Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Seattle Schools Odds and Ends - Meetings

I went to the Board meeting two weeks ago and a couple of Work Sessions/Committee meetings.   This thread is the Board meeting and Operations Ctm. meeting. Here are the highlights:

Board Meeting
This was the one where the high school basketball teams were honored.  Very fun to be there (although the Garfield boys wanted to look as serious as possible). 

Paul Apostle of HR said they were making "exceptional" progress to hire early in hard-to -fill posts like Sped and ELL. 

There was a bit of mention for Genesee Hill which is now running about $2M behind.  As Chris Jackins pointed out, just looking at the site, you can see potential problems.  I'm not sure why this wasn't apparent sooner. 

The later start for secondary schools had about 3800 signatures by then.

One lone NW Center father spoke about the issue of where their program will end up.  He did say they didn't want to stay but that the district should "own" what they did in terms of delaying an announcement that gave NW Center not nearly enough time to find a new situation.

A heads up - to me, at least - about the amount of oxygen that Pre-K is going to take in our district.  To be sure, pre-school is key for many students and I support expansion.  BUT, we need to keep in mind that the district's LEGAL responsibility is K-12.  I support the district helping the City in its efforts but not at the expense of the district's real duty. 

I note that Director Blanford when on a trip with Flip Herndon of Facilities (along with two other staffers) just to visit pre-schools.  This kind of time makes me worry.  Because, again, there are priorities and yet I have wonder who is setting them.  Director Blanford had no meeting in March (he does have one in April on the 19th but it is not yet on the district calendar) but he had time to go over to Boston and NJ for this effort. 

Operations Committee

- the annual report on rental, lease and sale of property came off the agenda and was send to A&F "where it should have been." 
- there was the annual report from the BEX Oversight Committee and it had some interesting items.  Stephen Palewicz came to represent the group.  He said they were NOT there for design review but to give input.  He mentioned it might be good to have Facilities come in as part of their discussions.  He said, "the earlier, the better."

He said some areas of concern for BEX IV are:
- increase in construction costs.  In the past, I really believe this was puffed up and used sometimes as an excuse for lack of planning.  Not now.  This city is full of cranes (especially on the main I-5 corridor).  I suspect that costs will go up as there is more construction happening. 
- he said in BEX III, there had been decisions to "accelerate" projects and this affects costs
- He also said that there was "project scope creep" and I agree that it happens a lot. 
- He said there needed to be a balance struck for the first costs for systems along with what maintenance will costs and that needs to be factored into "green" building

Director Blanford asked a good question, "Is it in your role to look at a design project and say no?"  The answer was "No, that's not what we do."

So to understand. 

The public is voting for a pot of dollars for a "list" of projects (that may or may not end up being what happens). 

There's a BEX Oversight Ctm that reviews projects for issues and offers expert input. But, they, too, do NOT review the designs on a vote.  I have never heard - once - of the BEX Oversight Committee going to the Board to protest a building design.

Lastly, there's the Board.  Do they vote for designs?  They do not.  They vote in the money on a design but have little power to change the design. 

So basically, it's the architects, contractors and Capital building staff that have final say on building designs (with some cosmetic input from staff/parents/public).  I personally find this disturbing given the money involved and the long-term outcomes to schools and communities.

There was a bit of a roundabout discussion of capital versus maintenance (which eluded Director Patu).  But it was not conclusive about where the money goes. 

Green Lake elementary is getting a lunchroom (not a new one, they never had one to begin with) along with one new portable (that replaces 2 that were 50+ years old).  They will have a stage-music classroom and the maximum bid if $2.M.  Their green features will be rain gardens anda water cistern.

Jane Addams report.  They will be trying to do as much work as they can during the summer.  They are providing an art and science classroom (unclear if one each), new counselor office, seismic updates and a music room.  The total cost is $11.5M.  They had to add a new elevator in because the old one is so old, no one makes them and parts are too hard to find to keep it running.  (No mention of the issue of replacing the backflow regulator that was causing the fire alarm to go off.  I don't know what it ended up costing.)  That elevator won't be replaced until next October for about $200K.   Director Blanford said he had never been in the building. 

Gatewood Elementary needs a new roof but again, it was a musical dance about where the money came from.  I believe it was stated BTA III and BEX IV.  BTA III did NOT have Gatewood on the list but they found "underspend" but it wasn't enough.  They decided they had not been doing enough risk mitigation and are paying for roofer "fall" protection.

Roofs generally last 20-25 years.  A flat roof takes a bigger beating than a pitched roof (although the pitched roofs lose shingles more often.) 

Wilson-Pacific.  
- architect has been modifying specs to put in K-8
- they are saying 850 for the number of middle school students
- Director Blanford noted it was a small "envelope" which he had to be gently corrected on as it is one of the largest pieces of property being built on.
- middle school will be 3 stories, elementary 2-stories; the third floor in the middle school will be for their use only
- childcare will be in a separate building off the office.  (it was unclear if they meant a totally different building or just area).
- no outdoor amphitheater; what they had planned was simply to save money in grading the land in that area but I think it got too much pushback.
- I see in the plans, there are to be lockers.

21 comments:

mirmac1 said...

Thanks for this info Melissa.

Charlie Mas said...

As I read these recaps of meetings, I was struck by a question: Why is this work done by Melissa?

Why does it fall to Melissa to provide public, accessible summaries of the discussions and decisions at school district meetings?

First, why doesn't the local media provide them?
Second, why doesn't the District staff provide them?
Third, why doesn't a member of the Board provide them?
Any one of these could easily see it as their job to provide the public with a review of these meetings. But they don't.

The media don't regard the meetings as sufficiently newsworthy. They wouldn't attract enough eyeballs to be profitable. They will only cover Board meetings when there's something controversial on the agenda. The board meeting stories they file focus on one issue and might make mention of a second. They are never comprehensive.

The District staff - who take minutes at these meetings - often publish those minutes online, but in a way and a place that only a handful of deeply interested observers can find them. Not that it matters. Their minutes are so free of content that they don't give the reader any clue about the discussion. They only say that something was discussed or reviewed, not what was said. Given the stated values of the District around community engagement and the commitments listed in the Strategic Plan about working in partnership with the public, you would think that the District staff might provide some meaningful news about these meetings, but they don't.

It is the Board directors' duty to represent the District to the public, and they are in these meetings, so you might think that they could write up a little report about the meetings' discussions and decisions. But they don't. Director Martin-Morris writes long reports about the conventions he attends. I think we can expect a written report from Director Blanford about his visits to pre-schools, but where are the reports about the meetings held in the District that are specifically about District business? There are none.

So it falls to Melissa to attend these meetings and report on them here. Not just her. There are other folks who are regular readers of the blog who also attend meetings and report on them here. The only meaningful reports about any District meetings appear here on this blog.

That, by itself, would be enough to make this blog worthwhile. But on top of that, the blog provides not only get the news, but a context for that news. The blog also provides the opportunity for people to ask questions and get answers. Finally, the blog is valuable because it allows people to discuss the issue in the District.

Charlie Mas said...


Seattle Public Schools is about to hire someone as an internal communications specialist. This person will be responsible for keeping the district staff and the staff out in the school buildings informed about what's happening in the District. The internal communications specialist is also expected to gather comments - to create a two-way communication. That job is to essentially do for the district employees what this blog does for the public.

That's wonderful and everything, and I fully support it. I'm just wondering why it took the District so long to come to that realization. And I'm wondering why they don't realize that it is probably worth the same amount of money to do the same for the public. I don't understand why the District doesn't allocate about $100k in total expenditures to hire someone, provide them with the necessary resources, and task them with keeping the public informed about what's happening in the District, providing answers to questions, recapping meetings, making data and presentations available and accessible, and providing a forum for discussion. The District has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but they don't use them as they could and should. As this blog has shown, the District makes news nearly every day. Nearly every day has a meeting of some kind that can be recapped. Nearly every day has some sort of decision that can be announced and explained. Nearly every day there is some news from schools, from Special Education, from Advanced Learning, from facilities, from HR, from somewhere. Why doesn't the District - which has a perfectly dreadful public image - take real steps to manage that image?

I just don't get it.

The only conclusion that I can draw is that the District is simply contemptuous of the public. All evidence supports that hypothesis.

Mr. McCleary said...

The city wants to add 100 preschool teachers. This will create an additional drain/ expense to HR and Melissa makes a good point about legal expenses in relation to pre-K project.

The state is under a court order to fund education and K-12 can not afford to fund this project. The city must provide funding. When funding is gone; the project is gone.

Why did LEV get a campaign going to write board members when they weren't briefed??

Melissa Westbrook said...

Because LEV loves to check-off what they "accomplish" (and all non-profits have that need). Telling the Board to support pre-school before the Board has even been briefed by the City (heck, before the City has a plan) does make you wonder.

mirmac1 said...

If it's on the Road Map agenda, it's on LEV's and the City's OFE and A4E. They love to tell SPS what to do, and they use their mouthpiece the Times to push it.

I would vote against any levy for universal Pre-K. It would just create more FTEs at city hall and CBOs, and give them the largesse to hand out to their friends.

Sleep Needed said...

3800 individuals signed a petition for later start times and the district can't do the work because they are tied-up with other projects.

Yet, the city expects SPS to take on an additional level of bureaucracy? What is the city's role in all of this?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sleep Needed, well, when you have initiatives that have good intent backed with political motive, get out of the way.

Charlie Mas said...

Waitaminute. What does the School District have to do with the City's potential plan for pre-schools?

Pre-school is a city thing, not a school district thing. The District has their hands full with K-12 thankyouverymuch.

The City isn't working with the District on this, the District has nothing to do with it, the District has no space for it, and the District has no ability to support it.

The School District has nothing to do with it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, did we all not read the SP carefully? Because I DIDN'T and there is an entire section on pre-K. I smell a rate but there it is.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I smell a rat, rather.

Anonymous said...

RE: Preschools for All

I'm am a true believer in preschool for all and the value of prek. AND...

I attended the City's sponsored Work group meeting last week on PFA regarding Infrastructure. They posted the notifications here:

http://www.seattle.gov/office-for-education/about-the-levy/early-learning/preschool-for-all/workgroups

My main question is "Where?" will these preschools be housed when SPS doesn't have enough space already for K-12 (and the mandated SPED pre-k programs).

The DRAFT plan they shared talked about adding 100 pre-k classrooms by 2015-16 and by serving 10,000 pre-k kids (approximately 500 classrooms) by 2023.

In that Infrastructure workgroup there was an SPS staff member who said that there are already 69 "aligned" preschool classrooms that are in SPS buildings. These pre-k classes are not SPS run, but they don't pay rent to SPS, though they do have leases for the spaces in SPS schools they use. It sounded like these private preschools could have the chance to become PFA preschools (?), but I'm still confused about where the rest of these prek classrooms will be located. And if SPS will start considering kicking out these aligned PRE-k's when they need the space for K-12 in those schools in the coming years.

My own back of the envelope count shows that there will need to be somewhere between 200-500 classrooms for pre-k found in the city, which is basically 20-25 Northwest Center Preschools if there is 10 classrooms per site.

There was also a City planner guy at the meeting who said that just finding one site for a new preschool with something like 4 classrooms took a few years, and something like $2 million to adapt the existing space.

So... just for the fun of it, lets do the math. 200 classrooms / 4 classrooms per site on average = 50 new pre-k sites. If each of these sites already is a building and only needs to be renovated, 50 sites * $2 mil = $100 million for pre-k facilities.

K-12 isn't funded adequately now, and our SPS buildings are busting at the seams and BEX4 isn't enough (no money to meet the k-3 class size reduction mandate not to mention the "unexpected" enrollment growth), so really:

Where and with what money?

Our population is rising like crazy (and kids are showing up to go to school and preschool in droves more than expected) and shouldn't infrastructure costs (schools, transportation, fire, utilities etc) be assessed to these developments that are increasing our population, on purpose?

Why don't we have fees assessed on all of these new housing developments for these sorts of infrastructure needs, like other cities do (like Redmond Ridge did, for example)?

I'm a liberal through and through, and very happy to pay taxes for the public good. But, why are the policy makers continuously looking to property taxes to fund infrastructure, when most city's fund infrastructure through development fees?

Eden


Leonard said...

Why would the district even work on this issue? We don't have any guarantees the levy will pass.

BTW, how many City Council members wanted the tunnel and where is Bertha, now?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"...69 "aligned" preschool classrooms that are in SPS buildings."

I had no idea there were that many.

There was money in BTA III for preschool rooms, I think at Fairmount Park and somewhere else but I have no idea what ended up happening.

Eden, I do believe we are all now opening up a new can of worms that neither the district or the City want to come to light.

Why is SPS so involved in something that is NOT a core issue for them? Why is it in the Strategic Plan (especially as the district grapples with capacity issues)? Why are both staff and Board members going to conferences on Pre-K?

Inquiring minds would like to know?

Anonymous said...

Are they really aligned preschool rooms...OR are they the before/after school care rooms that the district will claim for preschool space. I've seen them do that very thing before and I just bet that's the "plan".

If I am right it is an absolutely HORRID plan. Families are begging for MORE before/after school safe spaces for their kids. Not less.

This needs a reality checkup real quick.

DistrictWatcher

Transforming Education said...

There are many interested in changing K-12-PreK-12 because pre-K has been found to be highly successful.

http://www.pewstates.org/research/reports/transforming-public-education-85899376968

I suspect we are watching attempts to get a system in place. Then, there will NOT be a mechanism to revert back to K-12. Do you remember when MAP got introduced into the district? Do you remember when donors funded data guys like Bernateck to come into the district? Get the initiatives into the district; they become so intertwined that you can't get rid of them.

Many in the legislature are not interested in funding education without "reforms". I suspect pre-K-12 will be attractive to such individuals and the state has already funded early learning as part of McCleary.

Will we be seeing legislation to expand K-12 to Pre-K to 12?

The board needs to hold a strong line on this initiative and thedistrict should not spend time on this initiative until if and when the levy passes. Then, there should be stipulations--when dollars run out the programs end.



Lynn said...

DistrictWatcher,

I don't understand setting aside space for before and after school care if we're desperate for space. Priority one is K-12 classroom seats.

LEV Watcher said...

LEV is involved. So, you can be sure there will be political action. They have already begun their campaign.

Jan said...

City Council meetings can be found here: http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/watchVideos.asp?program=edugov

Melissa Westbrook said...

How is Pre-K attractive to legislators when they don't even fully-fund K?

Yup, LEV is right in there. F]

Jan said...

You make a very good point, Melissa. You can also make the point that the legislature isn't paying for six periods of high school per day, but had no problem passing the 24 credit requirement and/or Common Core. No one ever said the legislature makes sense...;).

Then, we can have business groups throw Teacher Residency programs and of other unfunded initiatives into the mix.