Monday, January 11, 2010

School Levy Information Flyer

I recieved my flyer on the School Levy in the mail. It is eight pages of factual information provided about the levies by Seattle Public Schools.

People should read and question these flyers carefully. When the question of whether or not people were told about the Denny/Sealth co-location, the flyer was cited as the information that was distributed.

I reviewed the flyer with a critical eye, which isn't really very fair. I admit that. I wasn't looking for good with the same diligence that I was looking for error. With that disclaimer, here's what I noticed:

The flyer begins with these words: "At Seattle Public Schools, we are committed to providing an excellent education for every student and to ensuring the every school is an excellent school." I would find that statement a lot more credible if I had a definition of "an excellent education" and "an excellent school". In the absence of any such definitions, I find the statements disingenuous - if not outright cynical and false. I hate this talk about excellence in the absence of any definition, metrics, assessments or benchmarks. It's all hot air and lip service.

The first page says that the Operations Levy "Supports basic education progrmas not fully funded by the state. Um... I think there's a court case happening right now to determine if the state fully funds basic education or not. The state claims that they do fully fund it. None of the items mentioned in the following paragraph - full-day kindergarten, sixth period for high schools, athletics, drama, music, bilingual and special education services, textbooks, classroom supplies, transportation and security - are included in the state's definition of basic education.

I couldn't help noticing that the BTA levy will pay for a roof replacement and work on the field or track at Memorial Stadium. Isn't Memorial Stadium getting torn down?

A lot of money is getting spent at Meany. The school is listed in the sections for roof replacement/seismic diaphragm, seismic/unreinforced masonry, waterline replacement, and a $5 million line item for itself. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to fix up the Mann building?

There's some BTA money going to schools that just got BEX money. A roof replacement at Hawthorne, which is a pretty new building; early learning classrooms at Dearborn Park, Kimball and John Muir; an HVAC system at Dearborn Park, which was only recently renovated; exterior renovations at Ballard high school; new boilers at Leschi and John Muir; and, of course, all of the spending at Cleveland, which is only two years out of a total renovation. The $100,000 for a communications and security system at Roosevelt is part of this.

There's the $48.1 million being spent to re-open five buildings, including at least three that were only recently closed (Old Hay, Viewlands, and Rainier View). Given the expense and disruption caused by closing them, and now the expense and disruption caused by re-opening them, surely we would have been better off to just leave them open. Yet no one has even admitted that, let alone accepted responsibility for it.

I'm puzzled by the $2.9 million allocation for Program Placement. How do they know the budget in advance of the decisions?

Speaking of decisions to come, which schools are likely to be up for total renovation on the BEX IV levy? I would say those that were dropped late from the list for BEX III: John Rogers and McGilvra to name two. I suspect that BEX IV would also include those schools with the worst ratings: Lowell, for example. On the good side, I don't see John Rogers mentioned anywhere specifically in this flyer. McGilvra is in line for fire sprinklers or ADA safety equipment, for HVAC, and for waterline replacement. Lowell is listed for a lot of BTA work as well including sprinklers, ADA equipment, and an electrical system upgrade.

I'm sure that others have more informed opinions about the BTA III levy. What do you all have to say?

34 comments:

Shannon said...

I found the flyer hard to evaluate and, I confess, I threw it in the recycling because it would have taken too long to make sense of it. Its not that there is not lots of clear information in it but without historic data, a high level framework, criteria, a tangible vision or anything to help a newcomer evaluate it just looks like a lot of money for a lot of buildings and some things we all value."

I have no idea was proportion of the necessary work this represents.

All in all, I felt weary but begrudging reading it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, you know I have a lot to say about this but to some of your points:

- every levy flyer is lip service. I love where you say "factual" information. Not quite. For example, while it is true that it is not a new tax and the tax rate will remain the same, you WILL be paying more because this levy is going from $178M to $270M. They left that out.

- Well, yes, Memorial is going away. But when? So until then, it is still in use. What is funny is how often the district fixes up buildings it wants to get rid of.

- they are throwing a whole lot of money at Meany and yet can't decide what to do with the programs there but they have to do something. Actually, Mann likely could have been fixed up but I think they probably want to sell that property.

- yes, on Roosevelt that's money I have advocated for since the building opened as the only comprehensive high school without security cameras. However, they dropped the other two schools who had also been slated for communication/security systems (Thorton Creek and Graham Hill). In fact, a lot has changed and I'll have to detail it elsewhere. So despite the personal stake I have in the BTA levy, I still oppose it.

Shannon said, "...lot of money for a lot of buildings and some things we all value." And that's true. The problem is that we continue to take a short-term solution for a long-term problem. "We need money!" is the cry but the need is really for a plan for our facilities, both for the use and upkeep. That we don't have (and no, the Facilities Master Plan is no such plan).

As to your question about how much of the backlog maintenance this attacks, I'd have to say somewhere between 10-15% (out of $500M). That's barely a dent and, of course, maintenance just keeps coming.

Say no and they will have to listen. Oh sure, "wait for the next levy". (I had someone suggest to me that I could probably get some real powers that be to get behind that but really, am I going to see the Seattle council PTSA and/or the Alliance and/or Schools First say no to a levy? No way.)

Buy into the short-term solutions and poor judgment this district offers us and see the long-term ramifications.

dan dempsey said...

Off task but current

LEGAL ACTION

The scheduled hearing in Superior court on the High School Math Adoption for Monday Jan 11 was postponed.

It is now scheduled for Tuesday,
January 26th, at 8:30 am. It will be in Judge Julie Spector's court, W842 of the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

Chris Jackins, the amazing
self-appointed school district watchdog, was at the courthouse and says that the school district attorney, Shannon McMinimee, has
turned in her resignation. She has other cases pending besides this one. Hard to say if she will represent SPS on the 26th.

seattle citizen said...

Melissa,
What do you mean when you write that "- they are throwing a whole lot of money at Meany and yet can't decide what to do with the programs there but they have to do something."

Aren't SBOC and NOVA relocated to Meany? Is the District thinking of moving them again?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Seattle Citizen,

I am currently trying to get thru a long list of topics. SBOC is on it and yes, there is discussion over some kind of new program for it which may or may not preclude it moving. More as soon as I can get down the list.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Shannon McMinimee (boy I love her name) just resigned? How curious. I know that David Tucker in Communications also just jumped ship. Hmmm. And, after the State Auditor's report on BEX comes out, I suspect someone in Facilities will get their farewell party.

dan dempsey said...

In regard to maintenance, the levy, and a whole lot of other things like STEM consider the following from page 4 of the Strategic Plan:

• We will be prioritized and focused. We will focus our attention on issues that must be addressed now, and we will apply the proper resources and time to be successful.

We will work within our means. We will only commit to those things for which we have resources. We will identify funding gaps and propose solutions to address them.


And for the utter failure of the SE Initiative (which MGJ refuses to acknowledge) consider this also from page 4.
• We will measure our progress and report back frequently to the community. Each strategy we propose is based on clear, specific goals so that we can measure our progress.
We will commit to clear and timely communication so that staff, families and community members are informed of our plans and have the opportunity to share their suggestions for the future.


OK this is beginning to look more and more like Charleston ... we need a major course correction but the board is apparently still in lala land.

Following the Broad Foundation direction is just not cutting it.

biliruben said...

On the good side, I don't see John Rogers mentioned anywhere specifically in this flyer.

Could you explain what you meant by this?

Thanks!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Bilirueben, as they consider the projects for BTA III, they are considering the BEX IV projects (renovations/remodels). So, if your school is in poor shape and you aren't on BTA III (or get a token item), then your school may be on the preliminary BEX list (and that is in 3 years).

John Rodgers was on the preliminary list for BEX III and could be on BEX IV. In fact, Facilities told the Board that the majority of projects will be in the north end as about 60% of previous BEX work has been in the south end.

One last thing, the head of Schools First, Betty Hogland (who I respect tremendously for her advocacy and work for public education in Seattle) testified at the public hearing for the levies. She said, as head of Schools First, that she urged voters to pass both levies because they are vital and badly needed.

She then said that she was taking off the hat of head of Schools First and saying, as a private citizen mind you, that the district HAD to do something about the backlog of maintenance and wasn't. Her suggestion was to take an entire BEX project off BEX IV (probably around $70M) and put it towards the backlog.

First of all, for Betty to want to go on the public record to say this even as she works as a public figure for Schools First, takes a lot of courage. She clearly is worried about the backlog or else she never would have made that statement for the public record.

Second, I thought her idea brilliant. It's a good chunk of change to go towards the backlog. The only problem? If you were in an older building (and a little less than half our buildings are 50+ years) and just waiting and waiting for a remodel, how crushed would your community be to be put on BEX IV and then have your project jettisoned? It would be hard to take but that's where we are heading. With no other plan from the district or the Board and the backlog growing, that might be the direction the Board takes.

So that could mean Eckstein or John Rodgers or Arbor Heights or Whitman or Blaine or any number of other buildings might not get their renovation. How would you feel if it were your school and it was because the district hadn't been doing its duty towards maintaining our facilities?

biliruben said...

Thanks, Melissa.

I think I am starting to understand. Acronyms generally make my head spin.

So BTA III (every 6 years?), the Capital Levy in the brochure, would only go to minor upgrades to buildings, if anything.

The future BEX IV (every 6 years - and another likely in 2013), would include complete renovations.

And the Operations Levy is every 3 years, doesn't go to any capital expenditures, just day-to-day operations.

So for John Rogers to not get a band-aid in BTA IV is good, because then they are more likely in line for a major renovation in the next BEX IV?

Sorry to be dunce. My boy is 3 and John Rogers is our reference school, and I have a feeling I will need every bit of the next 2 years to understand the process!

Personally, from what I've heard, I'd trade a better math curriculum for a renovation, but that's probably not an option.

Thanks again for taking the time to teach me remedial SPS, and all your hard work in the past and (hopefully) future!

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm going to write a quick capital primer in another thread because you don't quite have it.

You're not a dunce; it takes time. I didn't know any of this when my kids were 3 either.

SPSMom said...

I have a question, if this levy passes does that mean that 1) High schools will have the 6 day period and 2) No parent will have to pay for full day K anymore?

That's the way I read it, but cannot imagine it is true.

ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ann said...

"How would you feel if it were your school and it was because the district hadn't been doing its duty towards maintaining our facilities?"

Not to alleviate the district from their responsibly of adequately maintaining our public school buildings, but I don't think I would be crushed if my building didn't get a renovation this round.

On the top of my list is safe and healthy buildings. As long as my child's building was safe (including being seismically sound), had clean air, clean water, and no toxic issues like mold or asbestos I'b be fine putting off a renovation. I could really care less about how shiny and new a building is. In these very tight economic times I think the district should fully focus on building maintenance and safety before any renovations.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Great,Ann. It might be a good time for people to let the district know that since that isn't what they are doing. Also, what building are you in? If your building is over 50+ years, you probably wish you were in a better building.

Also, that $3.5M for CORE 24 (adding more credits to graduation requirements), is in real trouble. So why are we doing something we don't even have a clear idea will happen? (I just attended a meeting where we discussed the upcoming legislative session and federal stimulus money.)

Most high schools do have a 6-period day(as I understand it) but paying for full K? I don't think this district has ever funded full day K for every school. Anyone?

zella917 said...

Melissa, you are correct, the state does not fund all day kindergarten at most elementary schools. Parents must pay a monthly tuition of about $200 per month for all day K at most Seattle elementaries, unless they qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The elementaries that do offer free all day K qualify because of a higher percentage of free or reduced lunch overall I believe.

emeraldkity said...

We have not gotten a flyer as of yet, but perhaps because we only live in Seattle, and do not have a child in the district , although three registered voters live here.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Boy, is my face red! I misspelled Betty Hoagland's last name (and I have seen it in print any number of times). My apologies to Betty.

Stu said...

< that the district HAD to do something about the backlog of maintenance and wasn't>

I don't know how I can vote for a levy that doesn't have money to pay down this backlog and that spends more money on new programs while old ones falter.

I've already come up against the "do it for the children" argument but I don't see how allowing the charade to continue helps anyone.

stu

Joan NE said...

I suggest that voters pressure the legislature to pass a one-time gross revenue tax of $4.20 per $1000 gross revenue to raise the $2.6 billion to cover the state revenue shortfall. This will help easy the district's revenue situation.

I understand that if this levy doesn't pass, the District will most likely put another levy proposal before the voters, perhaps as soon as a month after the first vote.

Suppose voters were to reject the BTA III levy on Feb 9. Parent leaders then join together and tell the District they will urge the community to vote against the next levy also, unless the following happen (this list is meant only as an example of what might be sought):

1. The Board creates a Levy Oversight committee that has strong oversight authority for operations and capital levies approved in 2010. The Committee has the power to block decisions to close, lease or sell buildings, and to relocate programs. Such decisions cannot be blocked unless a strong majority (say, 85%) support a blocking proposal.
The Committee membership must be large enough to enable it to be broadly representative of the district. Members must be parents of enrolled or graduated SPS students, and cannot be employed by the District. Members will be chosen by school principals, building leadership teams, or site councils, rather than by Board or by other District staff.

2. The levy proposal that the District brings before the voters in the next attempt to get a levy passed will have received strong endorsement by the Levy Oversight Committee.

3. Sibling grandfathering is guranteed for the next 6 years to families that have a child enrolled in one of the grades K - 4in 2009-2010. To accomodate Sibling grandfathering in the student assignment process, the district will, if necessary, manually process eligible siblings' enrollment forms. [I estimate the cost of manual processing to be quite small; only question: is it technically feasible?]

Would such a plan enable parents to feel better about voting down the BTA III Levy on Feb 9? A similar plan could be used by those who want to vote down the operations levy.

With a carefully thought out follow-up plan, parents can constructively "leverage the levies" to get the Board and Distrcit to be more responsive to the public, and especially to parents.

Good idea? bad idea?

snaffles said...

I have not received a flyer.

I have noticed that Ingraham has been upgraded and renovated using BTA money this last Summer and the summer before.

It also received BEXIII status, just hasn't conquered DPD yet. I have read the Environmental Checklist for Ingraham it is to Receive BEXIV money also.

The population at Ingraham is under the school capacity.

My question, could money for the Ingraham addition, and future additions be better used for upgrades, renovation, and maintenance at other schools?

The addition currently under scrutiny by DPD and being requested by neighbors to have relocated does NOT add capacity to the school.

The better plan would be to wait until BEX IV, add capacity to the school and think through an addition that actually would prepare Ingraham for the future.

Redistribute the current BEXIII funding to one of the other schools, in more need at this time.

Relocate the Math program at Ingraham inside the main building, it may take some creative students, parents and staff to do this, but I think if they tried they could. Instead of waiting for the District to resolve this problem in court.

I don't have answers, but I have watched schools close and re-open based on when a levy is due. It is like a chess game, make the parents and community feel sorry for us, then we get what we want. But when they get the money, the schools are reopened, still run down, falling apart and nothing changes, where does the money go?

Dorothy said...

I don't have a kid in SPS anymore, but I did get the flyer yesterday. I was most curious to see that the school board directors listed are not current.

(Melissa. Well you've never spelled Bob Vaughan's name correctly. :))

Melissa Westbrook said...

Joan, there is the BEX Oversight Committee that is mostly community members who are facilities professionals. They have virtually no power but are somewhat helpful. There is talk of a BTA Oversight Committee.

The district can't give power to block items or move programs to people who are unelected. We have an elected Board for that.

Joan, they can't guarantee K sibs if they want an attendance area plan to work. 6 years? That's a long time to enact a plan.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ingraham has been on every BTA and BEX. For some reason, the district is redoing Ingraham in a piecemeal fashion.

Ingraham turns 50 this year; RBHS turns 49 and Sealth is 52. They are the only comprehensive high schools to not get remodels. They have done additions/upgrades to these buildings since BEX/BTA started. (Sealth had major money thrown to them to appease them over Denny getting the new building.)

These are not new buildings but I suspect that those 3 won't get any renovations for at least another 20-30 years. RBHS has had the least done to it.

Dorothy, I DO sometimes get Bob's name right (I have relatives with that name and they spell it differently; can't get it out of my head).

ann said...

"Also, what building are you in? If your building is over 50+ years, you probably wish you were in a better building."

Well yes, of course I "wish" for better buildings, Melissa. I also wish I had a big house on the lake, and a new car, and that I didn't have to work .....

But the reality is that there is only so much money and it is clear that we can't have safe, healthy, well maintainted buildings, and renovate too. We have to pick and choose so my priority is that ALL kids have safe, healthy, well maintained buildings. Then if there is money left over I would give my blessings for renovation.

ann said...

"Also, what building are you in? If your building is over 50+ years, you probably wish you were in a better building."

Well yes, of course I "wish" for better buildings, Melissa. I also wish I had a big house on the lake, and a new car, and that I didn't have to work .....

But the reality is that there is only so much money and it is clear that we can't have safe, healthy, well maintainted buildings, and renovate too. We have to pick and choose so my priority is that ALL kids have safe, healthy, well maintained buildings. Then if there is money left over I would give my blessings for renovation.

Melissa Westbrook said...

My point is that we can't "levy" ourselves out of this backlog. There isn't enough money and there won't be. The district isn't keeping up the buildings as they all should be. They couldn't be and have this size of backlog and their own documentation says it.

I,too, wish for safe and secure buildings for everyone; that's why I'm speaking out.

Audrey said...

I always feel like the information sent out to voters for anything appearing on a ballot, whether for the schools or who to vote for in the mayoral election are so watered down that they contain nothing but fluff and lip service. Where is the real information on this? Someone mentioned a Master Plan. Is that the list of ALL the facilities and property that the district is responsible for maintaining and the timeline of maintenance, upgrades and desired projects? This should exist. Of course it would be huge but it is the only way to manage the task and keep schools in line with each other. There should be a matrix that is being maintained that would show each school, the maintenance that needs to be done and has been done on each one and the desired upgrades/renovations that might be in order. It would also need to tell whether it was funded and where the money came from or is to come from. The only fair way to evaluate any of this is to see the whole picture. I'm an accountant. I need data. I can't vote for more of this stuff when the district has an awful track record of making poor decisions that cost money and then they just come back and ask for more without having to be accountable for the last lot.
I am very much in favor of slowing down this train and voting down the levy if there is a chance that we could get more accountability out of the district.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Audrey, I'm going to write a primer on Facilities and I'll include the Facilities Master Plan. It's not so much of a plan as a report. It also has some out of date information but it stands as our resource. As for the matrix, well, good luck with that. I can point you in a couple of directions but to get complete data is difficult (ask the State Auditor).

From the Facilities Master Plan:

“Increased funding of the “B” portion of the BTA levy would help resolve a lack of funding, a severe reduction in maintenance staffing couple with a backlog of maintenance work orders when there has not been a significant reduction in the number of buildings, and construction materials inflation.”

Seattle Times November 2, 1994
No districtwide, systematic program for preventive maintenance exists, said Ed Heller, acting director of maintenance, custodial and grounds services.
(Note: the current head of Maintenance, Mark Pflueger told a Board committee that all his department does “is put out fires.”)

Seattle Times 2/10/2008
School Board member Michael DeBell said, “A lot of that work can only be put off so long before it becomes a health-and-safety issue."

Joan NE said...

BTA III proposal to Board 11/04/09
51% = $129M Bldgs (Slide 37)
14% = $35M Technology (Slide 38)
35% = $83M Acad&Athl.(Sl.39,40)
100% = $247M Total

Academics Portion
Early learning, SpecEd $ 8.1M
Maria's Mistake* $54 M
MAP, Core24, STEM@Clev. $ 9.1M

*Cost of opening five buildings and preparing Meany bldg. to accommodate NOVA HS.

Source of above: Superintendent's PDF Presentation to The Board
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/09-10agendas/101409agenda/presentation.pdf


Final BTA III projects list:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/09-10agendas/110409agenda/btalist.pdf

In this list I find $35M in Technology and Academic projects that are non-essential and of questionable value. These include monies for STEM@ and to create Core24 and High Stakes Testing (HST) capacity.

I know what HST means, and I know that it leads to inhumane, unconstructive district interventions targeting schools that have high percentage of low income/minority students.

I strongly oppose HST and conventional interventions, and I don't want to pay for these projects unless the community shows that it strongly supports these priorities.

Here are the projects that I am referring to:

$ 1.6 STEM*
$ 0.8 10 HS Comp. Labs for Core24*
$ 1.1 10 computer labs for SAS*
$ 2.7 Core24: 10 science rms
$ 3.2 Test Licenses for SAS
$ 1.9 Procure and deploy ADW*
$ 1.3 Disaster Recovery*
$ 1.0 Centralize SDS*, incr. SAN* capacity
$ 3.0 Increase bandwidth
$ 3.2 IT support: Increase the [IT:school] ratio to 3 yrs
$ 4.3 Student Information tracking and central SID*
$ 1.0 Standardize IT syst. design; procure and implement
$ 1.2 Technology project management
$ 2.0 Records Management Plan
$ 3.3 Techn-SAP enhancements: includg budg. devel., enhanced data analysis and reporting capability; upgrading business software
$ 1.1 STEM @ Cleveland HS
$ 2.3 Hardware and software infrastructur-web server deployment


*Acronyms and explanations.

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
Core24: 24 "core" credits for HS grad'n= 6 req'd classes/day
ADW: Acadamic Data Warehouse
SAS: Student Assessment System

Disaster Recovery: Disaster recovery for priority systems, including off-site storage; alternate data center capability, and priority systems software/hardware and required network

SAN: meaning not given in document
SDS Student Data Storage
IT: Instructional Technology
SID Student information database
DDDM: Data-Driven-Decision-Making
HST: High-Stakes Testing

Melissa Westbrook said...

Again, more on this levy to come but Core 24 is stated on the levy flyer as if it were a done deal. Far from it and it should have said "proposed". Core 24 may be in great danger in the Legislature so I'm not sure why we are spending money now on it.

Joan NE said...

Melissa, you wrote: "Joan, they can't guarantee K sibs if they want an attendance area plan to work. 6 years? That's a long time to enact a plan."

If they can't do this, then, in my opinion, it is a plan that doesn't work. They need to take the plan back to the drawing board, and get one that does work. This plan is very unfair.

There are many families that would have made different enrollment choices for fall 2009 and previous years, had they been able to see into the future and know that student assignment rules would change as they are.

Parents who are affected adversely by the game-changing rules tell us that this is extremely stressful for them and their children.

Every year, for the next several years, there will be a new group of parents who will be demanding sibling grandfathering.

This year, it maybe that only about 5% of families are affected. But there will be more families that are affected next year, and so on. The problem will go on for many years, but it will mostly be gone within about five years from now, when the 2009-2010 KG students will be in fifth grade.

It could be that even as many as 20% of current SPS families will be affected at least once in the next several years. This is a big deal.

Joan NE said...

After consulting with many people and getting some very good advice, especially from Chris S., as well as from Dora T., Sue P., and others, I have decided to go through with preparing a Voters' Pledge for the BTA III Levy. The pledge will be disseminated online, if not also via personal solicitations door-to-door and in public venues. The pledge encourages the District to create a BTA III oversight Committee "with teeth."

By signing the pledge, the voter is saying two things 1. I will vote in favor of the BTA III levy proposal if the Board will agree to the provisions of this petition. 2. I feel that the levy has more chance of passing if the District will agree to the provisions of this petition.

The provisions describe the charge, membership, and powers of the Committee, and ask the Board to declare itself legally bound to abide by the provisions of the petition.

I am very interested in feedback (positive or negative) on the final draft of the petition. If someone can give me a very good reason to NOT go through with this, I sure want to hear it! The provisions are set up so that Dora Taylor's concerns are addressed nicely.

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