Monday, March 03, 2014

Seattle Schools This Week

Had a great time at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin this weekend.  Very inspirational and got to talk with two education heroes - Diane Ravitch and Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union.  More on this later especially about Common Core.

To note, the district and bus drivers have reached a tentative agreement so there should be no bus drivers strike.

Also to remember, this is the last week of Open Enrollment.  It ends at 4 pm on Friday, March 7th.

Tuesday, March 4th
Special Education Advisory and Advocacy Council (SEEAC) Meeting from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at JSCEE, Room 2700

Wednesday, March 5th
School Board meeting starting at 4:15 pm.  Agenda
Of interest:

- I note that the Action Item to give all non-salaried employees at JSCEE a raise has been backdated to start on Thursday, March 6th rather than April 1. I will repeat again that while it may be true that these employees have not received a COLA in recent years, it does not mean that some have no been given raises. The real question is why the upper-level staff continue to get raises and no one else even got a COLA.

- Good news on one capital front - the district had estimated abatement at the Genesee Hill project at $325-400K and the bid is $279K. (But I have been hearing rumblings about this project - and I thought the drawings looked off to me when I saw them - and again, the district allowing architects to set the direction of the project seems to be happening again.)

- Somehow there's a contract negotiation for the architects for the Wilson-Pacific project that means the district will pay them another $456,670. There's a lot of WAC babble to explain it but really, it's just the BEX IV money pot shrinking faster and faster.

- A funny one to me (given how long I - with Pegi McEvoy and Principal Brian Vance - fought for security cameras at Roosevelt) is a technology contract to buy and install security cameras and equipment. And again the district, continuing its mission to make sure no one can track any capital spending, wrote this:
The primary revenue source will be from the BEX IV Capital Levy, though purchases may be made from various budgets, or other revenue sources.

Here's another great hazy statement:

It is estimated over the 4 to 5 year period this contract will be in effect, between $1,480,000 to $2,200,000 in security cameras and equipment may be purchased, for existing schools, new constructed schools or random camera purchases.
Nothing like "random" purchasing.

- Also on the security front, the district is applying for a grant from OPSI for a emergency response system for principals and staff about issues at their schools.

The goal of the grant is to use evolving technology to expedite the response and arrival of law enforcement and assist school districts to implement emergency systems. School districts will be expected to demonstrate collaboration with local law enforcement in developing an emergency response plan. 

The technology being proposed will provide principals and emergency responders a unified platform and enable them to make coordinated decisions with local emergency responders in the event of an in-building event. It will also provide principals with information about emergency situations in the surrounding community that will enhance their decision-making on lockdowns and/or other responses. Seattle Public Schools is proposing to use 4QTRS, the same vendor as the City of Seattle.

One odd thing - I mean if you want to help the most schools - is the order of the priority list.  First, it's schools with cameras, then schools scheduled to receive cameras and THEN, schools with "no technology."   

Intro Items

- President Peaslee is introducing a Resolution on later start times for adolescents.

- There's also a contract extension for three people for work on the Student Information System for $305k.  

This issue was not discovered until recently, at which point staff executed a limited extension through March 31, 2014, totaling $111,111, and notified the A&F Committee that Board approval would be obtained for the entire action. 

It is also noted that HR is reviewing technology salaries against the current market salaries as they have a number of unfilled positions (and thus have to hire outside contractors).  Given growing need appetite for more technology uses in SPS, this seems a good idea.  And maybe money for raises to senior staff should go here where it is really needed.   

- there is also an item to upgrade the Second Elementary South Wing at Lincoln.  The project is projected at $1.2M but there are no contracts available to read.  

- more on Genesee Hill's project and it's a bit disturbing.  Apparently the district paid Meng Analysis (a company that has been a long-time consultant for the district on capital issues) to do a Value Analysis of the Schematic Design.  (The report is 174 pages and so no, I have not read it yet.)

The study was undertaken by a team of professional architects, engineers and cost estimators who analyzed the design and developed suggestions for adding value to the project. Value Engineering is defined by the WAC as a: cost control technique which is based on the use of a systematic, creative analysis of the functions of the facility with the objective of identifying unnecessary high costs or functions and/or identifying cost savings that may result in high maintenance and operation costs.
The Value Analysis suggestions were accepted if they added value and/or reduced costs without negatively affecting educational programs and goals or the long-term quality of the building. The study provided the design team and District with information and strategies necessary to keep construction costs within budget.

The Value Analysis consultant made 32 different value recommendations, of which 12 had potential cost savings and 20 where rejected for various reasons, including not meeting District educational and program goals, District maintenance goals, or District sustainability goals. The total anticipated cost savings from the suggested proposals that the design team and District accepted is approximately $828,000. 
They didn't even accept half of the consultant's recommendations (and I would think they had told the Meng, in advance, about the goals of the District).  Hmmm.

Thursday, March 6th
Operations Committee Meeting, 4:40-6:00pm.  Agenda.  All capital facilities issues.  

Saturday, March 8th
A packed day for Director Carr who has her Community meeting from 8:30 am to 10 am at Bethany Community Church.  Then she goes to:

Board Retreat
First one to NOT be directed/organized by the Alliance for Education.  It should be interesting to see the difference.  It is not off-site where you have to pay for parking but right at JSCEE in room 2700 from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.  No agenda yet available.

Apparently there is another event at JSCEE that day so parking might be an issue.


Anonymous said...

Thurs March 13 6:30 pm at Pinehurst Building Library, 11530 12th Avenue NE.

The Seattle School District is requesting a waiver (departure) from 5 major City zoning regulations in order to build a replacement K8 at the Pinehurst site. The existing K8 school houses 150 students, it is a tiny triangular lot. Over the years, though, the K8 had about 250 students enrolled back in 2000, and, at its peak, with 5 portables on the site, in 1954 it had 540 elementary students -- now, the District is trying to cram 720 on that same site.

The District wants to demolish the existing school and construct a new K8 for 720 students at 11530 12th Avenue. The District is requesting modifications for increase lot coverage, greater than allowed height, more building square footage, SIGNIFICANTLY less than required on-site parking spaces and on-street bus loading.

The process for considering this request includes hearings before an advisory committee composed of neighbors and District and City representatives. The Committee will gather and evaluate public comment on the departure requests. It can recommend a waiver (departure) from some regulations and any relevant conditions to be applied to minimize its impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, or it can recommend denial. The Committee may make its recommendation following this meeting or hold up to two additional meetings prior to making its recommendation.

The Committee has been formed and will host its first public meeting on Thurs Mar 13 6:30 pm at 11530 12th Avenue NE.

The meeting will include a brief presentation on the requested modifications to development standards (zoning) that have been requested. Following this presentation, the Committee will consider its recommendations. An additional meeting may be held if the Committee concludes that more information is needed.

For more info: Steve Sheppard at 684-0302, or e-mail

-urban planning

Melissa Westbrook said...

I ALWAYS wondered about how a large K-8 was going to be put on that tiny lot. It is really small so this does not surprise me. Might have to check this one out.

Anonymous said...


I think you might have made a typo on the dates for the board retreat and the Carr meeting. Saturday is March 8, not 7.

Incidentally, there is also the NW Gifted Education Conference being held at JSCEE on Saturday March 8:

If the Board retreat is happening at the same time at JSCEE, parking might be interesting...


Eric B said...

If (and this is a big if) the waivers aren't approved, we have the following effects:

* No more worries about what to do with Pinehurst--they just move back into their building (if it's still standing)

* Another capacity shock in the NE with no space to absorb it. JAMS and Eckstein might be able to take the MS students, but there's no space for an elementary. I guess they'd have to put the new Thornton Creek building on the soccer fields instead of on the existing building, pump up Cedar Park, and gerrymander boundaries again.

Not a very nice scenario, but it's a beensy lot for 720.

Anonymous said...

I think JAK8 got too comfortable in a building that was too large for them and now they're too big for the smaller site. What would really help is to know the numbers for JAK8 and how many of they're middle schoolers will follow to JM vs staying on at JAMS. It's not too late to scale it back, is it?


Catherine said...

There are certainly ways to make that lot work for that number of students, but SPS would have to get way out of it's traditional building design mode - think NW School's new building. I don't know that SPS has it in them.

A quick look at the satellite view, the existing structure would require at least 6 variances to be built today.

John Sullivan said...

Here's a link to the SPS website detailing the JAK8@Pinehurst project.

Anonymous said...

If we are hoping for the city and the district to work more closely together on capacity issues, the Pinehurst location is the place it needs to start. Will they work together strategically? No evidence that this will happen.

So, failing city/SPS problem solving - if variances for the site don't allow 720+ students, SPS could hold down the incoming enrollment while the school is out of the building, and shrink the JAK8 program while it is in Marshall so that it is "rightsized" for its new home. The district has control over size of its option schools.

I doubt JAK8 would appreciate what holding down enrollment would do to its class configurations, or teaching resources, but it is the district's purview to set those option school capacity numbers. Does SPS downtown think this far ahead and this strategically? Not that I've seen.

Plus there is another issue: Constrained JAK8 enrollment means more kids in neighborhood schools. Eckstein and JAMS could absorb the middle school kids, but where would extra K5 kids fit?

Altogether, this is another example that the capacity crisis is here to stay, no matter how much SPS claims otherwise.

Capacity Wonk

Anonymous said...

Questions about Pinehurst:

1) Is there organized pushback from the neighborhood on the proposed size of the building, or is the neighborhood happy with plans for a nicer building or does the neighborhood ignorant of plans altogether?

2) Is there a nonarterial side street suitable for loading buses at this site? If so, good. If not, a variance is not a workable solution. An option school will have a lot of buses and an arterial is not a safe place to load little kids. Safe bus loading needs to be built into the design not as an "oops, we're already permitted" afterthought.

3) Is the fancy design with a garden on the roof, etc. that was dangled at JAK8 to get it out of the middle school space still a part of the proposed project? If we are blowing through BEX money with literally no home for hundreds of kids, SPS needs to be thinking about stretching dollars between sites. Solid construction minus frills is the priority.

Northern parent

Patrick said...

What a roller coaster ride JAK8 has had. In the first three years it was open, it was criticized as too small, and its only path to success was to build a great program and attract as many students as possible. Now it's threatened with closure again because it's too big...

Catherine said...

Thanks for the link to the plans - they're worse than I expected.

Anonymous said...


" Now it's threatened with closure again because it's too big..."

Drama, drama, drama!

Who said anything about closure? Scaling back to fit into a reasonably-sized building at the Pinehurst site is not the same thing as closure!

- reality check

Anonymous said...

@ Patrick: I am interested in the JAK8 Pinehurst building project. I don't see anyone on this thread trying to close JAK8 through the project. Where are you seeing it?

I hope the building happens on time, on budget. The area is not pretty and sometimes not safe, so a new facility should be a boost for neighbors.

I know this area is considered Northgate by the city and I remembered that there are some newer city design guidelines around urban villages. I looked up the document and here you go, as I have no time to read it. I would think the urban village designation should help not hurt the district to get the building done, as the city is pushing for density and nice design in the urban villages. Savvy Voter

Say NO said...

District administrators receive six-figure salaries, healthcare, dental benefits, paid holidays and other generous benefits. Costs for administrative raises will cost the district $230K. How can these same people ask for $$ while recommending the WSS get reduced by $3M?!

You can't compare I 609 workers to these highly paid administrators, either.

Catherine said...

Savvy Voter... thanks for the link.. I skimmed those... and I don't see the North Gate Design Guidelines well reflected in the Pinehurst drawings. I'm guessing the architect could "explain them" to me... but if those neighbors want something consistent with those guidelines... they should complain. The biggest things I see as transitions and massing. The drawings in general - rely far too much on grass in a high use area. Paths are going to be closed 9 months of the year. Also - the nooks and crannies offer lots of places for problems to develop.

me said...

I thought that option schools were losing their school bus privileges?

Lynn said...

Just outside of the service (middle school attendance) area in which they're located.

Maje said...

If anyone still needs to head downtown to turn in Open Enrollment forms, I was there today. The line wasn't too long and the enrollment staff was very helpful.

Patrick said...

There's six years of 3-up elementary students in addition to the middle schoolers at JAK8. How do you arbitrarily tell 1/3 of those students and families that they can't continue at their school?

Yes, it's expected that the middle school experience at a K-8 has fewer electives than a comprehensive. And they are. There are a few choices, but not nearly as much as there are at a comprehensive, and it's harder to work them into a schedule. With a 2-up middle school, instead there's hardly any choice at all.

The new school will be built to cover most all the lot and be two complete stories plus part of a third. That's why the roof garden, to have a little green space. This is an environmental science school, it's a place to make observations.

The Pinehurst site is not ideal, but when do we get anything that's ideal in SPS? It will work.

Incidentally, Tracy Libros assured me to my face that she had explored with the interior dept. getting permission to use part of Sand Point as JAK8's new home, and that it was absolutely impossible, would have required cabinet level approval, or something. So it really pisses me off that there's a private school that did somehow get approval to be built on Sand Point.

Anonymous said...

"There's six years of 3-up elementary students in addition to the middle schoolers at JAK8. How do you arbitrarily tell 1/3 of those students and families that they can't continue at their school?"

OMG! Do you not realize how insensitive and even offensive that question is to the 100s of 6th and 7th grade Eckstein and Hamilton families whose kids have been reassigned to JAMS for next fall?

Somehow, though, I doubt SPS would treat JAK-8 students in quite the same manner as those from Eckstein and Hamilton have been treated. If there was a need to scale back the K-8 program, they would probably start by restricting it to 2 kindergarten classes instead of 3, and go from there.

- reality check

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that Seattle Waldorf HS is leasing their building at Magnuson, and there are only 150 or so kids. It's not a very big building, and I think it was originally going to house a medical clinic, but that use wasn't approved. It's not quite the same as building or renovating a building large enough to house 700+ kids.

- reality check