I attended a meeting today at the Cascade Parent Partnership school at Wilson-Pacific. The meeting was called by Superintendent Banda who was in attendance as was Facilities chief Flip Herdon and NE Ex. Director Kim Whitworth. The school had just finished a spelling bee and there were plenty of parents and students in attendance.
I hadn't been to Wilson-Pacific in awhile. What a pit. There is no other way to describe it and yet you walk into Cascade and it is warm and inviting and inclusive. I was personally welcomed by Principal Sterk.
Superintendent Banda opened with talking about what the district had been doing on this issue. He said there had been a lot of conversations about the two programs.
He said that he wanted Cascade to know that they are a valued school and not just a program. He said they do a good job of serving a student population that SPS doesn't do a good job of serving in other schools.
He then got very serious and said that the Cascade had not been given the same amount of attention in the media that NW Center had. He said the district HAD been trying to get this message out to the media about the importance of Cascade but that the media was being selective in what they report.
He said that he had sat down with the Seattle Times editorial staff to talk about what was at stake on this situation. He said he left thinking they had heard how the district saw it and was quite surprised at what the Times decided to write about in their editorial. (Reminder: the Times saw fit to completely leave Cascade out of the editorial.)
He also said that the district HAD gone to the City and asked for help and City officials offered no solutions or facilities for either program. He said he felt kind of frustrated with the community at large and the City Council and legislators. He said that in this case, with such high emotions and children with special needs, that he had hoped it could be a shared responsibility.
He was clearly unhappy with what had occurred with City officials and legislators.
He said the district had given NW Center an option of Van Asselt which NW Center said they didn't believe could be ready in six months (and was too far away for their children).
He said the permanent home for Cascade would be the Queen Anne building that NW Center currently occupies. He said they may have to add on at some point for Cascade but that it would be their building. But before Cascade could move in, there was some capital work to be done that would take between 6-7 months.
He said that his allegiance is to Cascade as an SPS program but he
wanted to be a good neighbor to NW Center since no other entity wanted to step up to
help. He said they wanted to give them more time to find a space for their community.
He said that the BEX schedule was a major consideration because they cannot delay the work on Wilson-Pacific.
He then turned it over to Facilities director, Flip Herndon who said that he needed to coordinate moves, logistics AND stay on schedule and on budget. He said that he had met with many people and said as an SPS parent and former teacher and principal he understood the concerns but that he knew they had to have a plan and a budget.
He said for Cascade they had looked at the QA gym (seriously, a gym for a program?) and Van Asselt but neither were viable.
He said that they had given notification to NW Center and they were not happy. But he said his first concern had to be to SPS students. He said the district had offered them Van Asselt and even with the pre-school licensing and capital work that it could be done in less than a year.
So here's the option (which gives everybody something but both parties - especially Cascade - will take it on the chin). All dates approximate:
- NW Center would move out of the Queen Anne building by January 2015 - the district is willing to work with them to move to Van Asselt but that is all they have to offer. Banda said that NW Center had told him they were working with a realtor.
- The work would then begin on QA for Cascade.
- Cascade stays on-site at W-P (but moves to another building there) and stays there for 6-7 months (from about Jan. 2015-June 2015). They would then move into QA in Fall 2015.
They handed out a schematic that showed three options at W-P and costs. One would involve using all portables, another would take money to fix the building and their favorite, of course, was the one with the minimal costs.
They said demo at W-P would start in Feb/March and that they would do what they could to mitigate the noise, dust, etc.
Let me say that in other districts, the norm IS to build while children are still on-site (as at Hale). But W-P is one of the crappiest sites around so to stay on-site has real issues for both students and staff.
- limited green space (if any). Access to the playfields would be restricted. SPS said they might be able to put a fenced-off play area in the parking lot.
- there is abestos and lead paint to abated. Many a building has had this issue so the district knows how to do this but rarely has done this with young children on-site (plus many of the mothers were either pregnant or had newborns in tow).
Principal Sterk was very diplomatic in her remarks about the effects to her staff but also plainspoken. She said that their school had been restructured for several years, always with the promise of being able to be stable. She said that her school had worked hard to build a community that breaks the socioeconomic/cultural/religious boundaries (and, if you looked around the room, that's just what it looked like). She said it was difficult to keeping promising one thing to staff and then finding out that it changed/wouldn't happen. She said the level of instruction suffered.
Parent reactions - frankly, I thought for a packed room they took it calmly. No one shouted or disparaged staff. But they expressed a lot of concern for their children and disappointment that it would be okay to ask their community to have to live with at least 6+ months of demolition with all its outcomes.
One parent said that she felt SPS cared more about a "private school" that had more childcare than academics.
Another parent said she was taken aback at NW Center's surprise at the lease termination when several Cascade parents toured the QA building in 2012.
Another parent worried about noise for students with sensory issues.
Another parent - and this shocked me - asked if the rats would be gone in the building they would likely move to. (What !?) But the answer was, yes, we'll make sure that is done.
(I believe the building they are moving into was the one the Native American program had been in and they are telling us that they are NOW going to get rid of the rats.)
One father quietly and calmly said another option was to tell NW Center that the 6 months was firm and that their first duty was to their SPS program, Cascade.
There seems to be a lot of "he said, she said" going on and there may be some very hurt feelings out there in elected official land.
It seems hard to believe that City Council members and legislators would get involved and have offered no ideas or solutions that they could help facilitate. But I will have to believe Superintendent Banda until I see proof otherwise.
If this was a court of law, SPS would be found to be within their rights to end the lease with NW Center. I'm also sure that the district could show evidence that they had been talking to NW Center about the possibility of SPS using the building (to the point of allowing a tour by parents) long before and well, NW Center was either being tone-deaf or playing chicken with the district.
Meaning, thinking "they won't end the lease with us after all the time we've been here and the money put into the building."
I think the district thinks they are being "fair" to both groups. But, of course, no one is really happy. The Cascade parents worry that if NW Center gets another six months, they will then ask for more time. SPS says that is not an option. I'm sure NW Center parents will be unhappy that the building is not going to be their home anymore.
But honestly, even for 6-7 months, I really do not think I would allow my child to be at a construction site where buildings are being demolished. I think beyond the dust, the noise, the abatement issues - it is very poor-quality situation for those students and their academic outcomes lessened.
I have to say that if the district asked this of any other school community with young children, they would get shouted down (or sued).
One last note, I asked the Superintendent about the meeting on Sunday with Rep Carlyle and NW Center. He said it had been canceled.
Principal Sterk told me she had been surprised to get a call, asking her to attend. When she found out that neither the Superintendent nor Dr. Herndon would be there, she declined saying that it would not be appropriate for her to attend a meeting that her superiors had refused to attend. She was told the meeting would not happen without SPS officials in attendance.
One big chess match except that it's about vulnerable children and their lives.