Sunday, July 27, 2014

Downtown School; Maybe Something Deeper Happening

There is nothing on the Seattle Schools calendar for this week.  Well, there is one meeting happening and yet strangely, it does not appear on the district calendar.  It's almost as if this meeting is really for one purpose or group. 

It's the meeting at the Downtown Library about SPS taking over the Federal Reserve building. (The meeting is at 6 pm in the "Microsoft" auditorium with a walk-thru of the Federal Reserve building around 7:15 pm.)  Again, this is billed as a "conversational" meeting so I will have to see what form that conversation takes.

I also see, at the notice at the district webpage, NO mention of how to pay for these renovations.  According to the Times, it would be something on the order of $53M (up from Flip Herndon's ballpark $40M) AND they would be seeking levies funds to pay for it.  No mention either of downtown businesses or foundations willing to help this effort for a school they all seem to so deeply need/want.

I hope all of you know that Charlie and I could never have this blog without you.  And not just as readers.  So many of you send me alerts, messages, info - truly, thank you.
So it is in this case that another public education advocate has found some interesting information.

First, there are several groups heavily pushing this downtown school in the Federal Reserve bldg and yet, not a cent of money pledged (to make the district's application look better).

Second,  there's now a seeming pattern starting of districts taking old federal buildings and turning them into charter schools.

Understand that after getting that charter application okayed, the BIGGEST issue for charters is facilities.  It is a huge issues in NYC and probably will only get better.  Indeed, the Gates Foundation created a group just to help charters they want to support with capital funding. 

But you might wonder, how would that work here?  Well, a couple of ways.

One, our district becomes a charter district and allows that to happen.

Two, that handy takeover mechanism in 1240.  Boy, wouldn't that be quite the sad thing to pass a levy just for that building, renovate it and THEN have the parents and/or teachers take it over.  It would be much easier to do in the earlier years of a new SPS school than later.  And, if the school was not just enrolled from downtown kids but kids whose parent enroll them there and work downtown, well, that would be a much easier lift to get them to sign away the building.

As you probably know, Seattle's Downtown Association is pushing for a downtown school.  The Bill and  Melinda Gates Foundation and Vulcan are part of this association:
The Downtown Association has public support behind this initiative:
Supporters of the Downtown School are excited about Denver's downtown school, which happens to house a charter school.
It appears, Federal Reserve buildings have been used for charter schools.  The feds now provide assistance for charter schools. 
1.  Memphis:
"Veritas has been at the old Federal Reserve Building at 168 Jefferson Ave. Downtown."
 2.  "Meanwhile, the Grizzlies Academy is preparing to move into the former Federal Reserve Building off Third Street Downtown"
3.  Arkansas
Federal Assistance:


Watching said...

Any chance we'll see the U.S. Department of Ed offer funding to support a downtown charter school?

From attached article:

State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grants Program

According to the U.S. Department of Education, this discretionary/competitive grant “provides grants to eligible states to help them establish, [build] or enhance, and administer, per-pupil facilities aid programs for charter schools.” This grant program was created to encourage states to develop and expand per-pupil facilities aid programs and to share in the costs associated schools facilities funding. The Department of Education defines per-pupil facilities aid programs as program in which the state makes payments that takes into account the number of pupils in a charter schools to provide the schools with financing used solely for the funding of facilities.

U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Read more :

Watching said...

Arne Duncan and U. S. Department of Ed are very willing to help advance privatization of public ed:

Charter Schools Program (CSP) Grant Competitions

CSP administers eight grant competitions described in the chart provided below. Click on the name of each program for more detailed information.

Name ID Number Description
Charter Schools Program State Educational Agency (SEA) Grants 84.282A This program provides funds to plan and start new charter schools and disseminate information about existing charters in states with charter school laws. The U.S. Department of Education makes grants directly to a state’s department of education (or comparable state department), which then subgrants the funds to charter schools within its state. This program receives the largest portion of any CSP grant competition.
Charter Schools Program Non-State Educational Agency (non-SEA) Grants 84.282B This program allows individual charter schools to apply directly to the Department for start-up funds. Applicants must be from charter schools in states in which the SEA does not have an approved application from CSP under 84.282A (or will not have an approved application under 84.282A) as of the start date for the grant. Click here for more information about where to apply for start-up money.

John said...

Any chance Charles Wright, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is trying to get federal dollars for a downtown charter school?

Afterall, isn't he the guy that is pushing Gate's agenda.

Melissa Westbrook said...

All these things could make one wonder about what might be going on (or what could truly happen).

But, at the end of all this speculation, is the real issue of capacity. Does this district need a downtown school within the next 4-5 years? They do not. At least not with Lowell being half-full and so many schools, across the district, not seeing their maintenance needs met and/or are full to the gills.

The other issue is that I am unclear whether the district is advocating a single issue levy just for these funds or that they believe they can shove this project onto the next BTA. If it is the former, I think very few parents would support it. If it is the latter, I think it's a misuse of BTA funds with SO many schools having major maintenance issue.

Not to mention that BTA is NOT for renovations - BEX is.

mirmac1 said...

From the public records I've read, it will be in the next BTA. They're not going to wait for BEX V.

"As SPS previously noted, SPS anticipates this project will cost approximately $53M so the additional $48M will need to be included in the future capital measure."

I'm not sure that I'm going to the meeting tomorrow night. Would be great to hand out a flyer there with these concerns.

mirmac1 said...

"The residents of the City of Seattle have been strong supporters of SPS Capital Levy Measures and have successfully passed each measure since 1995.... SPS is presently planning BTA IV and with application approval SPS will incorporate this project in that capital measure."

Anonymous said...

"And, if the school was not just enrolled from downtown kids but kids whose parent enroll them there and work downtown, well, that would be a much easier lift to get them to sign away the building."

Huh? This doesn't make any sense. As a parent who works downtown and would love to have my daughter at a downtown school, I completely fail to see why I would would be more likely to sign away the building to a charter. What are you trying to say about parents who work downtown? Why are our motives somehow more suspect?

I already bring my daughter downtown everyday, it works really well for my family and I'd like to keep bringing her downtown when she is in elementary school. Charters have nothing to do with my desire for a downtown public elementary school.

Working Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Your motives aren't more suspect. However, parents who don't live in a neighborhood (especially for a new school) may not, early on, be as invested in the school.

I have heard from other downtown parents that they don't care if the school would be charter or not.

Even if the charter worries are small, the fact is that if the district tries to stick this money for the downtown school on the BTA, for me, that would be a mistake.

Major renovations are NOT what BTA is for and I have a feeling other parents would be very unhappy if this happened. Like to the point of not voting for the levy.

Get some downtown businesses and groups - like those mentioned in the Puget Sound Journal - involved and then it might be okay. The district cannot shoulder this alone at this point. Not with so many other capacity and facilities issues.

John said...

Why did the district request the downtown school to be pre-K-5? Shouldn't that have been a board decision? Being an application has been submitted to feds, would thd board be able to designate a downtown school to a high school?

The board should ask whether or not the district intends on applying for grants that will support a downtown charter school.

John said...

I should have said: Why did the district designate the Federal Reserve bld as Prek-5 on it's application?

John said...

I should have said: Why did the district designate the Federal Reserve bld as Prek-5 on it's application?

Anonymous said...

No matter what your stance is on the Fed Building I have no doubt that you will eventually realize that the dots don’t connect here. Below are a few points worth considering:

1) The last thing the DSA, downtown parent’s organizations, and most downtown parents want would be for the Federal Reserve Building to be converted into a Charter School. Charter Schools are “required to give every child in the state an equal opportunity to attend the school” (Source: Washington State Charter Schools Association). This means that they cannot legally give geographic preference to children living downtown. All of the aforementioned groups understand that getting into a downtown charter school would be as competitive as getting into downtown daycare (almost impossible due to the number of commuters also applying). The simple fact is that this would do nothing to remedy the lack of a downtown public school and anyone concerned with this issue understands that.

2) Yes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Vulcan are DSA members, but so is just about every other downtown residential building, condo board, property owner, business, non-profit and utility company etc… Also, the accusation has always been that Vulcan is pushing for a school as an amenity for the South Lake Union neighborhood and the Fed Building is not in SLU.

3) No matter what anyone’s stance is on the Federal Reserve Building it’s time to realize that there is a significant number of families with children living downtown and the number is only going to continue to grow at a rate faster than the rest of the district (this is speculation based on trends, but that's all anyone can base forecasts on.) There isn’t some ulterior motive; downtown parents just realize that there is a need for a neighborhood public school, and with downtown land as scarce as it is this might be the only chance to make it happen. In my personal opinion, the best case scenario would be to build a downtown, give downtown families priority seating and if there are additional spaces left let Working Mom’s children to fill them to relieve pressure on her neighborhood.

-Downtown Dad

Anonymous said...


I agree with you. It would be unwise for SPS to include $53M needed for the downtown school in the next BTA levy or have a new levy just for this school. The District has a long backlog of maintenance and repair that need to be taken care of. It would be good to get assistance from the Feds, OSPI, or private corporations.

Charter should not be an issue. The bottom line is to provide quality education to kids.

SPS Observer

Melissa Westbrook said...

I was actually answering the parent who works but does not live downtown. I'm sure if a K-5 school does come to pass, there will be a big discussion over attendance area versus Option school (which would allow different sets of kids to access it).

I don't care what businesses are pushing it - they need to understand that the district cannot take this on alone. If this is such a good thing for their workers and part of any infrastructure, then I would think there would be some visible support to the district. The application does not reflect this.

As far as the charter issue, I'm just pointing out the linkage in other states between use of old federal buildings and charters. It's good to know what is happening out there.

I would not be able to support any renovation - for any school - on a BTA levy. That is NOT what they are for and there is far too much mission creep happening already.

Concerned said...

While many do not support privatization of public education, including downtown parents, we can not ignore the fact that charter operators want access to public buildings.

It is alarming to see that other states have utilized Federal Reserve buildings for charter schools.

The Federal Government has been a partner in privatization of public education. The feds use their funds to lift charter school caps etc.

It makes perfect sense to open a downtown school.

We're looking at fall-out from charter schools coming into Washington State. Green dot has submitted a letter of intent to open a school in S. Seattle.

Welcome to our new normal.

Anonymous said...

I will not support any request to purchase a new school out of a BTA levy. That levy is for maintenance and technology, both of which ALL of our schools, from K-12 DESPERATELY need.

If the district insists on lumping this idea into BTA be prepared for a hella lot of blowback. The message will be Fail the Levy. Bring it back without priority funding for downtown.

Want the district to buy the building? Fine. Get our state legislators on it and get an earmark to do so. They did offer to do this before, ya know. But the district under Banda and specifically from Peggi McEvoy and the previous Capital Planning director assured the legislators multiple times that they had capacity under control and could manage alone.

Ask your legislator. They will affirm this happened.

I'd like a public statement from the district that capacity cannot be handled out of usual levy funds. I would like an apology to our hardworking state legislators who went out on a limb for SPS only to be told to mind their own business. And then I'd like the district to do another ask to them.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. A downtown school 100 percent should not be funded out of BTA.

And also, an accelerated schedule for a new high school comes before any - ANY - funding for new K-5 property. I hope downtown is hearing this.


Joe Wolf said...

Additional detail on projects funded in BTA III

Four closed elementary schools were modernized and re-opened to provide additional capacity and address projected enrollment growth:

- McDonald
- Queen Anne
- Rainier View
- Viewlands

Anonymous said...

@ Joe. Thank you for commenting. In every one of the cases you cite, BTA $$ were used to provide heavy duty maintenance on buildings that had been neglected and/or closed. The closed part being a travesty that despite the wishes of SPS downtown staff, parents will never forget. Never. The maintenance needed in Viewlands (which had been stripped of copper wire by thieves) and the other closed schools were an additional mistake, bordering on professional malfeasance, by the capital planners in place at the time. If parents can easily understand that closing a building means - by city code - that maintenance and remodels to bring it up to current code must be accomplished in order to permit the reopening of a building...well, then, staff at that time should have thought ahead and realized that even with a whiff of a doubt about capacity, the buildings shouldn't be closed. The $$$ needed to fix that error, breathtakingly close to $100 million, was never more than an "oops" from downtown. Never.

So when SPS has been neglectful, callous and downright idiotic about the waste needed for those "maintenance" needs and has done close to nothing to address the $100 million backlog on CURRENT maintenance needs, you can understand why PROCUREMENT AND MASSIVE RESTRUCTURING of that Fed building simply cannot jump the line to help a future enrollment need. There will be future political will and no doubt private funding to help get a downtown effort off the ground. Great. Right now, the district needs a new high school yesterday and that will require massive renovation at Lincoln. Then it needs to put its current kids in buildings that will actually have enough classrooms to handle the kids, will have well maintained portables, won't collapse in earthquakes, leak in the winter, serve up undrinkable water, present barriers to the disabled, allow for the addition of technology in classroom without blowing fuses on half a building, let kids eat in an actual lunchroom, put in safety cameras and wouldn't it be great if crumbling community-blight exteriors could get a fresh coat of paint and some mortar in the next 2 decades? How much of a dent have we put in the debt and the pending list of projects? Almost none? Oh.

Anyhow, when we've got that under control, yes, put the massive purchase and remodel of a downtown building onto some future BTA levy. Until then, No. No. No. No. No. No.


Just Saying said...

I always like when Joe Wolf drops by...:)

The State LEGISLATURE should be providing funding.

Anonymous said...

What DistrictWatcher said.

With the addition of "can't afford an auditorium at Wilson Pacific? Can't afford the Fed building."

North of 85th

Melissa Westbrook said...

Joe, very different situation. That was a true capacity issue, that was $50M spread out over four buildings and it was more or less an emergency.

This is not the same thing.

And I agree; downtown businesses, education foundations, the Legislature - they should all have a hand in this.

Charlie Mas said...

I believe that the renovations to the Mann Building are also getting paid out of BTA funds. It is only indirectly a move to increase capacity since it will allow the Meany building to be a neighborhood middle school again.

That, by the way, was also a $100 million carousel.

Anonymous said...

What is happening with the city landmark status of Wilson - Pacific? Has it been decided yet?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, the Mann building (as well as TT Minor) are their own special situations. But again, I don't like this mission creep of BTA. Too much is NOT getting done.

Anonymous said...


I hope this doesn't come off as too combative, but I take issue with a few of you're statements.

"I have heard from other downtown parents that they don't care if the school would be charter or not."

1) This doesn't match my experience speaking to other downtown parents and I have spoken to a number of them. I'd also bet that the parents that you spoke to would not be likely to support a charter school once they learned about the geographic preference issue.

“But, at the end of all this speculation, is the real issue of capacity. Does this district need a downtown school within the next 4-5 years? They do not.”

2) Due to the recent increase in children living downtown, the continued trend toward raising children downtown, the 5,000+ units delivered downtown in the last 18 months, the amount of development under construction right now, and the unprecedented amount of development happening in the 1st Hill and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, I do not agree with the above statement. Downtown families were already moved last year because they overwhelmed QA schools, and they'll be moved again when they overcrowd CH schools. The next move should be to a downtown school, not to the next nearest neighborhood with capacity. This is not OK.

If I’m wrong, a school downtown with excess capacity relieves pressure on other schools by attracting parents that are commuting from neighborhoods that are overcrowded (these seats will always fill). If you’re wrong and we don’t take the Fed Building we’re in for a real mess in 4 to 5 years given the lack of downtown property large enough to accommodate a school and the extreme price of downtown land.

Coming up with funds to acquire land have always been a challenge to SPS, downtown is an extreme example, this is free land downtown.

-Downtown Dad

kellie said...

The last BTA included funds to open five buildings. The four Joe listed plus Sandpoint.

The next BTA will most certainly include extensive funds for various new capacity projects because it will have to. BEX IV was not nearly enough new capacity and there is no way the situation will hold until the next BEX.

My bet would be that the next BTA is at least double in size and focused on the several capacity issues that were not addressed in BEX.

kellie said...

Downtown dad,

I often support things you say. However, please know that downtown was not moved because you overwhelmed Queen Anne. Downtown should never have been placed on Queen Anne in the first place because QA was already full.

Downtown was only put on Queen Anne in order to support the illusion that Meany Middle School and TT minor could be closed. Had those schools remained open, downtown would have been assigned to Capitol Hill schools

Anonymous said...


I was referring to a letter sent out to parents of John Hay elementary students about the reason for the boundary change. In this letter the increase of students downtown was one of reasons given for necessitating the boundary change. Having said that, I can also admit when I'm wrong, and given the context you just provided I was wrong on this point. Thank you for the background clarification.

-Downtown Dad

Melissa Westbrook said...

Downtown Dad, that's fine if you disagree.

I'll have a wrap-up of the downtown school meeting; there were some interesting things said.

Kellie, I spoke to Richard Best about "mission creep"in BTA. I realize that there continuing capacity issues (but not downtown according to Flip Herndon but throughout the district at all grade levels).

Best said that yes, BTA was for major maintenance but that they have continuing capacity problems.

All I can say is the district has gotten themselves in such a capacity crisis mode that they do not want to acknowledge that they are allowing more and more backlog maintenance to happen without truly addressing it.

You cannot build your way out of maintenance. It's almost criminal to ask taxpayers for money to create a building that the district is then going to undermaintain.

I'm sure some of you know buildings that have maintenance needs big and small.

kellie said...

Thank you Downtown Dad. I would not be surprised at all that John Hay would send out a letter like that.

There are dozens of neighborhoods (my own included) that have been sliced and diced and moved around because there is not a natural neighborhood school for them. Unfortunately, when the capacity issues reached a boiling point, the desire to explain the issue as "those students" are crowding the school and they need to be relocated. I strongly dislike that inevitable phenomenon. It is inevitable simply because the capacity issues are so complex that very few people know the causes.

You will see this in big form soon enough. Next year all of the north end high schools will be effectively full and the natural next step will be some version of "those Queen Anne and Magnolia families" need to go somewhere other than Ballard.

kellie said...

@ Mel,

I agree that you can't build your way out of the maintenance issue and yes, they have created quite the capacity issue. Unfortunately the size and scope of the issue is still only really understood by a small handful of people. The illusion that BEX is going to provide capacity is very strong and well ... supported in multiple letters from the Superintendent.

I have a small issue with the part that BTA III funds to open 5 schools was because of a crisis. As early as the 04-05 round of closures, the official recommendation was to re-open Sandpoint elementary and repurpose Summit in some way in order to meet the growing enrollment in NE Seattle. Naturally the idea that opening a school while closing other was so politically untenable but it was quickly lost in the closure frenzy.

Another part of that "crisis" was the part when BEX III was repurposed as the high school BEX. John Rogers and Laurelhurst were both on the short list to be rebuilt and provide significant more capacity but again that was lost in the "equity" of doing all the high schools.

None of that is "news" to you but it is just another reminder that these crisis of the day is often just the natural result of the failure to put a plan in a place in a timely fashion.

The middle school crisis in North Seattle could have been easily averted in 09 but by 12, the options were vanishing. Likewise with high school. A concerted effort now could result in a solution. However, by the time the extent of the lack of high school capacity is known, it will be a crisis and too late for a plan.

Anonymous said...

@ Downtown Dad - genuine question - how much of that development in and around downtown is actually the 2+ bedrooms families require? I have heard that much of the current residential downtown and adjacent development is focused on studio and 1-bedroom residences, a major problem.


Kate said...

To Curious. You are correct. Most of the DT development is studio and (small) 1 BR, and in fact nearly all of it is rentals. Not the type of housing that families with even 1 child are likely to move into.

Kate said...

I believe that the reason last night's meeting on the DT school wasn't on the district calendar is that it wasn't in fact a district meeting. I think that the meeting was organized by the DSA and the city. Burgess and his LA, Alex Pederson, were there, as were many, many DSA people (who were busy handing out blue 'Downtown School' stickers to attendees.

The agenda was not on SPS letterhead, as every other SPS doc is. I have to think that SPS (Flip Herndon and Richard Best) were there at the behest of the DSA and the city. As such, they should have made that clear.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the genuine question.

I was tempted to ask Kate to define “most” before posting this, because in the context she provided it makes it sound like 95% or more of the units downtown have one or fewer bedrooms. If this was her assumption it would be a fair one, because most people that don’t live downtown don’t really understand this changing neighborhood. It’s not a judgment on people that don’t live downtown, just an observation I've made in discussing this issue with people (some of whom I have a lot of respect for) that don’t live downtown. I will admit that I don’t understand the dynamics of other people’s neighborhoods the way I understand my own either. Back to my main point…

This is a tough question to answer, but I’ll tell you what I know.

According to Dupree+Scott which is by far the most robust data source for market-rate apartments, 27% of the newer (completed in the last 5 years) apartment units downtown (Bell/Dwntn/SLU) have two or more bedrooms. I should also point out that the percentage of overall 2+ bedrooms to all size units is increasing. If you consider all age units the percentage of units with two or more bedrooms is 23%. The raw number of units by bedroom count is almost impossible to get because full census data is only collected once a decade and no one surveys 100% of the buildings. The other issue is that this doesn't include is condos, buildings with fewer than twenty units, or income restricted units. When you consider the roughly 2,000 apartment units delivered since 2013, the 1,100 units currently under construction, and the 7,200 additional units scheduled for completion over the next three years (I don’t know how many of these will actually be built, but with a completion date of three years or less many will. I've also excluded any planned project with a completion date more than three years off) than 27% translates to a large number of units.

I take issue with people’s assumption that renters don’t have children, because I personally know a number of downtown renters with multiple school aged children. Having said that, I can tell you first hand that I see children coming out of the condo buildings in my neighborhood every day. Currently almost no condo inventory is available downtown which is why developers are starting to propose new condominium projects again. In the condominium projects that I know of coming on line, the percentage of 2+ bedroom units is much greater than 27%. This happens to be true of the larger apartment projects I know of being built right now, though aggregated unit mix information is hard to get before a project is delivered. To give you some perspective on condo’s, the one major condo building currently being constructed in Seattle right now will contain two towers and 707 units. The first of two towers is almost complete and 2/3 of the units are 2+bedrooms, they are contemplating increasing the number of 2+ unit bedroom units in the second tower due to demand.

I would speculate that the number of family size units is only going to continue to increase as the trend to raise children downtown increases, and the number of developable single family properties available for development decreases. One thing that gets missed in a lot of these conversations is that there simply isn't land available to build additional single family residences in most of Seattle; however, you can build up. For families that are open to living in multi-family buildings, downtown is an attractive place which is one of the reasons for the significant increase in families living downtown. The cost of car ownership downtown is significant however, so most families either own one or no cars, which is one of the reasons why neighborhood amenities like schools are so important

...Ran out of space. Continued on following post (Downtown Dad...

Anonymous said...

…continued from last post

The issue of a downtown school is going to bite the district hard if it doesn't get solved. Miraculously there may be a way to solve the issue and one that won’t likely be available again. Yes, there are other issues throughout the district. I feel for neighborhoods that need more capacity like North Seattle and West Seattle, I’m angered that the state doesn’t step up in a bigger way fund education, and I would vote yes to whatever amount of money it takes to solve the capacity crises in these and other areas, but… that doesn't negate the fact that the downtown issue is coming at the district in a big way and its coming fast. I also want to point out how much flack SPS is taking right now due, in part, to short term capacity decisions that were made without adequately considering the future. It is my understanding (please let me know if you disagree with the following statement, but also note that I wrote “due, in part”) that some of these decisions lead to the current situation which has left the district with severe capacity issues and few options to add capacity due to a lack of physical school building area available for expansion, the lack of SPS controlled land in relevant locations to build new schools on, and the general lack of non-SPS controlled property available at relevant locations that could accommodate a school even if SPS had the money.

In my opinion taking advantage of an unreplicable opportunity to add capacity in a key location centrally located within the district’s service area is vital to the health of this district moving forward.


-Downtown Dad

Lori said...

Downtown Dad, I appreciate your posts.

I for one am very conflicted about the situation. I agree that it would behoove the district to be able to obtain the Federal building. We desperately need space, and this is a rare opportunity that must be explored. And, in a well-functioning district, it makes sense to plan for growth well ahead of time to avoid the crises we're seeing elsewhere in the district.

But every hour of staff time, every resource, and every dollar that goes into creating a new preK-5 downtown is time, resources, and dollars not going to urgent, time-sensitive issues, like the high school debacle that hits in another 2-3 years. And that really concerns me.

I'd like to know if the downtown building could be used as a high school, for example. Someone mentioned upthread about the likely fights that are coming - can QA and Magnolia stay at Ballard, for example? Or, could a new downtown high school take students from those areas, freeing up space north of the ship canal? I don't know. But the district might get a lot more support for a downtown preK-5 if they could show that they are actively working on solutions for the rest of the city and that they truly vetted other uses for the Federal building. I haven't seen any community engagement about possible other uses for that building or discussion of the coming high school fiasco.

The district only continues to hurt itself by ignoring the high school situation, and the fact that that capacity crisis is going to affect the very same kids and families who have already lived through elementary and middle school crowding, splits, and interim locations, and are now being asked to help build new middle schools from scratch isn't going to help. I think if I saw any evidence whatsoever that they are working on acceptable solutions to the high school situation, maybe I'd get more on board with a downtown preK-5. But right now, it just looks like they'd rather work on "easy" problems while avoiding the bigger, thornier ones, and that is no way to run a district or meet kids' needs.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lori.

I don’t want to sound uniformed and I haven’t put any thought into this, but in regards to the QA/Magnolia high issue, perhaps SPS should consider a portion of the 40acre Amgen site (likely coming up for sale). Is there a play by giving additional FAR (via upzone) along 20 waterfront acres, for a discount or donation of interior acreage? Pie in the sky? Again, this is just an uniformed off-the-cuff response to the issue you mentioned and likely unreasonable for a number of reasons that I’m unaware of.

-Downtown Dad

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kate, Burgess was there? I didn't see him and I know he wasn't on the tour.

Not a district meeting? Well, I will follow up on that. Hmmm.

The issue of a downtown school is going to bite the district hard if it doesn't get solved.

As compared to what? No seats for some NE kids? The coming high school seat crisis (which, hey, will affect QA/Magnolia)?

As for land capacity, I note that Flip Herndon used just the same language last night. Interesting. Look, that there was never any real downtown school means that no one thought it important even decades ago. I did try to point out last night - unsuccessfully - that the district DOES have land to bargain (at Seattle Center). You tell me why they are not talking about that.

And Lori is right. Why all this time and energy on pre-K when we aren't addressing all the physical and academic needs of K-12? There's a question EVERY SPS parent should be asking.

Lori, Flip Herndon said that the Fed Reserve building is best for K-5 (and he repeatedly said K-5 as others said Pre-K-5). Well, if it fits 600 K-5, I'm sure it could fit 500 high school students.

It's all a matter of who is willing to do what for whom.

Downtown Dad, I appreciate how hard you are working on this issue but with what money could the district purchase anything?

That Vulcan and the City and Gates are all waiting and hoping that the citizens of Seattle will pony up the money to renovate the Federal Reserve building is very sad.

I suspect (and I'll follow up) that if the money didn't come thru on a levy, THEN you'd see businesses and the Legislature step in to help. But why help if you don't have to? Isn't that the business way?

If the district wants to pit parent against parent over BTA IV, so be it.

Understand that might mean the first loss of a levy in years (and this time I truly believe it might happen). There are too many SPS parents in buildings either overcrowded/under maintained or both who will chafe and then say no to giving over a huge chunk of money for a downtown building.

Last BTA was $270M. You try to expand that (and I hate the mission creep coming into BTA, repeatedly as the all-purpose "where do we find the money" levy) to include a spare $53M+ and I think you have a fight on your hands.

"It's for the kids" will not cut it this time.

Anonymous said...

Yes to much of what has been posted here, and thanks all for bringing up excellent points.

Yes, we need capacity so I'm not personally opposed to this "free" building, AND there are two fundamental problems:

--There currently is NO funding.
--This downtown school for pK-5 (The plans showed PRE-k amenities, BTW) is not the most pressing capacity need. But we can't really state that yet because the district hasn't publicly acknowledge WHERE we need space.

Kellie is right. We need to build THE list.

We need SPS and the City to get together and look at how much development is going on where and WHERE we need more schools for which grade levels kids.

(I'll add that they need to start doing this out in the open, not behind closed doors, and they need to meaningfully engage parents, too, of course.)

What WAS marvelous at this meeting was that Flip acknowledged that Bex 4 is not enough, and that we likely need as much $$$ again to actually address our capacity challenges. I don't know that I've ever heard that stated publicly before. Finally we are moved away from "We've got it handled and everything is fine" toward, "We have some capacity challenges and not enough money to deal."


We need to start pushing for IMPACT FEES. Development is bringing more kids into the downtown core. Development is bringing more kids to Ballard. Development is bringing more kids to Wallingford, Queen Anne and Magnolia, and STILL they keep looking only to property tax levies to fund schools, when DEVELOPMENT should be kicking in for the impact on infrastructure (schools) with IMPACT FEES.

I agree with Mel here. We can't keep going after only property taxes. People are getting regressive tax weary.

I said as much to Burgess last night. (He also told me that WP has been designated a landmark building, which was news to me and I still in the dark about what that means). Burgess said that they were planning on starting the discussion about impact fees next year, and I rather bluntly said that I didn't think that was soon enough.

If you feel the same, write him a letter. Tell him how overcrowded we are at SPS and how much we need the City to HELP us out of this capacity crisis, because after all, the CITY AND ALL of the development that is going on is part of the reason we are bursting at the seams.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the Times also ran a piece about PRE-K today, and the comments are all about how our most pressing problem now is OVERCROWDING and CAPACITY, (and no, I didn't write any of them.)


Melissa Westbrook said...

"Kellie is right. We need to build THE list."


That the district doesn't see this is deeply troubling.

Yes, W-P was declared something of a landmark by the City committee. I'll have to check what it means to the process.

Joe Wolf said...

Re: High school capacity

I think I have posted the following before, but it's been awhile. Any FACMAC members reading this can tell you these ideas have reached that level of community conversation, at least. Please note that none of them have been formally discussed with the Ops Committee or full Board to date.

Present projections indicate SPS will need a minimum of 1,000 additional HS seats after the re-opening of Lincoln. Two potential options to address this need:

Option 1:

Modernize and add seats to the currently-vacant Magnolia campus. Move Blaine K-8 to this campus. Retrofit the Blaine campus as a ~1,000-1,100-seat high school to serve Magnolia/QA/perhaps part of Downtown.

Option 2:

Add seats/capacity and core facilities - about 600 seats each - to Ingraham and Rainier Beach. (They are the only two extant HS campuses where any significant expansion is possible.) This would make both schools about the same size Roosevelt is now.

As these campuses are at the far north and south ends of the district. it might make more sense to use IBX/IB/other programs to draw students from other high schools, rather than boundary adjustments.

I suspect there is interest at looking at our Seattle Center property too. But I wanted to let the readership here know that there are do-able solutions.

Some thoughts on high school size:

Recall what Kellie said the other day about the challenges of setting up a high school: Master schedules, class offerings etc. A high school of 500 students - what some readers here have proposed for the Federal Reserve building -would have significant challenges offering. say the Ballard or Roosevelt class catalog without augmentation of the standard staffing formula. The current Board wants to stay with comprehensive, 1,000-1,700-seat high schools for that and other reasons.

Conversely, there is also no appetite for a 2,500-seat high school, which would have:

- Been the biggest high school in the U.S. north of San Francisco and west of (suburban) Minneapolis;

- Been 47% larger than Roosevelt, our current high school;

- Required a building of 425,000 s.f. More than twice the square footage of the Wilson-Pacific elementary and middle school buildings combined. Plus high school-appropriate fields and parking. Yeah, no.


Lynn said...

Hello Joe,

I was under the impression that most (if not all) of the high school capacity needs will be in the north end. If that is true - it seems Option 1 would be a good solution. Are you anticipating that Option 2 would be effective because the majority of the 1,600 or so high school students in the RBHS attendance area would be shut out of other high schools due to lack of space?

If we'll be 1,000 high school seats short after Lincoln reopens, do you have any idea how many seats we'll be short in the 2015 - 2018 school years? And finally, is someone working on a solution for that time period?

Thanks so much for sharing information with us!

Anonymous said...

HI Joe!!!!

Thanks so much for visiting, and for the stating that current projections have us 1000 seats short even after Lincoln is opened in 2018, just 3 short years away.

I would also like to caution that given the intense increased development in the North end, that number might still be low.

So, can you tell me...

Is FACMAC still meeting?

What is the internal process for having these sorts of discussions on what solutions might be found?

What about approaching the Feds for the the property at Fort Lawton? It is literally down the street from Blaine, and and is huge.


Kate said...

To Melissa, yes, Burgess was there. He came in a bit late and was sitting with the group of parents with toddlers. He was looking a bit frail following his surgery, so maybe that's why he didn't go on the tour.

Re not a district meeting, I don't think it was. Is the Aug. 12 meeting in Belltown on the district calendar? At least as of this morning, it's not. I do think that this show is being run by the DSA and city.

And I completely agree re impact fees. But as a DT resident for 20 years, I'm doubtful that will get anywhere anytime soon. The city nearly always comes down on the side of developers and their threats to not build here if there are impact fees, zoning restrictions, etc etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joe! Interesting to hear the options that are being discussed at the "community level" to address high school capacity. Will the district need to find additional levy money to address this? What timeline what this be on? Appreciate hearing about what is currently being considered.


Lori said...

Joe, thank you so much for providing the current thoughts on high school capacity management. I'm a fairly regular reader and I don't recall seeing these details before, so I sincerely appreciate your participation here.

The thing I'm worried about, though, and others have alluded to, is that the capacity needs hit sooner than 2019, the year that Lincoln is set to reopen as a high school.

I have a student who was not allowed to return to Lowell on short notice (June 2011), didn't initially know how long we'd be allowed to stay at Lincoln, is slated to help open JAMS this fall, and will start high school in 2017, right as we literally run out of room (as I understand it). It's sadly ironic to me that the new assignment plan, which was supposed to bring predictability, has brought the complete opposite to the cohort of kids born roughly between 2001-2005 and residing in north Seattle right now.

I'm happy to see that there are viable options to discuss. And if these are indeed the only viable options, let's please start planning NOW. I'm sure I speak for many of the other weary families who do not want to repeat what happened this past year with the middle school situation. I don't want to go into my kid's 8th grade year with uncertainty. I don't want schools pitted against schools, neighbors against neighbors, and everyone rushing around making hasty decisions simply because we waited too long to plan.

If the solution is expanding Ingraham and Rainier Beach, the obvious question is: who's going there? Are these 2 schools going to be the default/only options for APP or will Garfield still be a choice? Can you draw enough students out of neighborhood schools to fill a north and south IBX program? What will the boundaries be? Will northend kids be assigned to RB simply because that's where the seats are? Or, if APP isn't going to RB, then what?

The sooner we start these conversations with the community at large, the better. None of us want another June surprise when it comes to high school!

Thanks again for participating here.

kellie said...

Looping back to the Options that Joe listed for High School.

I have been doing this for so long that I honestly can't say when or where which options have been discussed. However, I can say that I had been talking about both of those options as well as two additional high school options during the early BEX IV planning, around 2011-12.

During the early part of the BEX IV planning, most people felt that adding Lincoln was an aggressive move that would provide more than enough high school capacity and therefore there was very little examination of other options. On paper, this did appear to pencil out.

However, I am one of those dyed-in-the-wool operations people (the type other people call pessimists or pragmatists depending on the meeting). As such, I was very concerned that there was a distinct possibility that getting students out of Lincoln long enough to turn Lincoln into a high school was just not going to happen. Therefore the plan to solve high school using Lincoln was simply too fragile a plan for my taste and I strongly preferred the Queen Anne shuffle option because while it created fewer seats, it would have created those seats a lot faster and they could have been ready as soon as 2015.

Even just a little more than a year ago, I raised this issue again and it was quickly dismissed because again, on paper, Lincoln looked like it could work. IMHO, I still sincerely doubt that the Lincoln plan will actually work. The on paper issue is significant because the empty seats at Rainier Beach really skew the numbers and make it appear that the acceleration in high school demand is not as steep as it is likely to be in another year.

kellie said...

One last things that folks really need to keep in mind when looking at these issues. This is a version of it is a lot more complicated on the ground that it is on paper.

To the best of my knowledge, Public Schools are the only organization that is REQUIRED by its very mission and charter to Abandon any long term plan in order to serve the students who are enrolled for the current school year.

That is quite the sticky issue and it the thing that causes so many reasonable plans to collapse. Public Schools are required to serve every single student who enrolls. They don't have the option to say, sorry, no room for you.

IMHO, a downtown school really is a good idea. I am confident that it would fill rather quickly. However, potential-possible-future students are always last in line because of this mandate to serve the students who are actually enrolled.

That issue is the heart of the reason why North End Middle School was not "solved" in 09 when that was easy to fix. That issue got bumped under the 5 NEW Elementary schools that needed to be added.

However, by 2012, middle school was a big enough issue that the middle school issue bumped the high school issue. BEX IV included funds to go from 9 middle schools to 12 middle schools, a full 33% capacity increase. At the time of the planning, "on paper" this created ample capacity. However, by 2014, that capacity is not so ample.

Downtown families have a steep hill to climb and securing a property is the most urgent step. Please know that I am not supporting bumping this down the road for a few years, out of some hazing ritual. If my back of the envelope numbers are close, then about the time, the building would come on line (3-4 years), it would be very much needed.

It is the actual mission of public schools that does that.

kellie said...

One last comment about the Federal Building as a downtown high school. As Joe mentioned, it would not in any way be possible for this to be a "comprehensive" high school. However, it could be a very nice alternative high school, like Nova or Center School.

The question then becomes is there enough demand for another alternative high school for about 500 students. If so, what type of high school? and most importantly would the high school attract students from the over-crowded areas. At the moment, the only thing really holding North end High School together is the part that so many students go South to Garfield, Nova and Center School.