viewpoint on those. my vote is NOT an endorsement of SPS. I guess E might also be true.

My take on one passing vs. the other would probably be that people felt they could not pull $ from already cash-strapped schools, it would negatively impact the kids, but that new buildings, technology etc can wait till better times.

Clara said...

a) Yes, I voted for education and for kids
b) no, I do care how they spend it. But I'm not willing to shortchange school funding.
c) SPS needs both. For one capacity in the north.
d) a no vote would send a bad signal -- about the willingness to support education and kids with money.
e) if we lose the levy the kids will suffer now and in the fairly distant future.

Clara said...
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TechyMom said...

a) I always vote for levies. I considered not voting for the BTA as a protest, but...

g) other. The sprinklers for Lowell are the BTA levy. The very same sprinklers whose absense is preventing the YMCA after school program from opening. AND I don't think the district would understand the protest. They'll just say it's the economy and people don't want to raise taxes. Just like when we voted against the stadium.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Nacmom,what is mtc?

Clara, could you clarify c? I can see the short-term but how long-term?

Techy Mom, as Schools First will tell you the levies aren't raising taxes. The district couldn't use that argument.

Karrie said...

definitely not because of a, b, c, d, e, or f

Here's why I may vote yes (still haven't filled in that oval yet)

g) I don't think "they" will get this is a protest vote.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

"They" will get the protest if we tell them that's why we voted. Use Joan NE's links (on the BTA thread) to take a survey that will be sent to the District—regardless of how you plan to vote.

TechyMom said...

The argument might not make sense, but I bet 'they' would not 'get' the protest vote. It would be easy to pass it off as cheap or nervous voters. The times would print it, and then it would be 'true'.

And I want the sprinklers.

zb said...

a for me. I really don't know under what circumstance I'd vote against a school levy. Perhaps if the schools had enough money. But that's probably saying when hell freezes over.

and, none of your other boxes apply, exactly, but I do think the Seattle Times and their ilk, and the Eyman crowd and their ilk would see it as an anti-tax protest, not a wonky anti-planning protest.

yumpears said...
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yumpears said...

I plan on voting against the BTA levy, but to make sure that the District and the Board understand why (the BTA needs an oversight committee and the district has proven to be poor fiscal managers and they need to address the maintenance backlog. somehow.) I plan on writing a letter to them all and tellign them exactly why I didn't vote for it. I want to ensure understanding of my protest vote.

Patrick said...


a) I always vote for school levies


I do and I would need a very strong reason not to


b) we need the money and it doesn't matter to me how they spend it


This is phrased in an inflammatory way. Obviously if they used the money for spring break in Hawaii for every District employee I'd be upset. I think most of the money will be spent on things that are needed. For instance, it was a bad decision to close schools a couple of years ago, and now we need to reopen some of them. The fact that it was a bad decision doesn't mean we get a pass on spending the money to fix it. Nobody else is going to do it.


c) it doesn't make sense to me to vote for one levy and not the other


No


d) losing a levy sends a bad signal about our district/I consider a levy vote a vote of support for the district


Yes


e) if we lose the levy, it might be difficult to regain it back


Yes

Chris said...

I could be wrong, but I don't expect a large turnout of the ambivalent for this election. If all the readers of this blog filled out Joan's survey , we might get some numbers that, in relation to the response rate, might dispel the economic/anti-tax excuses.

Even if the Times ignores us (and they seem to have started paying a little attention in recent weeks) we can be all over the comments with our results.

Also note the survey can be a way to register a protest even if you are not comfortable doing it with your actual vote.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Thanks for adding the link Chris; I didn't know how.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Patrick
Do you think it's OK that Garfield went 100%+ over-budget (to create a palace that includes massage rooms for athletes) and thus SBOC lost their building?

Do you think it's OK that SPS can't always tell us exactly what the money was spent on? I'm not saying they went to Hawaii, but they should be able to give a detailed accounting of expenses.

Sure some, probably most, of the BTA money gets spent on important things, and I don't profess to know all of the ins and outs, but if Melissa is willing to risk the security cameras for Roosevelt—that she has been working on for 3 years—than I trust her judgement on this.

Dorothy said...

Techymom, are you sure the only issue for reopening on-site daycare is sprinklers?

I ask because before/after care is pertinent with the reopening of Sand Point and McDonald. Both design teams have been told on-site care is off the table, completely no way no how. And the reason is that the state has changed its code for daycare, much more stringent. Existing programs don't need to worry, but new programs need to follow the new code and they cannot without megabucks. The issue, I hear, is hygiene regulations pertinent to the diaper crowd. Yet even though school based daycare doesn't do diapers, the code is there. Several members of the Sand Point Steering committee followed through and have head this multiple places. This is what the board members have discovered as well.

If you are getting different information, there are many people who would be very happy to talk to you about it, many people from Sand Point and McDonald steering committees.

Sand Point is slated to get sprinklers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

b) that one was just Danny Westneat's phrasing to me about the last levy; it struck me as so pro-levy I just had to use it.

TechyMom, you didn't answer the question. Also, short-term gains. You want your sprinklers. And I'll bet Adams, John Hay, Leschi, Muri Olympic View, West Woodland, Thorton Creek, and North Beach probably all wanted their roofs. But alas, only 11 out of the 23 on the preliminary list get their roof updates.

Seismic mitigation? Sorry, Bagley, Gatewood, Leschi, and McGilvra. The preliminary list had those plus 3 others. I'm thinking they are on their own if we have an earthquake.

Those school I listed above? They were all on the preliminary $270M list. Now they aren't. That's maintenance that doesn't get done.

Lastly, the reason I asked the last question about Operations passing and not BTA is that the district would get a much more precise message that way.

TechyMom said...

Dorothy,
That is what I heard. Contact the downtown YMCA. They ran the TT Minor daycare that was supposed to move to Lowell. They'll be able to help you with all the details.

Melissa,
I agree it's short-term gains. If I thought the protest would work, I might do it. I did consider it, but the combination of wanting the sprinklers and not thinking the protest would be effective made me decide not to. Do I think they're spending the money in the best possible way? No. But it doesn't seem completely broken to me either.

I didn't see a question directed at me? Do you mean short-term vs. long term?

Patrick said...

I don't know enough about why Garfield went over-budget to comment. Was the budget realistic to start with? Was there heavy building cost inflation during that period? Was there really 100% inflation due to gold plating?

Nice buildings are a good thing. Ugly buildings are expensive in their own way, like the Kingdome. Cheap to build and looked it. We couldn't wait to blow it up even though it was only 24 years into its 100+ year design life.

Of course it's terrible that SBOC lost their building.

Yes, there should be accounting. Will rejecting the levy provide it? I bet the district's response would be to try again with some projects taken out and a lower total amount. For every person in this blog who votes "no" because they want to see greater accountability, there are probably 20 others in the general public who vote "no" because they don't like taxes.

zb said...

If the levy fails, anyone want to take me up on a bet that there will be an article in the Seattle Times saying that people are opposed to taxes, even in "liberal Seattle", and that this bodes ill for those advocating for new taxes to address the enormous state budget hole?

blumhagn said...

a) Yes
b) Yes, but I'd phrase it differently. As others have said, we need to open buildings and this is the money that will pay for it.
c) No
d) Yes, in two ways--it will be interpreted as a rejection of all taxes and it will cost another $1M to run another levy in June, or we wait until the primary in September and have no schools re-opening for another year.
e) Hadn't really thought about that, but it's true.

More to d): is there a real reason why we don't run the school levies in one of the other elections so the District doesn't have to pony up for the election? Is the levy really that much more likely to pass in a special election?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Possible ZB, but here's the thing. Unless they conduct an exit poll, there is NO one who can say for sure why the levy would fail. And I would put up the take on it from anyone here against anyone on the editorial board of the Times.

My take on who who might vote against it:

Breakdown:
.1% of voters who hate public education and miss no opportunity to act on it
15% those feeling a real economic pinch and simply want to see their taxes go down

that leaves roughly 84% who want to send a message. Whether it's specific like me (at least I'm making it about capital issues because it is a capital measure) or any of many reasons people want to lash out at the district.

But really, to win, all they need is as many parents as possible plus contruction workers (always big capital levy supports), and teachers/staff. That in and of itself will probably win the day for the levies.

mom of 3 said...

Voting yes, for capacity, as well as to do what seismic and roof and other fixes as can be done. With around 100 buildings, we'll always be playing catch up. It's just the way it is.

Martin H. Duke said...

Melissa,

I'm undecided on the capital levy and would like to understand your position.

I get that the district has wasted a lot of money, but I have no interest in a protest vote. I want to improve the situation in the schools.

But if the levy goes down, how does that play out to our long-term benefit? Do you think the Board comes back with a package more focused on maintenance? What likely scenario are you trying to achieve by voting no?

biliruben said...

I'm a relative newcomer to the rarefied land of school-wonks, and I'm certain I don't understand a tenth of what I need to vote knowledgeably on this levy.

That said, short-changing our kids to send a nuanced message about budgeting and oversight just doesn't seem like it will realistically have any impact...

...other than short-changing our kids.

I can understand how the super-wonks with years or decades invested in change would feel differently, and want to exert what limited power they have to attempt to make themselves heard.

I just ain't that, and there aren't enough of those to have the signal make it through the noise.

I also think you are vastly under-estimating the anti-tax crowd.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mom of 3, I'm impressed at how accepting you are. But this backlog? It's not normal for a district, please don't fool yourself into thinking this is so. It isn't.

Yes, we have a lot of buildings but basic maintenance is part of the district's responsibility. Deferred maintenance always costs more.

Martin,
Yes, knowing this district as I do, I think that they would, internally, see this as a strike against them as opposed to being about the economy. (What they say publicly might be the economy.)

While the district might not want to do anything differently when they bring the levy back, I believe the Board will want to bring a message of "we heard you, here's our plan". I honestly do. I've had Board members tell me, to my face, "you're right". However, until they get that message from voters, it's just too easy to keep the status quo.

What is so puzzling to me is that nearly every single person here has had huge problems with the SAP. So you know, at some level, you can't trust the district. We all recognize the lack of accountability in our district on a variety of subjects. The facilities are clearly not being kept up - either the very old or the new and expensive.

This has been going on for 15+ years. At what point do any of you really think it will change? Are you just waiting for a critical tipping point to come? Because it will come.

It's just a false economy but we're used to it. We get a few short-term gains (at a higher cost to taxpayers because deferred maintenance costs more) and the maintenance piles up.

The Mayor wants a levy in May; we can piggy-back ours onto that and both the City and the district can split the cost.

Meg said...

G.

I am voting yes for the operations levy. It would be crippling to lose that one.

I am undecided about the capital levy. I haven't been following goings-on in the district for very long, but to say I've been unimpressed by the level of fiscal responsibility the district shows would be an understatement.

I have to admit, I don't agree that the district, when faced with limited funds, has chosen to short basic maintenance in order to protect the classroom. Class sizes are about to increase for the 2nd year in a row. Central administration spending is the ONLY budget segment that had growth from 2008-09 to 2009-10. Every single other bit of the budget: teaching, teaching support, other support and the principal's office, got chipped back a little.

Do I understand that central administration is funded from operating? Yes. But I'm just not willing to vote no on the operations budget. And so I'm really thinking over whether or not a no vote on the capital levy would actually send a message or not. What I find myself hoping is that it passes, but barely, and that the board really thinks about that. And, yes, if wishes were horses and all that...

dj said...

g) Other. There is no clear message sent by failing to vote for the levy. If there had been a broad campaign -- posters, letters to the editor, rallies, whatever -- such that voting "no" sent a clear message, I might consider voting against it, but as it is, I suspect the district would just chalk it up to "bad economy" and "anti-government reactionaries" and wouldn't take from a defeat any more specific message.

ArchStanton said...

Certainly, if both levies are defeated, they could simply chalk it up to anti-tax sentiment.

But if operations passes and BTA doesn't, I'd like to think that somebody might wonder why.

yumpears said...

Exatcly Arch Stanton thats why I am splitting my vote. And for those of you worried about the new schools opening needing the BTA money, they stated at a board meeting that they are already borrowing from the last BTA for the new schools. Because they are so sure this BTA levy will pass.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Actually, they are borrowing money from BEX but they are already in motion with reopening the new schools. If BTA lost, they would simply not do Ingraham's project (which is stalled and has been for months), do the reopening work and roll Ingraham's onto BEX IV. They do this all the time.

zb said...

Melissa:

I'm not taking any position on what the vote will actually mean -- merely on how it will be interpreted in the Seattle Times. I think people who think that split votes/protest votes will get a message other than an anti-tax message across are just being naive about the press.

I am hoping that the "protest" & anti-tax folks won't end up being part of a coalition that causes either levy to fail. But, if one fails and not the other, I still think we'll see a Seattle Times article talking about the anti-tax crowd. And, I think it will make it harder to pass any state wide revenue initiative that could potentially fill the gaping budget hole in the state budget.

Oh, and I would like to see someone who supports voting against the building levy spin a scenario of what happens if it fails -- as requested by Martin Duke earlier in this thread.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The Legislature doesn't give us money when we DO pass the levies. What does that tell you? I think the levy failure would have no impact on them. They are looking for outcomes from the district, both from assessment and how this district runs, and neither has been good. It does seem weird that the district has to prove it knows what it is doing before they get more money. But the Legislature has been very critical of how this district runs. Ask any former Board member.

Also, I have said elsewhere many times what would happen if it failed but here it is again (my take naturally):

1) lots of hand-wringing

2) pundits making guesses as to why this happened. If the Operations passes and not the BTA, that would make a much clearer picture. Keep in mind, unless you do an exit phone poll, no one would really know for sure. Who knows, in order to pass it next time, maybe the Alliance would fund one.

3) behind closed doors, the Board and the district sit down and make a decision about how to retool their message AND what, if anything, they might do to make people understand a)what they need the money for, b)that they WILL use the money wisely and c) that they know how to manage the facilities.

4) they would have to decide when to bring it back. The soonest is April or May (yes, I checked).

5) they would likely borrow more money from BEX to continue the reopening work. Keep in mind, the first levy money was going to that effort anyway and they have already started taking the money from BEX. The money is in BEX so it's not like it wouldn't happen.

Two other things. For this levy to fail, you need a lot more than the anti-tax crowd. So a loss would clearly mean that there are unhappy parents and the district would need to speak to that demographic. Get them back on your side and you'll win.

Also, for anyone who says, "But losing means we pay for another election." The district chooses to have this stand-alone election. They could have placed on the November ballot but they don't. They choose to spend this money on their own election (I was surprised to learn this but it's true.) As I said, Mayor Nickels is talking about an election in May - we could put it on with his.

Ramona H said...

If the levies fail, kids suffer. Not the "district," but the students:

- Almost a quarter of your child's school budget comes from the local operational levy. Imagine 1 out of 4 teachers gone, and this on top of state cuts.

- If the capital levy fails (BTA III), health and safety upgrades won't get done, and more schools will fall into disrepair. Why would you exacerbate the problem? Why would you put kids through that?

Please do not underestimate the importance of these levies. 46,000 students depend on that money.

gavroche said...

Ramona H said...

(...) - If the capital levy fails (BTA III), health and safety upgrades won't get done, and more schools will fall into disrepair. Why would you exacerbate the problem? Why would you put kids through that?


I would laugh if that statement weren't so pathetic and false. Ramona, health and safety upgrades ALREADY ARE NOT GETTING DONE by this mismanaged district.

The District is ALREADY putting our kids in unsafe, inequitable buildings.

We the parents, meanwhile, are doing our damnedest to keep our kids safe and educated, and keep this District in check. Your blame in our direction is terribly misplaced and borderline offensive.

That is the point of voting against the levy. -- To finally hold this District accountable for mismanaging its resources, properties and funds -- and neglecting the safety of our children.

The District is hurting our children -- we're not the ones playing shell games with funding to dump millions into Garfield and leave TT Minor, Lowell and Meany with leaded drinking water, seismically dangerous structures, no sprinklers and black mold (just to cite a few examples of District neglect and favoritism).

Meanwhile, as a state audit of the Seattle School District and Meg Diaz's report showed, SPS Central office is obscenely and inexcusably bloated. Do you think it's ok for the Superintendent to RIF 165 teachers and then have 110 "teaching coaches" on staff at the John Stanford Building at a price of $100,000 each?

Do you think it's ok for SPS central office to be, what, 39 percent larger than similar districts in the state?

Do you think it's ok for the Superintendent to make $264,000 plus benefits (and bonuses!!!) -- more than the mayor or governor of the state?

You seem to be parroting a District press release and not truly thinking this through for yourself.

By throwing good money after bad at this District without any kind of accountability, we are enabling this District in its destructive and fiscally reckless behavior.

When do you take the keys away from the kid who keeps crashing the car?

Joan NE said...

A couple of people on this strand mentioned the petitions and surveys.

The surveys especially can be used to debunk a Seattle Times line that failure of one or both levies is due to anti-tax sentiment.

You won't see the accurate signature count unless you go to the View Signatures page. On this page, though, the responses to the questions are not showing up. I don't know what the glitch is - will try to find out.

Here are the links:
1. SURVEY: Capital Levy (BTAIII): http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?srvysea1&1

2. SURVEY: Operations Levy (BTAIII): http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?srvysea2&1

3. Voters Pledge (I will support BTAIII if Board commits to strong oversight for Capital levy spending.

http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?bta3vote&1

Dora Taylor said...

It’s too bad that we even have to have this conversation.

If we had a sensible tax structure in this state, we wouldn’t need to pass levies and rely on the goodwill of the voters to keep our schools somewhat afloat.

But unfortunately that is not our reality. When I found out about the state of our school buildings I was truly horrified. Where I come from, California, a school building like the one that my daughter is in would have been closed until renovations were made. All school buildings in California have to always be up to the latest seismic code. That’s the law. Eleven of our school buildings are in extremely bad condition and would not survive a good shake. Untempered glass would shatter, light fixtures would fall down along with the ceiling tile which is in most cases asbestos tile. Unreinforced brick and concrete block would come crumbling down and unreinforced roofs would simply cave in, particularly the roofs over larger spaces like gymnasiums and cafeterias. That’s the way it is. I am not overstating the facts. The buildings have been inspected by structural engineers and there reports are within the facilities’ department in the Stanford Center.

The Meaney building is slated to receive $14M in seismic upgrades per this levy and for that I am grateful. Several other buildings are also to have roofs replaced and seismic work completed. When I first heard this news I was ecstatic but with time I have had mixed feelings in the regard of supporting the levy. I have doubts and this is what they are:

Continued below.

Dora Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dora Taylor said...

My first concern is that the money won’t be spent on what it was earmarked for. I have noticed that the superintendent and the school board do play a shell game with money and our school programs. SBOC had enough money to make a go in a decent stand-alone building but most of their money went into the black hole called Garfield High School’s construction budget. Per another post I previously wrote, no expense was spared with the remodel and addition of that building. Everything, from the woodwork to the light fixtures was top of the line.

My second concern is that once all of the work is completed in our building, the district will decide to move Nova once again. I have learned that the super and school board will say one thing and mean another. An example of that is how they moved SBOC out of the Old Hay building giving the reason that the furniture was too small for them, per DeBell, and that the Meany building was safer. The actual reason was because the north end needed more classroom space. Now the plan is, with the levy money, to do all of the work that is required per the facilities’ report to make it perfect for the new north end students. Something no other school will receive. I understand that class space is needed for the north end but don’t move the shells, I should say don’t move our students around, under false pretenses. For me it’s a matter of trust.

I voted for the levy because our children need a much safer environment and I just hope that the money goes where it has been promised. I certainly will do my best to make sure that it does.

By the way, Nova and SBOC have fit well together in spite all of the difference between the two programs. Let’s hope that there is not a plan to again uproot both programs in the future once the building is habitable again.

Martin H. Duke said...

Thanks for the response, Melissa.

When the district came back with a new package, what would it look like? Bigger or smaller? What would be cut and what would be increased?