Friday, November 08, 2013

Downtown School Update

There continues to be discussion of a downtown elementary school. The Downtown Seattle Association has released a new feasibility study and it appears to lend support to the idea. Downtown is proving an increasingly desirable residential zone for families with children. There are not a lot of school-age children there - not enough to justify the creation of a school, but the number is growing quickly. Of course a 300% increase from two brings us only to eight. That's not enough for a bus, let alone a school.

The District included $5 million in BEX IV for "Planning for a downtown school", but no money for construction.

In the proposed changes to the attendance area boundaries, the downtown area, currently in the Hay/McClure attendance area, would be shifted to the Lowell/Meany attendance area. There are hundreds of empty seats at Lowell - plenty for all of the Seattle Public School students living downtown. The last report from the District demographer did not suggest the explosive growth in the number of school-age children living downtown that the school's supporters anticipate, but the new report from the DSA suggests that we do need an elementary school downtown, that the capacity at Lowell is not sufficient, and that Lowell offers poorer proximity for downtown students than the District provides students in other neighborhoods.



There's some history to this - a deeply flawed study from the DSA, expressions of support from Mayor McGinn, a fleeting offer of some space in a building, the usual evasions from Pegi McEvoy - but that's all history. Today the District doesn't have their own demographer and the Downtown Seattle Association has a new, much stronger study. So here are the questions:

  • Are there or will there be enough students downtown to support the creation of a downtown attendance area elementary school?
  • Are there or will there be enough students downtown to support the creation of a downtown option elementary school that would be the choice of a lot of families living there or with jobs downtown?
  • What assumptions are used in the growth projections? 
  • Are the factors that fueled the rapid growth continuing? If it was driven by construction, will that construction continue?
  • Is this the perfect opportunity for a charter or what?
  • Is this school just to benefit Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen - and would that be okay if it were?
  • Are Lowell, Gatzert, Hay, and TOPS too far away for downtown families?
  • Is T T Minor too far away for downtown families?
  • Does the new streetcar or the extension of the light rail have an impact on access to Gatzert and Lowell?
  • Is there an appropriate space anywhere downtown for a school?
  • How could the District ever afford to buy (or lease) land downtown for this school?
  • Would a land swap for the Memorial Stadium figure into this?
  • What would this mean - if anything - for the Center School?
  • Do we only need an elementary school? What about middle school and high school?
  • Could any downtown school location be "walkable" for elementary students given the heavy traffic and major roadways?
  • The focus is on South Lake Union - is that where it should be? Should the school be located in the International District? Cascade?
  • Should downtown residential developers be assessed an impact fee to pay for the capital cost of a downtown school?

147 comments:

Eric B said...

The whole concept of a downtown elementary is that it could be opened relatively cheaply in donated office space. That's what the $5M would do, so there's even money set aside. As such, there's no need to plan anything at this point. In 5 years, the district can re-assess population and demand and see if it's worth opening.

It may be a giveaway to Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos, but if they donate the space and the kids come from overcrowded schools (NE?), that might not be such a bad thing. I find the bleating about neighborhood access from DSA to be kinda charming, especially given JvA's testimony about going to their 8th (?) closest school. 8 students doth not a neighborhood make.

If charters are upheld in court, it would be an ideal opportunity for a charter school. I'd rather that they take the risk than the general public.

Anonymous said...

BEX funds can be moved around, right? Given the state of the north end, I propose moving those planning funds to providing more temporary facilities or bringing permanent facilities online faster up here.

Northie

Eric B said...

Northie, the BEX money is from the tail end of the levy, so it's not available earlier. While it's possible to borrow against the future levy, there are costs to doing that. Also, it's not a big enough chunk of money to really impact schedule on other schools unless there's a small renovation to be done.

Anonymous said...

I see 8 children waiting for the bus just walking out of Harbor Steps! Look at the actual numbers of students already living downtown.
- A Downtown Mother

Eric B said...

I would support moving the money around when it turns out the downtown school isn't needed. My pet craaaazy idea is a school built on a barge. We can put it anywhere on the lake side of the NE you want. My co-worker (who just delivered something similar for the Navy) assures me that they could do 80,000 square feet (approx. 500-600 students) for about $10 million, including the barge.

Anonymous said...

To follow up on my comment - there are over 400 downtown elementary students currently enrolled in SPS.
Don't put out incorrect information on a blog that so many parents turn to.
- A Downtown Mother

Anonymous said...

What are the actual numbers? And, what would an informal poll of parents who work downtown yield in terms of numbers who would consider a downtown school as an option?

zb

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification Eric B.

I have read that board directors are saying there isn't money for adding bathrooms, etc. to some facilities that could take more students next year with more infrastructure. Lincoln is one of those places.

I understand the cost of borrowing, but I think it would be defensible to take that money and use it now.

Northie

Northie

Jamie said...

Downtown mother, I'm curious where are you getting the number 400 from? Not trying to be snarky, I promise. Just would genuinely like to know.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, I don't have the numbers in front of me.

But the Superintendent has said that SPS has room for ALL the students currently living downtown in nearby schools. I believe the issue is that those schools ARE not located where parents want to go. That is not the district's problem at this point.

I don't think anyone is saying "no downtown school."

But no land, no money to build. Two HUGE barriers, no? And, giving the current capacity issues, not a priority.

However, if those huge companies that got such good zoning REALLY cared, they would donate/lease space to the district in one of their new, shiny building. You know, be good civic citizens.

The district would be more than happy to supply the infrastructure, this I know. But someone downtown needs to step up. The space doesn't have to be permanent as the district may negotiate with the City over the Memorial Stadium property to trade off some of it for land elsewhere that they CAN build on. But that is a long way off.

If downtown parents want a downtown school, the people to pressure are the businesses, not the district (at least until there is no room for all the downtown students elsewhere.)

Anonymous said...

That number (421) came straight out of the DSA's study, see Conclusions on the last page. And that is current numbers, not projected.
And I didn't think you were be snarky. I'm glad you asked so that people can stop spreading misinformation about the numbers.
- A Downtown Mother

Big Steve said...

I live downtown with my wife and daughter, and we would love a downtown public school. When we moved into our condo ten years ago, our building had no kids. Now there are three babies just on our floor. As Amazon/Gates Foundation/other downtown business continue to grow and more multifamily housing goes up downtown, I expect to see more and more kids. Already, downtown kindergartener enrollment has gone from 34 in 2007 to 70+ in 2012.

You always hear that there are not enough school-aged kids downtown to support a school, but it's a chicken-and-egg problem. Families have moved out of our building when their kids turn 5 just because there is no downtown school. But parents are starting to stay downtown, just as the City government and the Comprehensive Plan have hoped for years, and that will happen more and more if we build the school.

Peanut said...

The feasibility report says that there are 421 SPS K-8 students who live in the downtown area, up from 326 students in 2007.

It also says that more children were born in the downtown study area than any other SPS attendance area.

I'd like to know which SPS schools these kids are currently attending, as well as the breakdown by grade.

Anonymous said...

The school for downtown is called Lowell. It is a 5 minute drive up Capitol Hill. There is plenty of room. Bus routes will have to be provided for downtown students no matter where a school is located, because of traffic. So directing a bus to Lowell is not wasting transportation dollars.


BTW, most of those 400 students live in the south part of downtown, which points to growth at Bailey Gatzert.

New school for SLU and Belltown would be well received. No doubt it will eventually happen with all the $$ business people in the area - give it a few years. But for it to be on anyone's front burner in discussion or action right at the moment is wrong conversation at wrong time. (See previous 100 threads.)

Central Mom

Anonymous said...

This issue should be on the front burner. There is significant growth in the downtown relative to other areas that are on the front burner. There is a serious need for a neighborhood school downtown and its perplexing that it hasn't been front and center in the boundaries discussion considering that downtown children are being moved from one non-downtown school to another.

Thank you,
Michael

Peanut said...

@Big Steve - what's wrong with Lowell as the downtown school?

Not sure if the "moving out of downtown" driver is lack of school. I suspect it's wanting more space/yard/house, particularly when #2 comes along.

mirmac1 said...

$5M could buy us back MLK or another building that we gave away.

erik tanen said...

Lowell has a capacity of 480 kids. It currently has 208. So it could easily accommodate 270 kids for a cost of 0. Why would the district waste $5, 000, 000 to do a study to discover that they cannot afford or need to create a downtown school.

Anonymous said...

As a Downtown parent who has watched other families who wanted to raise children downtown, I can assure you that for many parents, the lack of a neighborhood school is THE reason they moved. There are a lot of people who see more value in what downtown has to offer than space/yard/garage offers. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting one is better than the other, just that there are a growing number of people who would prefer short commutes and access to things like the aquarium and waterfront over a yard.
Best,
Michael

Patrick said...

If it were my kids, I'd rather have them go a little ways out of downtown in order to have a playground, a cafeteria, and at least a couple of teachers at each grade. I wouldn't want them cooped up in an office building all day.

There is room for the downtown kids at existing schools not very far away. That makes a new downtown school a "would be nice", which should be out of the question when the District has so many "must haves" that aren't happening.

Anonymous said...

Michael and Downtwon mother - why doesn't Lowell work as a downtown school?

Jane

Sara said...

Michael,

I don't know how old your kids are, but mine are only 6 and 8. They have already outgrown the aquarium, zoo and several other things I wished I lived closer to when they were toddlers. Now, it's all about open space for exercise, tag, soccer, basketball, etc.

With the incredible capacity issues in almost all other parts of town, a downtown school shouldn't even be a topic of discussion right now given Lowell's capacity.

I am so glad Sue Peters won. Lowell is a hop, skip and a jump from downtown and should be utilized while we figure out the more pressing issues.

mirmac1 said...

It sounds to me like the new improved Downtown Feasability Study is as defective and misleading as the old one. Just take the time to review the census tracts cited by these marketers. The vast number of "downtown" children are in the tracts S and E of the downtown business district.

Now that Vulcan and the same crowd that supported Estey's campaign, has purchased the mayor's office, expect more hand-outs to downtown developers. And I'm sure Murray will consider it his obligation for payback to pressure Mr Banda for a downtown school to enhance their investment portfolios.

Big Steve said...

@Peanut--it's about walkability, compact urban living, and (to a lesser extent) fostering a sense of community. For years, the City (and SPS) has been pushing hard to get people to live where they work, play, and shop. The whole urban village strategy centers around it, and the point of living downtown is to walk to everything.

A school is the glue that binds a neighborhood--one need only witness the uproar about boundary changes to see that--and yet, our most populous, densest, and largest urban village doesn't have one. It's nothing against Lowell! It's that Lowell is not feasibly accessible to little downtown pedestrians, and it's in somebody else's neighborhood.

Big Steve said...

@Peanut-
On the issue of why parents leave downtown, I obviously can't speak to all parents, but I have friends and former neighbors for whom the lack of school was THE reason. They preferred to move within walking distance of school and bus themselves to work rather than walk to work and bus their kids. Personally, I blanche at the thought of having a yard and a house and would not leave condo life for either. We live only blocks from Myrtel Edwards, and when the waterfront improvements are completed, downtown will be an even more amazing place to be a kid.

Downtown is going to change for the better, and more kid-friently, in the coming years. The Westlake play area is a toehold, a proof-of-concept. Within the next couple of years, I expect it will grown and become a very cool playground crawling with resident kids, tourists, and shoppers. The waterfront is going to have great new play spaces, Seattle Center is getting a playground, Denny Park has a new playground, etc., etc. The only piece missing is a school.

erik tanen said...

The cost for this downtown school was estimated at $30, 000, 000, which would be the starting point. This is too high a price to pay, when Lowell would cost nothing. The kids would not be able to walk anyway.what's five more minutes on a bus.

Anonymous said...

Sara, a lot of us city parents feel that open space does not have to be private. (For a sustainable planet we are all going to have to get a lot cozier!) So if my little boy can run around and learn to ride a bike along the new waterfront park and play basketball at the YMCA, I welcome that. Personal choice, of course!
As for Lowell, it is not walkable for any downtown families. It's actually quite far away and requires crossing a major highway. I understand that there are about a million problems with SPS, but I just want to make sure that the lack of an elementary school for downtown children is recognized as one of them. Thanks!
-A Downtown Mother

Anonymous said...

@erik You are wrong about walking. We walk everywhere. And we would gladly walk to a school. Many downtown families don't even own cars, by choice!
-A Downtown Mother

Big Steve said...

@erik
Obviously, I'm not going to push my kindergarterner out the door so she can walk herself to a downtown school. But dollars to doughnuts the vast majority of downtown parents would walk their kid to school, then walk themselves to work. That's what I do for daycare, and that's what I plan to do for school!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand the attitude towards downtown parents here. At the most recent school board meeting, parents from some northend schools were waving signs and demanding that their students be allowed to have schools they can walk to. But here, parents of students living in downtown Seattle are told, "Get on a bus!"

I also don't get the continued claims that those who want a downtown school are the big bad companies and their leaders. It looks like it's PARENTS who want a school of their own. Maybe it's different up north, but in parts of south Seattle, some families could actually walk to more than one school close to their neighborhoods. Downtown parents are being told "Suck it up!" when asking for ONE.

Double standard?

Julie said...

While I do sympathize with downtown parents wanting a walkable school and community, if you have read the plights of many in the school district who are bused far away to (even to the 8th closest) 'foreign' neighborhood schools, you would perhaps understand the lack of sympathy expressed here.

If only thing you are complaining about is a 10-20 minute bus ride to the nearest school in a neighborhood not your own, I must point out that everyone else who are not in walking distance of their school is doing the exact same thing. My child takes 50 minute bus ride to her school and her friends at school live in different neighborhoods. I'll deal with that as price for living where I am now. Walkability is afforded only to the few who live close enough to any school.

Downtown school should be addressed but as many have pointed out, it isn't a priority in the face of the "no space" upheaval happening in the district right now.

It should make it on the list, but just not at the top.

Anonymous said...

For legal reasons, if there were a downtown school, every single student in downtown would be given bus service, whether they wanted it or not. If just one family accepted the service, the bus would run.

Walkability is great and if a school were in SLU no doubt many would walk. But a downtown school saves the district ZERO on transportation costs.

And again, the area where more space is needed isn't by Myrtle Edwards at all. It's Yesler Terrace. You wouldn't be walking there in any case.

Central Mom

Anonymous said...

FYI - Anonymous comments are removed.

Re-posting for Double Standard? -Michael

Anonymous said...
I'm not sure I understand the attitude towards downtown parents here. At the most recent school board meeting, parents from some northend schools were waving signs and demanding that their students be allowed to have schools they can walk to. But here, parents of students living in downtown Seattle are told, "Get on a bus!"

I also don't get the continued claims that those who want a downtown school are the big bad companies and their leaders. It looks like it's PARENTS who want a school of their own. Maybe it's different up north, but in parts of south Seattle, some families could actually walk to more than one school close to their neighborhoods. Downtown parents are being told "Suck it up!" when asking for ONE.

Double standard?
11/8/13, 12:05 PM

Anonymous said...

There's a fine private school in downtown: Spruce Street School. Playground on the roof, lots of walks to nearby parks, many field trips to downtown attractions. And, they'll never change your boundary. We loved it. Plenty bike in from outside of downtown. As a public school parent as well, I have to say, I really don't see all these "walkers" that seem to come out of the woodwork at every boundary meeting.

Spruce Street Grad

stevens parent said...

It all comes at a cost and thirty million is too high a cost so that you can walk your kid to school.Lowell is a ten minute bus ride from downtown and is at undercapacity.

Anonymous said...

@eric
Where did $30M come from? People have to stop making up numbers on this topic. Everyone seems to continue to underestimate the population of downtown and overestimate the cost.
I assume you are including the cost of acquiring land, which may not be necessary because of Memorial Stadium.
-A Downtown Mother

Anonymous said...

You can walk from downtown to Lowell. Or at least from Lowell to Downtown (downhill). I've done it MANY times.

And you DON'T HAVE TO WALK YOUR KID TO LOWELL. You have to walk them to YOUR BUS STOP.

THAT is what you get. That is what everyone gets who lives in an area that is not a walk zone to their school.

I'm going to raise that dreaded special snowflake word. Sorry, downtown dwellers, you do not get a SLU school. You get Lowell and Gatzert, both walkable for some students and schools buses for others. That's like every other freaking school in town.

Those "walkability" people complaining at meetings are not saying "I need a walkable school right next to me where I want it". They are saying "I HAVE a walkable school, my kid goes to it now, and Your plan is taking it away". That is different. Very different.

Signed: Zero Bucks

Big Steve said...

The question of whether there should be a downtown school is not just an SPS issue, or even just an education issue. It's also a question of what type of community we want for downtown residents, and by extension, everyone who visits downtown. A downtown school can serve as a neighborhood gathering place--perhaps operate as a community center after hours--so Dep't of Neighborhoods can chip in. It's a huge recruiting benefit for downtown/SLU businesses, so they can chip in (and perhaps donate the land/floors). A critical mass of kids downtown will make downtown feel (and likely actually be) safer for everybody, including the millions of tourists and shoppers that come downtown each year, so downtown retail businesses and Office of Economic Development can chip in.

If it just comes down to "will SPS build a downtown school from scratch", then yeah, the argument for a downtown school is tough to make. But we should be able to come up with a creative solution without detracting from SPS's ability to address legitimate problems around the district.

Plus, it would be nice to see SPS be able to get ahead of a coming demographic shift, rather than always having to play catch-up.

erik tanen said...

The 30 million was a number the FACMAC came up with last year.

Anonymous said...

Spruce Street grad.

Do you really think that's reasonable?

Not many downtown parents (or any parents for that matter) can afford to spend $18K? per year on Spruce Street Tuition. And even it by some chance there was financial aid for everyone who wanted to go, my guess is that there's not enough room to meet demand.

It's these types comments that keep people from understanding the real need for a public school downtown.

Michael

erik tanen said...

Memorial stadium is in Queen Anne, how does that help a downtown school.
Walkability is wonderful in a perfect world, but most kids get bussed and an extra ten minutes to Lowell is nothing.
Maybe the price tag of thirty million is to high but I'm sure it would be more than ten and given the capacity problems throughout the district it does not seem reasonable to spend anything when Lowell could accommodate those kids for the price of 0.

Julie said...

Big Steve,

The beneficial reasons you list for a downtown school seems closer to City of Seattle objectives than that of the SPS. As Melissa suggested, downtown business people and the City can come up with something.

Anonymous said...

Improving Seattle (all of it) should be everyone's goal.
-A Downtown Mother

Anonymous said...

I live downtown with two kids and since we moved our building has filled up with more. We have babies, toddlers and old children. Everyone I talk to wants to stay. With the amount of development underway in Downtown, more families with kids are on their way. Shipping kids out of downtown from school to school is not a sustainable strategy. Downtown kids have filled up Hay and will fill up Lowell. Where will they be shipped next? City growth goals target Downtown to absorb a majority of the population growth over the next 20 years. SPS should acknowledge and plan for this. They haven't. This challenge isn't going away and it is only going to get more expensive and more difficult to site a school in Downtown the longer the district waits. It's time to get going on this.

Anonymous said...

@ Downtown Mom

Memorial Stadium will not become a downtown school. That issue has come up many times. There are covenants on the use of the property. And the district makes money from the parking. Nor would Capitol Hill look kindly on a bunch of $$ being sunk into a QA school when the enrollment need is elsewhere.

Sorry, but I have to add to the chorus that in the short term Lowell is the answer for SLU. If that doesn't appeal, there is the boutique TOPS that might actually be closer than Lowell. It's a highly regarded small, public K8 right on Eastlake. I may be wrong, but I think SPS runs bus service from downtown to TOPS.

Veteran

Anonymous said...

Michael. If they build a 30 million dollar school for say... 300 students, that's $100,000 per kid ... plus costs if actually operating the school, not to mention the district. Evidently, lots of people think a hefty bill is fine and dandy, so long as somebody else foots the bill.

Besides, I wasn't proposing anything at all. Just letting people know about a great option for their kids in case they didn't know about it.

Spruce Street Grad

Jen said...

It's not just about walkability -- that's a part of it, but not the main thing that needs to be focused on this conversation.

One of the goals of downtown Seattle right now is to make the downtown core a better place for families, something that our city really struggles with right now. They have conducted numerous think tanks and workshops with downtown parents to find out what their priorities are, and what would get them to stay in the city, and the reasons why they would leave.

The number one reason was access to a school in downtown -- not just because it's walkable, but being located in the neighborhood creates a real sense of community. This is a model used successfully in many other cities.

For other parents whose kids have to take long bus rides -- downtown parents have specifically chosen to live there because of close access to amenities. Our family walks and bikes everywhere and the city is our playground.

And I am also familiar with Spruce Street School -- the argument can't be made that because a lot of people don't walk there -- that other parents wouldn't walk to a downtown school. That school is made up of students from all over greater Seattle!

- Jen (a downtown parent)

Anonymous said...

Also, SPS IS planning for a downtown school. That is what the BEX $$ is for. But that $$ is not even available yet. And when it is, there is a wait stretching all the way to 2020 for other schools to be built. I agree planning should begin when the $$ is available, but don't count on a new facility before your kids start school. Highly unlikely.

Anonymous said...

'Veteran' posted the message above this.

Big Steve said...

@Julie-we're saying the same thing. The benefits of a downtown school go far beyond education, and all stakeholders should (and probably will) step up to help pay for it. @Vetran, maybe Lowell and TOPS are good short-term answers, but I'm talking long-term solutions.

BTW, thanks to the moderators for bringing up this topic, and thanks to (most of) the commentors for the civility of the discussion. This is an important issue on which reasonable minds can and do disagree, and I appreciate the chance to ignore work for a few minutes and put my thoughts out there.

lowell parent said...

Does anyone know how much some of the new elementary schools will cost. Like Wilson.

Anonymous said...

@Spruce St Grad
Remember that the school would be open for more than one year! $100k per student isn't a correct figure no matter how you slice it.
I agree with Jen's comments. What we are trying to achieve is something that so many of you take for granted, giving our community a home! Currently we are moved to wherever there are open seats. I know boundaries shift and people who are moved are justifiably frustrated, but we are talking about a wholesale move of 400 kids and probably another move like that a few years away as that number increases.
Thank you.
-A Downtown Mother

Anonymous said...

And what YOU don't realize Downtown Mother is that kids in neighborhoods all over this district have been looking for the same thing - a school home - for years. The lack of money and changing enrollment criteria has impacted the majority of families in this district. Most of us have experienced begging for a nearby facility to call our own. We have had no school, shifting boundaries, no transportation for whole K-12 careers.

Some of these established communities may finally see an answer to their advocacy work in the next decade. That's after MULTIPLE DECADES of waiting.

So while your desire is understood by many on this blog, your timeline for wanting results rings wrong. Welcome to SPS. Get in line. That's the tough love message from your surrounding neighbors.

-skeptical-

erik tanen said...

I'm just against spending limited dollars, or being very careful with taxpayers money.
Lets say we create a model that costs nothing.SPS buys a piece of land and build a ten story building. It then keeps the lower floors for a school and then sells at market rate the condos above.It might bring the price tag in to lower than the projected amounts.

Lynn said...

lowell parent,

Arbor Heights budget is $42.6M. That includes demolition costs - but we already own the land.

Eric B said...

The "we're too far from Lowell" argument doesn't make sense when you look at the rest of the district. Eyeballing the map, the far corner of the downtown area assigned to Lowell is about 2 miles as the crow flies. That's about the same as the far corner of Lafayette, Arbor Heights, Van Asselt, and pretty close to Maple, Laurelhurst, Green Lake, and Olympic Hills. Why is downtown different than those schools?

If Lowell wasn't half empty, if there was clearly identified space available, and if there were major donors that were going to pick up a substantial share of the costs, I wouldn't be so hostile to the idea of a downtown school. But we don't have any of that.

Space is at a crisis point in many neighborhood, most particularly NE. 90 more kindergartners than expected (which was even more than last year) showed up to NE schools this year. We're in a situation of doing triage, and downtown is like a person with a bloody nose in an emergency room full of heart attack patients. Yes, in an ideal world, we would do something to get you a school. In the current situation, time and money are still better spent elsewhere.

PS FACMAC didn't come up with the $30M number for a downtown school. That number was an estimate presented by district staff.

Meg said...

The Downtown Association's counting of kids in the downtown neighborhood encompasses a "neighborhood" that stretches from South Lake Union to SODO.

The so-called neighborhood is about the size of Garfield's attendance area. So, not a huge surprise that there are 500-ish SPS-enrolled kids in that area.

There is room at Lowell for the elementary school students. Is it ideal? No. And I understand that - but South Lake Union is hardly ideal for families in the Pioneer Square area. And given the urgent capacity needs in many sections of the city, I can only strongly suggest that you keep working towards your ideal, with the understanding that Need gets a higher priority than Want. If the downtown students outgrow Lowell, then it makes sense to give them a school, and it is totally fair to develop a potential downtown school by first assigning the downtown kids to Lowell.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I don't have time now but I'll address the Memorial Stadium issue later.

For now, I have to echo what others have said - you'll have to get in line. There is no crisis or emergency here and many other schools need capital dollars.

Big Steve said...

@Erik Tanen-
Now you're talkin'! That's exactly the kind of thinking that we need to make a downtown school a reality. And maybe it's not residential above, though that would be cool, but office? I'm looking at a 17th-floor open space at the Russell Investements Center that rarely has any people in it--maybe Russell wants to lease a couple of floors to a school (need a change to state law to allow capital rather than operations dollars to pay rent), with the coolest rooftop outdoor playground ever? Or what about ground-floor commercial/retail with school above? Maybe a hotel-on top--the kid noise would be confined to school hours, so guests would be largely unaffected. Maybe open the playground up to hotel guests in off hours?

All kinds of creative solutions to help pay for this thing. It doesn't need to be a zero-sum game.

Anonymous said...

To Skeptical -

How many years have the parents of children getting close to elementary school age in these "established neighborhoods" been waiting? Probably not more than 6 or 7.

There's clearly an issue in many neighborhoods including downtown, please stop advocating for your own issue by marginalizing downtown's needs.

Michael

erik tanen said...

We have to stop a us vs them, or get in line approach and come up with a creative solution that might help a portion of the city that is not in our own neighborhood.
I still believe that downtown kids could be housed at Lowell, but think (as Big Steve does) that we try to come up with a creative solution that the district wonks cannot.

mirmac1 said...

Sounds interesting, Melissa. I heard a rumor that Gates has designs on the Memorial Stadium property. I'm sure their interest is innocent and benefits our students...NOT!

Anonymous said...

Downtown's needs are marginal when put within the full scope of SPS. To try to argue for a "nice to have" at this point is so completely tone deaf as to be laughable. It will be opposed by the rest of the system. It is as Eric B put it a bloody nose in a triage emergency room.

It's not just about the Capital money. It's about the Operating money. There is not enough in the system for the schools already in operation.

Michael. The DSA has pitched this MUST have NOW idea in The Seattle Times, through Council and the Mayor's office and more.

It has gotten them nowhere because the parents of more than 48K kids would shred the decision maker who lets the downtown cut in line for scarce resources. Have you ever heard the SPS superintendent publicly back the downtown school idea? There's a reason for that.

But don't believe me. Plunge forward and see for yourself. You might want to attend a regional SPS facility planning meeting in the NE or West Seattle. Pitch the idea. You'll get plenty of additional feedback.

-skeptical-

-skeptical-

Anonymous said...

Downtown Mother, no one with children in SPS takes a school home for granted. Many people have had school assignments changed twice or even three times in the last 10 years. Some have had siblings assigned to different schools. I hear what you are saying and I think you believe your situation is unique but it's really not. Some people even bought homes across the street from a particular school because they wanted their children to attend there and are now looking at being assigned to a school they will be bussed to. Some families are worrying for their kids who will be going to a different middle school ALL THREE YEARS of middle school. Anyone who has a school home, has all their kids there, and feels the assignment is stable for the next couple of years feels VERY lucky. I am in that group right now. My kids take a bus, but I feel incredibly lucky. Long term? None of us know what will happen and we take nothing for granted. If you need a really stable school home, look into scholarships at Spruce Street. I am serious. That's probably the main reason people do private school in this town.

Gen Ed Mom

Jet City mom said...

"""
I'm not sure I understand the attitude towards downtown parents here. At the most recent school board meeting, parents from some northend schools were waving signs and demanding that their students be allowed to have schools they can walk to. But here, parents of students living in downtown Seattle are told, "Get on a bus!" """"

I wager those northend parents were speaking of - existing- schools. Schools that they moved into the neighborhood to be close to, but with the way the maps are drawn, a kid five blocks away from one school, will be bused to one two miles away instead.
I wouldn't live downtown with kids (& btw, Seattle Center is on Queen Anne, which is not downtown- in any case if it is, there are all kinds of schools on Queen Anne for you to enroll your kid at, just as if you go east from downtown instead of north, you will run into even more schools)

You move into a neighborhood and right away you want to start changing it with taxpayer money?
Where are you from anyway?

Anonymous said...

@Jet City Mom
I have lived in downtown Seattle for almost 7 years. Don't assume that people just started moving to the city. This has been a serious trend for many years, and families are part of that trend.
As much fun as this has all been today, I am sick of the us vs them nature of this blog as Erik T pointed out. If this were a post about your neighborhood, you would be saying the same thing.
-A Downtown Mother (Emily)

Anonymous said...

As a Queen Anne resident, I would completely support a downtown school. We are in a capacity crunch in the north, and I suspect that those parents who move out of the downtown in order to be closer to a school would move north, exacerbating the issue.

Mainly, however, we need more seats. If the city and district can come up with a reasonable proposal, I'd be interested -- especially if they began with a middle school.

Krab

erik tanen said...

Emily,
Don't get discouraged by the negative and sometimes hostile utterances by parents. Many have been dealing with a dysfunctional district for years and just get upset easily( me to). I think we need different voices to cone to some truth.Its all just a marketplace of ideas

Anonymous said...

I don't see incomes in the DSA feasibility report. Did I miss them?

If you can afford to live downtown, that's great. Really, it's a great choice is you work downtown and can afford it, or just want to be downtown, but please, bring a sense of needs vs wants if you believe this rationale has a sense of urgency. I think you have to, because other SPS families have been waiting longer than you have, and as an acknowledgement that we should all be in this together. Soon to be X board members know this. Part of your welcome to SPS should also include taking caution with this district's bad math. SPS pits parents against parents whenever they're forced to fix flawed decisions based on bad numbers or playing favorites.

If you bought or rent downtown, you know you're not in downtown Vancouver, BC and you're certainly not in Manhattan. Livability will evolve, not in a Vancouver, BC fashion, but it's going somewhere. If the addition of the Chihuly cafe instead of a commons is any indication, it's going in the direction of stupid aesthetics and limited usability: the Regrade Redemption promised decades ago.

I agree with the suggestion that the ‘need’ for a downtown elementary has charter written all over it, IF the downtown school planners aren’t willing to wait their turn. To cut right to it, this DSA study, and it’s a minion study, no deep analysis here, is a lazy developer’s tool, something to justify or sweeten development, and not at all about long term education needs for a downtown cohort of kids. They do this because SPS is a pushover. They've never properly managed their money. Why stop taking advantage now?

If the downtown developer’s goal is to remove all traces of low income residential from downtown, look at the Y. Great location for a school. You want a field? Let’s take another look at the Gates vanity development and what’s left of Seattle Center. Why does Gates suck up prime RE and kill Seattle Center as a commons? SPD could’ve made a deal for that land as part of a K-12 at Seattle Center, and that’s the legacy Maria Goodloe-Johnson could’ve left. Instead, she left a capacity mess and school closures. Be aware that MGJ had support from all the downtown players. This is a key reason why SPS is so far behind, fixing her plan, the one that everyone in power called golden. This is what waiting your turn, future Harbor Steps parents of first graders (unless you go private or Bellevue), is all about. Somebody telling you otherwise is leaving out details. (See DSA feasibility.)

Seattle Center as home to the K-12 jewel in the SPS crown. I like it. If the Bezos/Gates/Allen SLU mall doesn’t go as planned, can our new mayor talk to the Port? They’re sitting on some equally interesting possibilities.

Westside

Eric B said...

Erik Tanen, If you want to put together a proposal that costs the district nothing to put in a school, I am all ears. All I'm saying is that the district doesn't have time and attention to devote to this. Creative alternatives are great, but you need to bring something reasonably fully formed to the table. Otherwise, it's just a pie in the sky.

Again, I'm not saying downtown shouldn't have a school, I'm saying there are a lot of other needs that take priority on cash and attention. If you can make this free and turnkey, let's talk.

Anonymous said...

Certainly a robust discussion. I've lived downtown for 16 years and have been lobbying for a Downtown Public Elementary School most of that time. Some comments on the Comments.
Instead of arguing whether there are 8 or 440 kids going to SPS between K and 8, the district should know and share that, and even tell us where they are. then what are their forecasts for the next 6 years, if they have forecasts - their ability to handle growth would indicate they don't.
Yes, Lowell has empty seat now, but is the criteria just empty seats that we can bus elementary kids to. I thought the District decided they would have neighborhood schools and that is particularly important at the elementary level.
It isn't the districts job to decide where people live. Quite a few families have decided to live with the kids downtown. The District's job is to serve those kids. They have no right to discourage them from making that decision.
Downtown is a neighborhood. It has enough students for a k-8 school now and huge growth potential. The school district should have a plan for accommodating those families with a neighborhood school.
Cascade John

Eric B said...

Cascade John, They do have a plan for accommodating those kids in a neighborhood school. The neighborhood school is named Lowell. Neighborhood to the district doesn't mean downtown or Crown Hill or Maple Leaf or Delridge, it means a boundary that gives all the kids inside it a defined school assignment, and every kid will either be able to walk safely or will get bus service. That's it. There are no more guarantees beyond that.

Michael James (mj) said...

We have toddlers and we live brave the crime, vagrants, and aggressive panhandling to live downtown. Having a local school is part of creating a real neighborhood. Seattle is not only for druggies and pimps, it's also for normal people who want a safe environment for their families. Since downtown is the core of the city, I would want downtown Seattle to have a school even if I did not live downtown.

Josh Hayes said...

In a sense I agree with the sentiment of the downtown contingent here: it really behooves the district to plan for something that is surely coming down the pike in five years or so. But come on, remember: this is SPS. They don't plan, they react. I don't see any reason to expect this to be any different. It would be SENSIBLE to plan, but why expect them to start now?

Patrick said...

It would be nice if everybody could have a school 1/4 mile away from where they live and across no major arterials. But that's not going to happen, not necessarily even if you move where there is a school already and certainly not if you move in where there isn't one.

Look at the problems elsewhere in the district. Portable farms, full schools being moved twice in three years, buildings badly in need of renovation, schools lacking any athletic fields at all. I really don't see having to bus or walk 2 miles as in the same league.

And for those parents in SLU, note that the big population density is in the international district. If Seattle Schools did decide to create a school for the stretched neighborhood in this study, it should be down there near the stadiums. Scarcely any less walkable than Lowell from SLU. Maybe the District should make the Stanford Center into a school again.

mirmac1 said...

Sorry if I sound bitter and negative. I guess you would have to read the insider emails among politicians, their lackeys and the sponsors. Banda was not hired 48 hours before they were feverishly trying to get on his calendar. Of course they were more succesfull than the rest of us. Yet he said early on there is no pressing need for a downtown school at this time. Maybe he threw them a bone with this $5M but I think he has a sense of the priorities at the moment.

That's not to say that I agree with 3.0. I believe he has delegated the details to staff. If they fail him, he takes the fall.

Anonymous said...

Just a few clarifications. If I'm incorrect about any of these points please let me know. Like everyone, I'm working with the best publicly available information that I can find.

The Stafford Center isn't near SLU or the ID, its deep into SODO.

The DSA report which refers to the large population you're talking about includes only a portion of the ID (mostly the portion on the West of I-5). I thought it was a policy to avoid having catchment areas split by I-5, but I could be wrong about this one. I know some of the north end parents were also upset about their school boundaries being split by I-5.

Charter Schools are not a solution to relieving capacity issues in any neighborhood including downtown as they're forbidden from giving placement seating based on geography.

The $100,000 per student number being thrown around as the cost of putting up a downtown school is in line with estimates for rebuilding existing schools in other neighborhoods (per BEXIV). Although the number sounds big, it’s also slightly misleading as there are a generations of kids that will attend the school over its useful life. The $100,000 number makes it sound like it costs $100,000 to send one child through school. Assuming the schools useful life is 30 years, which seems like a conservative estimate, the capital cost per student would be more like $3,300 per student. I could be wrong on this one as I’m no expert, but my point is that it’s not $100,000 per student.

Respectfully,
Michael

Anonymous said...

I'm a downtown mom with 3 kids between the ages of 3 and 7. I believe the downtown school needs to be on the forefront.

First of all, the students downtown are here. Yes, its seems to be difficult to track the true number of downtown children but it's obvious that they do exist and there are far more than 8 of them. We're overlooking the most obvious proof of this: the fact that SPS had to change our boundaries from John Hay to Lowell. If there truly are not current and upcoming students in the downtown area, then the overcapacity issue at John Hay cannot be fixed by the boundary change.

Secondly, the bus ride to Lowell is much more than a 10 minute bus ride, by either school bus or metro transit. My daughter attends John Hay and already spends 40-50 minutes on the bus each trip. How much worse will it be when the bus is crossing the I-5 area?

It's true that living downtown isn't the choice for everyone, but it's our choice. I can appreciate that for some a house with a yard is important. For us, living a few blocks from my husbands job so that he can spend his time off with his family instead of on the commute is important. My needs and desires in no way negate the needs of another family. The school issue is the same. As a mom, I empathize with the parents in other SPS zones who are are impacted by their own boundary changes. Also from a mom's standpoint, it is my job to fight for the needs of my own kids and for the improvement of my own neighborhood. That's what we are, a neighborhood-and a neighborhood needs a school.

-Andrea

Anonymous said...

Put play spaces in the east parking lot at JSCEE, where the "reserved for Board" parking is, and put an elem. on the ground floor there.

Downtown school.

Take metro, take the train, nice flat walk - we walked .9 mile to Kindergarten up in Phinney. You hardy downtowners can do it too. Or you can walk your kid to a yellow bus stop, like lots of folks do who live 1.0 mile or across major no-go zones from their school.

Downtowners, you're not special just b/c you're urban pioneers.

And SPS is NOT REPEAT NOT in the business of building a city. They are NOT in the business of shiny brochures and property values and nifty presentations to outsiders who want to see what our city is about ... SPS is in the business of putting little tiny butts in little tiny seats and teaching. They have seats at Lowell. They have buses to get everyone there, just like the whole rest of the city. Want more? Then fill up and overflow out of Lowell, like everyone else, and then you'll be in line.

You don't get a new school until the old one's full, and maybe not even then - get it? That's life.

Asking for a newer shinier school than Lowell b/c you have to walk and Harbor Steps or Cascade to Lowell is too faaaaar and not your community frankly all sounds like "code" to me. So yeah, that pisses me off.

Spend the $5 million feasibility study money on sprucing up Lowell!

signed: Lowell area

JvA said...

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Jet City mom said...

Ooh 7 years. Ive lived here 31. My kids have never been able to walk to school.
If that had been a priority, I would have stayed in the suburbs, but I weighed my priorities and made do with what I got.

JvA said...

Downtown Mom wrote: Maybe it's different up north, but in parts of south Seattle, some families could actually walk to more than one school close to their neighborhoods. Downtown parents are being told "Suck it up!" when asking for ONE.

Hey! You're talking about my scenario. :) I live in South Seattle, and I'm actually in the walk zone for two different schools! Problem is, the district won't let us go to either one, or the next closest 6! We're the ones they want to send to the 8th closest school. (Thanks for the shout-out, Eric B.)

As an SLU employee myself, I would support a downtown school for downtown kids if the district had the land and money for it. My colleagues would love it. And truly, all little kids should be able to go to a school reasonably close to their homes.

But, yeah, even us lucky South Seattle folks are being told we have to travel miles for kindergarten. It sucks.

Charlie Mas said...

The map in the DSA feasibility study isn't that easy to read. It defines "downtown as bordered by Elliott Bay on the west, I-5 on the East, Prospect (for the most part) on the north, and Royal Brougham on the south.

It does not offer any analysis about where, in that area, the children live. It was the previous study - which was seriously flawed by a shifting map of downtown - that said that the greatest number of children lived in the International District. Given the shifting definitions of downtown in that study, "the International District" could include Yesler Terrace.

So the new study is improved in that it claims to have a single definition of downtown - though it may not be a definition you will find anywhere else.

I think that we should be clear.

I don't know anyone who specifically opposes the creation of an elementary school downtown. I certainly don't. I think that the opposition - to be precise - is to the prioritization of a downtown school or the use of scarce resources on the downtown school over other possible expenditures.

If the downtown developers and politicians who invited all of these families downtown had collected impact fees (as is done in much of the state) to pay for the capital intensive public services the new residents would require, then there would be money for a downtown school. Since that wasn't done, the money isn't there.

There are creative solutions available. There is land that could be used. There is space that could be used. If there is a way for the land or the space to be dedicated to school use without making an impossible demand on the District's stretched capital resources, then we're in a completely different discussion.

Until then, the elementary schools serving downtown are Hay, TOPS, Lowell, and Gatzert. While it is not ideal - not for anyone - it is not anything worse than a lot of other SPS families get.

Maybe the funds could be raised through the collection of an assessment.

Before anyone gets really serious about this, however, more information is needed:

Where are the downtown children? Are they in SLU, or are they south of there? Which areas are growing?

What are the limits of walkability downtown?

Are we only looking at SLU, or should we also be looking at the waterfront, along Elliott by F5, Cascade, at the Port, near Kobe Terrace Park, south of Dearborn and east of Maynard, around 7th and Westlake, and in other possible spaces?

What's going to happen at Yesler Terrace and is there room for a school there?

What about TT Minor?

Charlie Mas said...

It's funny, but I hear a lot of parallels between the folks calling for a downtown school and the folks who want TT Minor re-opened as an elementary school. Does anyone else recognize the similarities?

Anonymous said...

Defintiely plan for a downtown school now. It's not going to happen before W-P come on line. No money with this BEX. So yes, most definitely plan for it, but expect it to be way down the pipeline, 5-7 years? Shouldn't you be lobbying the SLU developers for the school as well? They have way more money and connection. Office space rents about $34 per sq ft/month, kinda spendy for SPS. Cheaper in pioneer sq. $25-30 per sq.ft. Suggest Yesler development. Million dollar views, possibly cheaper. Vulcan has a benevolence office you can contact.

Bailey Gatzert ES is right there, easily accessible via bus and soon streetcar! By the way, are you including these kids in you 400 estimate?

parent

Jon Scholes said...

Charlie - we'd welcome the opportunity to brief you on the 2012 study and the updated report. The methodology is explained in a full page toward the end of the 2012 study. The study area includes only downtown neighborhoods west of I-5. We did not include projected growth in Yesler Terrace. Give us a call or send an email if you'd like to connect and talk more about the methodology. Thanks for sharing the findings from the 2013 update with your readers and raising the issue.

Jon Scholes
Downtown Seattle Association
jons at downtownseattle.org

mirmac1 said...

Jon,

Sorry if I don't spend hours dissecting the latest report. The earlier one was so deliberately obtuse and misleading that I have much better uses of my time researching broader issues that impact more students and families.

Unfortunately, when you burn out your credibility on initial crap "analyses", don't be surprised if few believe you the next time. Just get City Hall's DeGreico and Pegi McElvoy lobbying for the next go 'round.

Jon Scholes said...

mirmac 1,
Can you be more specific about what you found "obtuse" in the original study? It's a pretty quick read. And the methodology is spelled out on page 11. http://www.downtownseattle.com/files/file/DowntownSchoolFeasibilityStudy_8.28.pdf
The comp plan targets Downtown to absorb a majority of the city's population growth over the next 20 years, so in addition to all the students living downtown today, the future of downtown's boundaries and school infrastructure will impact quite a number of students and families. And it's a good thing the city is working to focus growth in Downtown, particularly for families that live in single family neighborhoods and support the preservation of single family neighborhoods and zoning.

seattle citizen said...

Jon, could you tell us the distribution of kids in the downtown zone? How many near ID, how many in Pioneer Square, how many near the market, etc. Also, how many in each part are renters, how many owners? How many are in Sectiin Eight housing in each part of downtown? If your study is to carry weight with us, the taxpayers who support SPS, we need that data.

seattle citizen said...

While I understand the necessity to plan for student population growth, I have this sneaking suspicion that the drive for a new school comes from SLU and Allen's Vulcan. If it turned out that there were 250 kids south of, say, Pike and 150 north of Pike, and a school was built north of Pike, how might the comparatively poorer families south of Pike then feel?
Just curious.
Additionally, the numbers for each PART of downtown are necessary if one is to talk about planning: It mmeans we need to plan capacity management in the schools around those different parts of downtown - Sodo, Beacon, Cap Hill, Queen Anne...
"Downtown isn't just SLU: it's just a part of a city stretching from 145th N to 110th S and from the sound to the lake.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, if you want to go and talk to the DSA, go. But they didn't listen to me in particular because their view goes as far as downtown when you and I tend to take a district-wide view. That there seems to have been zero interest/movement of getting any downtown businesses on board to get this going is something I find interesting.

Jon Scholes said...

SPS enrollment by Downtown neighborhood for years 2007-2011 is on page 7 of our 2012 study.
http://www.downtownseattle.com/files/file/DowntownSchoolFeasibilityStudy_8.28.pdf

The total number of children living in these neighborhoods is obviously greater than the number enrolled in SPS with some attending private school currently. Census data provides that information. The fastest growing neighborhood is SLU. the neighborhood with the most children currently enrolled in SPS is Chinatown/ID. While much of original study focused on the projected growth at Hay, BG is also at capacity. Again, our study did not account for the significant planned development at Yesler Terrace.

Approximately 84% of households in downtown are rental (although I'm not sure why that is relevant here).

And speaking of tax payers, Downtown generates approximately 20% of the BEXIV property tax revenues and Downtown generates 57% of all City revenues. http://citytank.org/2012/10/06/investing-in-a-public-school-in-downtown-seattle/

Anonymous said...

Correction, Anonymous at 9:24 pm: SPS is actually a really good district - in comparison to every other urban district in the US - that is badly run. Most of our schools, teachers, staff and families are very good, but the people downtown calling the shots? Not so much. Keeping the right perspective is important.

WSDWG

Anonymous said...

I may be naive as I'm relatively new to Seattle schools and their zoning but what I do know is that three years from now I will have two children in school somewhere in Seattle. We live downtown and plan on staying downtown.

A few things:
We choose to live downtown and make our community downtown. We don't own a car and therefore our lives are based within a fairly small radius. Perhaps that will change with more public transportation but like any normal human being, a long commute drains the life out of you. Children are no exception.

Taking a bus is fine to a certain extent. Like I said, with downtown traffic, a commute needs to be reasonable.

We're choosing city life. Our school should be in the city. Yes, there are plenty of private schools on Capitol Hill and elsewhere near downtown, but I don't have that kind of money.

SLU seems like a rather easy solution. Outside spaces and a hub of activity centers already exist. Was there honestly no vision for families and thus a school while planning the Amazon and Gates' campuses? Come on Vulcan, come on Gates, step up! You have plenty of money, believe in education and surely recognize families and children are part of the city revitalization package.

Just my two cents at 1am...

- a downtown mama

seattle citizen said...

Jon, Yesler Terrace is projecting 3000-4000 new homes in its redevelopment, many of which will be low income. Sounds like if we need a new school, it would best be placed there.
I'm glad the entire city remains vibrant and contributes to the tax base. But it is largely irrelevant to planning purposes that downtown contributes a larger share of taxes:Those are (mainly) monies earned by businesses, which are generated by workers who live all around the city, and certainly do not buy priority on the list of how taxes are spent in support of students around the city.

Anonymous said...

Seattle citizen-

How is it that you can imagine a school for Yessler Terrace due to projected growth but ignore the new housing that's been put up in the last couple of years all over downtown? Housing that currently holds families with school age or approaching school age children? This is my continued frustration point. It seems we can see future students in all other areas of the city but conveniently ignore the existing ones. I'm not dismissing the idea of Yessler Terrace, just stating the obvious inconsistency here.

Also to your point of tax revenue. Yes, the businesses in the city do have some employees from all over the area. However, they are increasingly bringing in families who want to live where they work. I know this is true, I live in a building that is full of Amazon employees. Even if they don't have children now, let's project what will happen when they do start having families. That's a projection I can support and we do need to plan for it now.

-Andrea

seattle citizen said...

Andrea, I'm not against a new school....where it fits into the overall planning of the entire district. I'm merely suspicious that SLU appears to be the default location, when there other parts of downtown that might benefit more (I.e. YT) That strikes me as suspicious and classist.

Anonymous said...

Got ya! I'm not stuck on SLU either, I just want to be able to walk my kids to school and have all of them attend the same one. Currently neither of which are possible according to boundary decisions.

I also know many parents downtown and they aren't the entitled set people would like to believe they are.

-Andrea

seattle citizen said...

They might not be, Andrea, but developers sometimes wield inordinate influence. IF a school is created, I want the low income families in Yesler Terrace and elsewhere to be considered.
And many, many families around the city are experiencing the same issues in walkability...

Anonymous said...

What part of We Don't Have the Money from BEX Yet To Begin Planning do you people not understand?

Stop with the 'we deserve a school' arguments. The issue is cash flow and bigger priorities elsewhere.

Your day will come. That day is not right now.

-skeptical-

Anonymous said...

I think its been shown on these comments alone that people are willing to get creative and think outside the box. It is an issue across the district and reorganizing boundaries for years has not been a good solution. So let's talk solution, let's brainstorm, let's think big!

Again, I'm not ignorant to the district wide issues. I just have 3 little people who are relying on me to do my best to make their world a better place. If in fighting for them that makes me sound entitled or demanding then so be it. I think it just makes me a mom. As parents can't we all stand for our causes without telling others to wait their turn or belittling their ideas?

-Andrea

Melissa Westbrook said...

Andrea, but you are refusing to hear that
1) the land and the money aren't there - what is your solution to that?
2) there are other neighborhoods that have neither a neighborhood school nor the ability to walk to their assigned school. You are NOT guaranteed the ability to walk to your child's school.
3) Many, many schools have had to "wait their turn" for capital needs (and are to this day). It's not being belitting to tell you that; it's being truthful.

Again, the best thing to do is gather your neighbors and talk to the City about pressuring these businesses to step up rather than expect the district to do it all.

Julie said...

I see lot of "community building" come up and even 'making a world a better place' for their children.

How big is your 'community' - the downtown core?

How big is your world that is going to be better? - the downtown core?

Anonymous said...

Dear Andrea and others in the "downtown area",

As a Capitol Hill parent (CHP), I would strongly urge you to consider Lowell. Unlike many other overcrowded schools in Seattle, Lowell has space for your children - including older sibs who may have been assigned elsewhere It has a great playground (my daughter learned to walk there) and has all of the neighborhood amenities that you prize living downtown. For example, it is adjacent to Volunteer Park, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Conservatory etc. While you plan for the future and lobby for a school closer to you, please also consider that right now you can have a school, be active, and involved, and your child can get a good education.

CHP

Anonymous said...

To downtown mama and others:

Said:
"We're choosing city life. Our school should be in the city. Yes, there are plenty of private schools on Capitol Hill and elsewhere near downtown, but I don't have that kind of money."

Lowell is free.

TOPS is free.

Bailey Gatzert is free.

The APP program that serves much of the downtown core is located at Thurgood Marshall and then at Washington. It is free.

Transportation is provided for free from stops very close to your home to all those locations, and back. Again, free.

You don't have to have any kind of money to go to school on Capitol Hill.

It is disingenuous to pretend there is no downtown school.

Frankly, the reason it takes so long to get up to Hay is the Mercer mess -- school buses might get to Lowell faster. Lots more ways to get from downtown to Cap Hill than across to the "island" that is QA. And easier to cross over/under I5 than to cross Aurora. All this "can't go to Lowell" / must be closer means what, exactly?

Hmm?

And by the way, everything the downtown dwellers cheer about exists a whole lot of places in the city, like Mid Beacon Hill and ID and Broadway too, so yes, you could move if school proximity is so vital. But make sure you don't move into any of the other "school deserts" around town.... (you're probably actually closer to Lowell than a lot of kids in NNE are to their elem. Just saying.)

Signed: Viva Lowell

Anonymous said...

On one hand people tell downtown parents to stop acting as if our neighborhood is different from others and accuse us of asking for special treatment. On the other hand people tell us that we should stop complaining about the lack of a walk zone and that Downtown businesses should shoulder the cost of providing us a school. This is not something that people would suggest to parents in other neighborhoods.

The fact is that there is a significant and growing school age population downtown. Like many neighborhoods, downtown offers a unique set of challenges, and a few unique opportunities that SPS needs to consider.

-Downtown Dad

kellie said...

Andrea,

You want a better idea? Here is my idea. If the downtown core was focused on a K-12 educational issue for downtown, you would be getting a lot of support because then you issue would touch many, many more families.

Downtown elementary is a great idea. But it is not a "critical and urgent" problem.

However, Garfield and Washington. Those issues are much more critical and urgent. The lack of a Queen Anne High school has ripples all over the city. The over-crowding at Washington and the Meany conversation. Likewise.

The challenge for your group is that the elementary questions has an easy answer. You might not like the answer but at least there is one. They sold my neighborhood school (University Heights) so I do feel your pain.

kellie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You won't get any arguments from me about a K-12 school Downtown. That would be great!

-Downtown Dad

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Downtown businesses should shoulder the cost of providing us a school."

Nope, no one said that. What I said was that the district has no money/no land. If a business were to offer space (even a lease as the district does for the Center School), I know for a fact that the district would be MORE than happy to provide the infrastructure.

But many of the larger downtown businesses know this situation, whine about no school and yet want many extras out of their zoning. How about the City asking for something back to help the residents of downtown?

As for Memorial Stadium. The district owns 9 acres at Seattle Center (and did BEFORE that area was even Seattle Center). It's the land that Memorial Stadium sits on and the parking lot in front of it. It's probably some of the most valuable land in the City.

There are two issues as to what could happen.

One, the stadium is old, ugly and worn. It would be great to partner with the City to create a space for year-round use with first-rights always to SPS. (That's because Memorial is the "home" field to several high schools for football, soccer and graduation. That need will never go away nor can that land be replaced.) As well, the memorial wall MUST stay with the stadium and remain intact. Not so much to ask for young SPS men who went to WWII to fight for this country.

The City has talked about a land swap for the parking lot area (probably 4-5 acres) for some other land downtown. If this were to occur, then the district would have land to build on. Not enough for a high school but for an elementary.

The issue for downtown schools will be trying to have the complete K-12. Trying to have 3 locations - elementary, middle and high - would really be a stretch so I suspect it might be K-8, 9-12 or K-5, 6-12 and just two locations.

That high school would naturally - and finally - serve QA/Magnolia/Downtown and need to have adequate space. That'll be some trick to find such space and also afford it.

This is something that could be brought up with Mayor-elect Murray.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Also to note, so that you understand the ripple effects of actions in one place of the district affecting others - is the issue of the Mann building.

Every day that the construction company does not get access to the building is costing the district money. This was explained at the BEX Oversight Committee meeting yesterday. It is written into the contract to protect the contractor from owner delays. The estimate runs from $100k-500k, depending on the contractor says are the issues.

It was interesting because Director Peaslee tried to push back and ask if the contractor would absolutely do this. It was a roomful of contractors, architects and planners - they all said yes. You can try to negotiate as best you can but, at the end of the day, they contracted for a set period of time to work and changing that affects THEIR other jobs. Also, material costs could go up as well and that drives costs up.

The point is that if the district has to pay out costs, guess where I think that money will come from? The most accessible pot in BEX and that would be the downtown allotment of $5M. (This is based on my own past experience with BEX but they could find the money elsewhere.)

But it is very possible they will have to find those late claim dollars from downtown money. So that leaves even fewer dollars for downtown school planning.

I say this not to make anyone unhappy with anyone else but this is what happens and has happened in the past.

Anonymous said...

Why is Memorial Stadium off limits? It seems like the WWII Memorial Wall could be incorporated into a school building and why not name the school building Memorial School? At the risk of sounding naïve, it seems like SPS should value educating children over a city-wide sports facility? Isn’t the main purpose of SPS to educate children? Again, hope I’m not swatting at a bees nest here, I really don’t know much about the Memorial Stadium issue or what it provides to the community.

-Downtown Dad

Mirel G said...

I live downtown. The city is already changing, more parks are being built, more families are moving in to be closer to work and avoid horrible commutes, it is becoming more family-friendly. A downtown school is the next step. I support the creation of a downtown public school as a priority for SPS.

Lynn said...

Melissa,

When will we know just how much the mismanagement of the Mann situation will cost the district? Hearing those amounts I am outraged. We don't have enough money to build space for every student as it is. And this is what we're spending the money on?

If the district finds another pot of money to cover those costs, what could we have done with those funds? How far into the cost of replacing the K-5 math curriculum would $500K take us?

Anonymous said...

Downtown Dad, when you say no one would ask of any other neighborhood what we are expecting of downtown, it's frustrating. In fact, that's what SPS is asking most people in most neighborhoods. Most neighborhood have been struggling to build community around schools for years. Many neighborhood families are shut out of their closest school or have been shuffled from school to school. No other neighborhood has an organization with money advocating for a new school to be built. If they did, people would suggest that organization put out the money. Please downtown families, ALL of us have chosen to live in the City of Seattle. We are ALL dealing with the reality that there isn't enough capacity. The situation is not stable for anyone who isn't at a private school.

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

To Gen Ed Mom

I'm not suggesting that SPS isn't asking other neighborhood children to go to a school outside of a walk zone. Clearly this is an issue that many neighborhoods are dealing with.

I’m suggesting that downtown parents are being asked not to advocate for a school within their walk zone by others, which doesn’t seem to happen (at least not to the same degree) to parents who advocate for the same thing from other neighborhoods.

Sorry for the confusion, I can see how my wording may have been interpreted differently.

-Downtown Dad

Lynn said...

Downtown Dad,

I might be forgetting something, but I think those other folks are asking to be assigned to a school that is already in their walk zone. You are asking the district to build a school you can walk to.

Anonymous said...

Downtown Dad. I can almost guarantee you do not live in walk zone. Walk zones are determined by the liability arm of SPS as well as other govt. partners. Any heavy traffic arterial becomes a No Walk area, and bus service must be provided.

Yes you may want to walk to school, but that is called convenience. It is not a walk zone. It will cost the district transportation dollars to put a school downtown. Because they will legally have to do so. More money we don't have at all.

To write off Lowell, Thurgood, TOPS and Bailey as options - GREAT options - sitting here available to you today, while you stick your fingers in your ears demanding something closer RIGHT NOW is not going to work for you.
Because the activists in the district will make sure that the rest of the district doesn't get screwed because a group of parents don't want to wait in line.

Yes that is blunt but that is the way it is. Can you name the pending huge projects ahead of your wish? No? Go have a read. Then get back to the blog justifying why development for your school needs to vault to the front. It won't play well.

Again, a school downtown is inevitable but the location and planning had best not suck a drop of mindshare from staff right now. They are drowning as it is.

-skeptical-

Julie said...

Downtown Dad,

I think you should be able to advocate for a downtown school. There's lot of free-for-all MY CHILD FIRST going on in the district - especially in the north - so to deny your right to do that would be silly.

I can't blame the parents for putting the interests of their child before that of another if they feel no one else is going to watch out for them.

I don't think it is like that for everyone but it is for lot of parents. It is very sad and I think the greater community suffers for it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

DDD, did you read my post? The stadium is the ONLY home field we have for several existing high schools. There are no replacements for that and the district is not tearing it down to create a school. It will not happen.

Now could you build a high school building and a new stadium to replace Memorial Stadium? That could be possible but (1) a lot of money and (2) I don't think the Seattle Center/City people would love that idea as they want to buy the parking lot to create an underground parking garage.

That said, it's the district's land.

Lynn, according to the BEX committee, it depends (1) on when the work actually gets started at Mann (and I have my doubts it will start Tuesday) and (2) haggling between the contractor and the district which could take weeks.

kellie said...

@ Downtown Dad,

I don't think anyone is asking for you to NOT advocate for what you want. (ok, well most people) However, there is a consistent message that seems to a challenge.

Right now, and well, pretty much always, SPS is dealing with items that are "critical and urgent." They are dealing with things that must be done, and typically that means legally must be done. This is not even close to should be done, could be done, or would be better to do.

There is a very short list of things that SPS is legally required to provide and one of those things is "an assignment."

Right now, many families are being given that assignment at an over-crowded school and/or a school very far from their homes. Also with this new plan, there are lots and lots of families that are being removed from their current schools.

Relatively, and I know everyone hates, relatively when it comes to their kids, downtown families are getting a "premium solution." I am using quotes for a reasons because I really do understand that it does not feel at all premium to downtown families.

What you keep hearing from people is frustration that downtown is getting a premium solution when so many families are getting either no solution, a really bad solution, or told to hang in there a few years and we will get to you.

So why do I say you are getting a "premium solution." It is only because of pure dumb luck that there is ample space at Lowell and Lowell is very close to where downtown students live. The boundaries for Lowell were intentionally drawn to leave 300 empty seats for APP. Then APP was moved and there are 300 empty seats.

There are not 300 empty seats anywhere else in the entire district, with the exception of Rainier Beach High School. And most entire service areas do not have 300 empty seats amongst all the of the schools combined.

SPS has been placing 30-40 NEW portables each year for the last 5-6 years because of lack of capacity. Many folks are exhausted begging and pleading for an extra portable or two.

So when downtown families have essentially "lucked into" the part where there is a nearby school, with space, at a solid school, with a nice playground, in a good neighborhood, with a similar mix of students, there is just not a lot of folks that are ready to just on the bandwagon that somehow, you are getting the short end of the stick.

I hope that makes more sense. Again, I would love a downtown school. I think it would fill in a minute and would add value and vibrancy to the city. But when SPS is making plans for so many thousands of families that involve substandard facilities, interim housing, no predictability, no walkability and no confidence that a plan will last more than a year. Then I have to say, that SPS dollars should not be spent on this.

Anonymous said...


Beyond the walkability issue, as a downtown parent I am also concerned about all the issues that you just mentioned. There are already complaints from parents at Stevens that they will be over capacity under the new boundary change. What happens when Stevens is over capacity? Downtown kids will just be moved again. That’s exactly what happened in Queen Anne when SPS underestimated downtown’s child population growth rate last round, and it had a severe and real effect on families in both Queen Anne and Downtown.

A school downtown would relieve pressure on many of the surrounding communities, especially a K-12.

-Downtown Dad

kellie said...

Unfortunately, at this particular moment, a downtown school does NOT help any adjacent community.

Stevens is also in trouble. However, near Stevens is Madronna and TT Minor. Additionally, SPS has also said they can build an addition at Gatzert

Hence the issue for a downtown elementary school. So far, SPS has only opened closed schools and/or started a new school only when every single nearly option was exhausted.

I was very involved in the opening of the first new school in decades, Sandpoint elementary school. It took several years of lobbying and lots of no's before it was opened. It was also only opened when every single school in the NE was full and after they added portables at all of the NE schools and they were confident this growth would continue.

SPS is very very conservative about capital planning. You have to remember, that in 08-09 they were very busy closing schools because there wasn't any need. So you don't have to just prove that there is a need. You have to prove that there is absolutely no possible way for the need to be meet out of existing resources.

Again, I really do empathize. I only know so much about capacity because I also live in a "school desert."

There are two ways to get a downtown school. 1) Make it really really easy. aka find the space yourself. 2) Be able to prove that there is no possible way for the district to full fill its legal obligation out of existing resources. So that means, Lowell and Madronna must both be completely full first.

Anonymous said...

It would be easy enough to see how dire the need for downtown school is right now. If you have proof that this demand should come first over needs in other neighborhoods, then present them. How long are the wait lists for Hay, Gazert, Lowell, and private schools based on downtown addresses? Do they match up to 400 students?

I think it's fine to advocate, but it's seemed fishy to ignite all possible available choices NOW, and ask for a school at Memorial stadium. I can certainly understand why anyone might like that very desirable location, close to Seattle Center - science center, green space, glamourous, chi chi chihully glass museum, on upscale lower QA, away from ID, CD side of downtown. But when Yesler Terrace rebuilt happens, what about those families? Their needs?

This whole walk to school is quite catchy like hot warm apple pie, but even in neighborhoods where kids can walk to/from schools, some do -when they are not running late for school or off to after school sport/music practice, when the 2 yo sibling is also awake to be put in stroller for parents to walk the older kids to school, when it's not raining cats and dogs and gusting, when working parents aren't running late themselves, etc. If everybody is so keen on walking, why do I and others have to put so much effort/publicity out to get people to walk to school or ride bikes to school? Sigh.

If the downtown association, chamber of commerce truly wanted this, they should have step up with the $5milliom, NOT SPS. As it is, it's BS. It their advantage to pressure SPS build a school at NO cost to them so they can sell it to families, take the tax breaks, allow to build higher by offering "affordable housing". Yet a family making $15/hr could never afford to rent a 1bedroom in SLU.

I know many Amazon families who bought in QA and Magnolia, their children are at in SPS now. Others send their kids to private schools because that's their preference.

Make your case, but keep it real. Think what kind of school is needed right now that will benefit not just you in SLU, but the rest of downtown growth such as Yesler. High school? Location? And if you are offering potential growth as your raison d'être, you need to consider neighborhoods which have reached over capacity already and what terrible decisions they must face now.

Don't consider others' needs and you will gain no allies, but downtown developers. Look at what they have given you. Anything? Anything beyond a study which they are well paid for.

real world

Anonymous said...

Kellie - and this is not meant to be sarcastic - I appreciate the way you voice your opinion (even if it's counter to mine) with sympathy towards our situation.

In response to this comment: Unfortunately, at this particular moment, a downtown school does NOT help any adjacent community.

I’m just going to throw a couple of ideas out here. I’m not saying I've completely thought them through. In the spirit of collaboration, I’m just hoping to get constructive feedback.

Would a downtown elementary for downtown children integrated into a larger middle/high school (serving QA/ Magnolia /Downtown) located near, or at the Seattle Center help relieve capacity issues in the adjacent communities listed?

Or,

How about an elementary school with the capacity to handle more than just downtown (DT) children. One of the unique things about a DT school is that it would appeal to a segment of the downtown commuters as well. Look at DT daycares, there full of commuters from other parts of Seattle which makes it extremely difficult for DT parents to get into a local daycare. If you gave priority seating preference to downtown kids, and opened empty seats up to commuters, it might relieve capacity issues for communities throughout Seattle. In fact a downtown school might be uniquely suited to relieve pressure from other neighborhoods throughout Seattle for this reason.

Thoughts? Tweaks? Fatal Flaws? Other idea?

-Downtown Dad

Anonymous said...

Well Charlie, you words do get around.

http://www.downtownseattle.com/blog/2013/11/08/discussion-continues-on-a-downtown-school/

The downtown school feasibility study:

http://www.downtownseattle.com/assets/2013/10/Downtown-School-Feasibility-Study-Updated_10.8.13.pdf

Question is will these young families stay even with a school? Housing is expensive downtown. Ever try to throw a birthday party at Harborstep? Not very friendly. No community center with pool/ice skating rink like Vancouver. Pools at the Y, SAC with membership. Shortage of daycare (why didn't Amazon build a child care center?) Access to museum and kid friendly places are not cheap. Nice library though. REI has a great free indoor play area. Not safe walking around downtown after 7pm. Parking hassle and scary waiting for buses after dark. Whole Foods expensive, but has huge pre-cooked food section. Otherwise, drive to QFC, TJ on Queen Anne or Capital Hill or TJ on Madison. Pike Place great, but spendy and lack basics. Loved the farmer's market.
Can you tell? We did the live DT bit too. But all in all, space for kids, all their gears and the dog trump, and despite job uncertainty, we bought a small house and yard. We lost our peekaboo water view and proximity to work, but it was easier to commute to all the other stuff.

Lots more have to change, not just a school. Seattle is not Vancouver, BC or Brooklyn.

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Downtown-Seattle-tries-to-be-nicer-to-kids-2459218.php

-been there

kellie said...

For starters, again, I really like the idea of a downtown school. In particular, I really like the idea of a downtown school where there are option seats so that students from the very over-crowded north end could go.

However, that is really not the issue. As long as there is even a smidge of space at Lowell, Gatzert and Madronna, a downtown elementary school is just not on the to-do list.

The reason I suggested a K-12 approach is because the Capitol Hill elementary school capacity is not a problem today. Tomorrow is another issue. My best bet is that in three years Capitol Hill elementary will be full.

However, middle school and high school is a very hot issue. There is a desperate need for a downtown high school. The elementary issue is not getting any city wide traction because of excess capacity on Capitol Hill. However, Washington and Garfield are crazy full. All four north end high schools are crazy full and had no choice seats during open enrollment.

The district does have property near Interbay that could be turned into a high school. That high school would be a miracle for capacity issues. If that was the lead for your agenda, then you would be able to get district wide support. Out of that support, an elementary school becomes an add-on.

A downtown elementary school is crazy expensive relative to un-used capacity. However, a new downtown high school is going to be around $150M and would require state and city support. From that perspective, an elementary school is just an add-on.

Also, if you manage to get high school capacity on the agenda for the city, then you become heroes and you will get support for the elementary schools that will eventually be part of that high school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Downtown Dad, no to the commuter parents unless you are wanting an Option School that will NOT be available to all kids downtown. A neighborhood school is for students who live in the neighborhood. You want to accommodate commuter parents, that's an Option School.

Anonymous said...

Kellie- Thank you that’s just the kind of creative input I was hoping for. Do you know of any other SPS properties that might be available for a school? Is there a list of SPS owned properties somewhere?

Melissa – Thanks for letting me know that the commuter school option is a non-starter. Do you know why? Is it a state law? An SPS policy? With all the capacity issues across city it seems like a no brainer to allow people that don’t require school funded transportation (commuters) who live in areas with capacity issues to enroll their kids into any neighborhood school with surplus seats? Am I missing something? Perhaps some unintended consequence?

Been There – I’m not sure how long ago you lived downtown, but I think you’d be pleasantly surprised by how far the neighborhood has come in terms of its livability, particularly for those with children. For example, for groceries there’s a Target and a Kress grocery store downtown, and for anything else there’s Amazon Fresh. There are also a number spaces popping up for kids like Playdate Seattle for younger kids, or the newly revamped Center for Wooden Boats for older children.

Like many neighborhoods we still have some work to do in terms of bringing more family friendly amenities to the neighborhood. And of course Downtown isn’t the right place for everyone, but then again what neighborhood is? I’d argue that one of the best things about Seattle is the unique character of each of its neighborhoods.

-Downtown Dad

jabi said...

I agree that the need for a school is present for some dedicated parents who are currently living in downtown. I think the educational needs have to be supported concurrently with growth, rather than in a reactionary, reactive manner, once the opportunities for growth have passed, and after parents have decided to take their families out of downtown.

joanna said...

I would be interested in what they area calling downtown for the discussion. Boundaries can be gerrymandered to include areas that are separate neighborhoods. Can we see the DSA study? Another thing to consider is the type of housing. You might have 400 children living in downtown Seattle. More than half may not yet be school age. A few may be in early grades. Fewer yet may be in upper grades and some may be in private school. Here in the TT Minor area we get to only count the number of students in public school, not the number of children, And, there is higher than average percentage who are in private school due to the constant uncertainty and weariness. Another thing to consider is that people will live in one or two bedroom apartment with babies, fewer with a toddler, fewer with children over the age of 8. And when a second child is born they move immediately. I am open, but data is necessary. Until Downtown has more family friendly housing, I don't think that even a current number of 400 will suffice to open a school as only a small percentage would show up for school. Definite numbers would be great. A picture of the boundaries would be great. The birth to 5 retention rate would be necessary. the number and grade levels of current Seattle School District students also would be appreciated.

Lynn said...

Joanna,

You can access the study through the first link in the blog post.

kellie said...

Jabi just did a great job of illustrating why so many people react so negatively to the folks advocating to a downtown school. Jabi posted.

I think the educational needs have to be supported concurrently with growth, rather than in a reactionary, reactive manner, once the opportunities for growth have passed, and after parents have decided to take their families out of downtown.

This is the fundamental question. Opportunity for whom? There is no opportunity for SPS. SPS can barely keep up with the students who are already enrolled.

Downtown advocates need to come to terms with the fact that the needs of "potential-possible-future" students are NOT greater than the needs of currently-enrolled-actual students.

I know that sounds harsh. But as someone who has been testifying at meetings about the incredible growth in Seattle and the impact that will have on public schools for 10 years now, I can tell you that current-enrolled-students is the business of the school district. It would be neglecting their primary obligation to go chasing "an opportunity" to go build it and they will come.

And this is the real problem for a downtown school. When schools are built "concurrently" with growth, it is because impact fees are charged to developers for that school. Period. End of story.

Seattle Schools service currently enrolled students. Concurrent growth is the problem for the City of Seattle and it is the City of Seattle's responsibility to plan for this concurrent growth.

To be very clear, the City of Seattle has completely and totally failed to do this. There has been zero planning for schools along side development. There are no plans for schools in any of the urban villages.

I know downtown is pissed about this. But your frustration is mis-directed. The BEX and BTA levies are about current buildings. These levies were never designed to be a vehicle to manage growth.

Anonymous said...

Our district is so underfunded it forces us into making costly short term decisions with severe long term consequences (nothing new there). The needs of both current and future students need to be met; however, I do agree that we can’t let current students slip through the cracks.

It seems like SPS struggles to keep up with operations no matter what the capacity issues are. Wasn't it the cost of maintaining unused schools that forced SPS to sell facilities that we badly need right now? If SPS doesn’t have adequate funding for operations no matter what the capacity is at a given time, and the BTA and BEX levies aren't available for new schools, how has the construction of any new school building been funded over the last few decades? Impact fees?

Confused?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Confused, don't confuse Operations with Capital. They are two different pots of money that do not overlap and cannot be used for the other's purposes.

BEX is the capital levy (or bond) that renovates/builds schools. It has been a backbone of updating the buildings in SPS. BTA is for major capital upkeep like roofs, HVAC, water lines, etc. (plus other needs).

The issue with all of this is that SPS has a huge number of very old buildings (Banda said this came as a big surprise to him). We have many buildings older than 50 years (about the standard although that is dropping.) It is difficult to keep up with the maintenance of both old AND new buildings. We spend far less than we should on maintenance and we are paying for it.

As well, the district has overspent and overbuilt in the past. Again, Seattle spends much more than neighboring districts. (Historic rebuilds are very difficult and expensive.)

kellie said...

@ Confused.

Every state has slightly different ways of funding schools and Washington State is consistently ranked near the bottom for overall funding. So there are issues with an overall lack of funds.

Funding is broken down into capital funding and operations. You can only spend capital funds on building and you can only spend operating funds on the school year. This is also standard practice for school districts.

Capital funds are generally for maintenance and replacement. They are not for growth. Think of it as the difference between the downpayment on a house and the mortgage. Districts are only every funded to the level of maintenance.

Impact fees is how growing districts fund new schools. That is standard practice. That is effectively the down payment portion. School districts are never funded enough to self-fund expansion, because expansion is so expensive.

Seattle has not had impact fees or the like in a very long time because for the last 40 years, there was more than enough buildings.

It is very understandable for folks new this process to think that "future" needs or expansion "should" be part of the process. But it just isn't. That just isn't how education is funded. Frankly even if education funding in the state were doubled, it is unlikely that would be allocated to expansion. It would most likely to do smaller class sizes and more enrichment of various sorts.

Again the general practice is that growing areas assess some sort of other tax system to so that growth is self-funded from that tax base. This is true for utilities and all sorts of public services. The failure of the City of Seattle to include additional public schools in their growth plans is not SPS's fault.

It is however, SPS's fault that they have so badly managed this issue, that they haven't gone to the City and demanded that they include funding of schools in the urban plan.

I know that Downtown Association felt that they could piggy back on BEX. However, BEX is a repair and replace levy. The levy was designed to replace buildings that have outlived their life expectancy. This last round was targeted in a way so that when things were replaced there were also augmented for some additional capacity. So this levy is focused on already owned property and already existing buildings.

A downtown school would be the first property acquisition in decades. That cost was never factored into any planning. Moreover, the vast majority of SPS property was donated in the first place, either by very generous land owners or as surplused federal and state property.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Melissa and Kellie for taking the time to explain this. I'm one of those people new to the issue and trying to take in all the information is daunting.

I think its a poor plan that provides only for existing needs. Each year we plug holes and it's the children and families that pay the price. It seems like there should be a better way.

By the way, I love the idea of generous land owners donating property for a downtown school. It angers people to talk of a school in SLU, but since Amazon and Vulcan are driving most of the major growth downtown that seems like a smart contribution to the community. Personally, I don't live in SLU and I'm not asking for that area in particular, it just makes the most sense to me.

-Andrea

kellie said...

@ Andrea,

I get it, I really do and I am glad that a few downtown folks are hanging in there and learning everything they can. The district can never have too many informed parent advocates.

Most people that are new to trying to navigate the politics of public schools really struggle with that point about enrolled students vs potential-possible students. If it helps, I still struggle with that as well. Seattle School are charged with serving students who enroll. Not all of the students who reside in Seattle.

As far as I know, Public Schools are the only organization that is absolutely legally required to abandon their long term plan to serve the students that are here today. Private business can choose to limit services. Other public agencies, also limit services. Public agencies only have so much funding and therefore there will be windows where you can apply for benefits and there are typically caps on how many applications will be taken.

This is just not the case with public schools. They have to serve every student who enrolls. The only students they can choose to not serve are those who are not enrolled. Therefore, they can make a plan to one day serve the growing number of students in ___ (fill in the blank, with a location, age group, etc).

However, if more students than expected arrive this year, then they have to give up that future plan. And that is what has been happening. There have been 1000 - 1500 more students every year for the last six years.

So the reason downtown families are getting so much push back is that there are lots and lots of "plans" that SPS has abandoned to redirect resources back to the kids that are enrolled. Everyone may be well intentioned with this notion of the potential-possible-future downtown school. However, it look and feels to many folks, like cutting in line. The idea that resources would be directed to a group that is not currently enrolled, when there are so many currently enrolled students stuffed to the gills is crazy making.

The move of the downtown area to Lowell is really the first step to getting a downtown school. If downtown families really enroll at Lowell and are staying downtown, eventually the number of enrolled students will warrant that downtown school and it will be required to provide that.

The only way for that to happen any faster is the same exact way that all other schools "happened faster" in the past. Someone donated the space to build the school.

I know it doesn't help to say that my neighborhood is doing the exact same thing. University Heights was sold off and many families leave my neighborhood when their kids start school to move closer to a school.

We were drawn into McDonald school, which is on the other side of I5, when it re-opened. Families dug in and did the hard work of opening that new school. Now that McDonald is full, we are now drawn out and being sent to Laurelhurst, which again is not a close school. You have to go past Bryant to get to Laurelhurst.

There are many folks in my neighborhood that have tried to work with various groups to get us a real school for the neighborhood. Nobody will even have that conversation until it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that school will fill and stay filled.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Kellie, you really are a wealth of knowledge. When you refer to donated space, do you mean land, or land and building?

Thanks,
-Downtown Dad

kellie said...

@ Downtown Dad,

Thank you. Donated is donated. There are links on the SPS website that have the history of all the schools in Seattle. That history also includes how the building / land was acquired. You can take a look at that and it might give you some ideas.

For a downtown school, you really don't need land/building to be outright donated. I don't even know if that would be possible with prices downtown the way they are. But you would need to have a few floors somewhere effectively donated.

Magnuson Park is an example of recently "donated" land. When the naval base was closed the land was given to the City.

Without donated land or space of some sort, getting a downtown school would require a whole special levy in order to get that amount of funding to buy the land / building. That maybe coming in the future as the district property inventory is reaching full utilization.

The Facilities Master Plan is where all the inventory information can be found.

Joe Wolf said...

Hello everyone: For those who don't already know I'm the lead planner for Seattle Public Schools.

Before joining SPS I spent many years in planning at San Diego Unified. In the early 2000s, after the downtown condo boom had taken hold conversation and advocacy around a downtown school began. I had to smile when reading this post and comments; the narrative is similar - at times identical. San Diego even had the school with surplus seats in the next neighborhood over. (Washington, in Little Italy)

For the downtown parents/school advocates: I can' really add anything to the good perspective and advice from your fellow SPS parents./advocates here. But I wanted you to also be aware that the district has standards around the size/seating capacity of new schools, and the number/size/type of spaces in the school. These standards are called "Educational Specifications" and they serve as primary guidance to the community and project architect during the planning process.

For K-5 schools SPS has two generic ed specs: One has capacity for 490 students at about 80,000 SF, the other has capacity for 660 students at about 91,000 SF. For reference the 660 student ed spec can be reviewed here:

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/facilities/Ed%20Specs/Generic%20Educational%20Specifications%20for%20Four.pdf?sessionid=f91f007d94d1d0178533809cdde770a1

There is also a K-8, 680-seat ed spec.

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/facilities/Ed%20Specs/pk8edspecs.pdf?sessionid=f91f007d94d1d0178533809cdde770a1

A site-specific ed spec is crafted for each new school and approved by the Board. To be frank, the Board does not seem supportive of new schools much smaller (if at all)than these sizes. They (and me and my staff) also will want to see lunchroom/stage, gymnasium and other support spaces sized close to what you see in the Ed Spec.

If you have any questions, please drop me an email at jawolf@seattleschools.org.

Erin K. said...

As a mom of two year old twins who has lived downtown since moving to Seattle when the boys were only weeks old, our family fully supports a downtown school! We actively choose the city life, electing not to own a car, and we know more and more families doing the same. A downtown school would do more than provide a service to specific families like ours. It would strengthen the community and soul of downtown Seattle, which would benefit business owners and residents alike.

Belltown Mom of 2 said...

I started a group called Belltown moms almost 3 years ago to build community amongst downtown families and to support one another as we raise our children in an urban setting. There are 50 people in our group and each person has from one-three children, one gal has 4 children. There are certainly families living downtown. Enough to fill a small school. Most children in our group are under the age of 5 and just approaching school age..so the need for a school, without forcing families to move out of the city core, is approaching quickly.

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Allen jeley said...

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