Saturday, January 03, 2015

Addressing capacity crisis with new space

An article in the Seattle Times answered a question that has been itching me: "Where will new charter schools find space in Seattle?" And a closely associated question: "Why can't the school district find space?"

Summit charter high school acquired the Asian Resource Center for about $4 million and will put their 9-12 school there. Their first freshman class will enroll 120, so I have to believe that they expect to have upwards of 450 students when they are fully enrolled. I'm sure their charter school application has the correct number.

The building had been for sale for two years.

So, help me out here. This is a downtown building suitable for use as a school that has been for sale for two years for a fraction of the cost of the Federal Reserve building, and the District had either no knowledge of it or no interest in it. Can someone explain that to me? Moreover, the building is in the International District, which is the part of downtown with the greatest number of school-age children.

Is the school district even looking for space? And, if they are not, why not? If they are, then what spaces have they considered and why did they pass on this one?


Melissa Westbrook said...

And will the City pressure/ask this charter for space for a pre-K? That will be an interesting question to find the answer to.

Summit says this:

"Charter schools are designed, tailored, and governed by each local community, rather than by a central bureaucracy."

That is hilarious considering Summit is based out of and run by a central California group.

I also note that their "Summit Schools" board meetings appear to be only in Redwood City, CA.

mirmac1 said...

Those are all great questions. Too bad there will be no answers.

dan dempsey said...

I guess we all need to tune into the ideas of "Aspirational goals and Aspirational talk"

Melissa is now choosing to confuse us with the actual facts rather than blindly accepting Aspirational Speak.

Watching said...

"Pacific Charter is one of many organizations to receive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the past year. It received a nearly $4 million grant in April “to support the facility needs of charter schools in Washington state.” Pacific Charter did not return a request for comment"

I would like to explore this issue. Can the building be bought and upgraded for $4M? Does the building belong to Pacific Charter?

I 1240 requires the school district to do major repairs. Will Seattle Public Schools be asked to help foot this bill?

For some reason, I'm filling the $4M is low and SPS will be asked to financially support this project.

Watching said...

My guess: It will only be a matter of time before Summit Charter will be asking SPS for additional funding.

Anonymous said...

My question is why the district keeps buildings that would be expensive to refurbish, such as the empty Magnolia elementary school on top of the hill on 28th.

Why don’t they lease space at the soon to be empty Amgen building? With its up to date science facilities, it could be a wonderful central high school, near the water, good transportation and bike trails.

I posed this question to Flip Herndon and the board. Sherry Carr answered that she had interest in this location.

However, it seems they have more interest now in the Federal Building. Asbestos anyone?

S parent

Charlie Mas said...

It's not that hard to scout for potential school locations. Use Google maps set to the satellite image and look for properties that are at least half a city block in size. You'll find them.

My absolute favorite one is the reservoir on NE 75th Street at 12th in the Ravenna neighborhood. The city was supposed to lid all of the reservoirs. After they lid this one, the District can build a school on it.

Anonymous said...

@Watching, I think 1240 requires the district paying major repairs only for a "conversion charter school" which was previously a district school.

That would not apply here, but who knows what other justification the city and district could find to direct public funds to this charter school. I'm glad you are Watching.


Eric B said...

IIRC, conversion charters get a share of capital and ops levy money immediately, in addition to major repair and upgrade $ that Jonathan cites. All charters get a share of levies passed after they open.

In theory, a brand-new school could convert, getting a share of capital money even though that building would get no capital for a decade or two if it weren't a conversion. It's just one more way I-1240 is deeply flawed.

Anonymous said...

The m.o. of Summit is blended learning. Basics learned on computers. Teachers there for backup and extras. Going to be a lot of infrastructure put into that building. While the rest of SPS struggles to get enough computers to take those great new common core tests ;-) Summit will take Bill G's money, stock the place with the latest greatest and also slice into our own BTA monies. Welcome to charterdom.


Mary G said...

Charlie, what makes you think that it is a good idea or even technically feasible to put a building over a reservoir? I'm not even sure that most of the lidded reservoirs are earthquake safe. I am unaware of any lidded reservoir that has any buildings on them. Seattle is among very view municipalities that lids its reservoirs.

Charlie Mas said...

The Beacon Hill reservoir was lidded and the city built an elaborate park over it. The lid is clearly sound enough to hold enormous weight.

Jefferson Park even has some hills. I can't say whether those hills are directly over the former reservoir space or not, but they must be at least as heavy as any building.

I don't think it's an extraordinary engineering challenge to make the lid strong enough to support a one- or two-story building. It only needs to be as strong as the foundation for a three-story building.

Watching said...

I'm still "Watching". Here are a few documents related to the sale of this building. It is interesting to note that Seattle Public Schools owned this building in 1987.

It is interesting to note that a once private school- First Place- became a charter school.

Now, we have a charter school own a building. I see NO reason why a charter school, even if not publicly owned, would not want to attempt public funds for major repairs.

I guess we should keep "Watching"

Watching said...


Let's not forget that First Place wanted to work with SPS regarding technology. Why would Summit be any different?

So, we have charter schools taking time and attention away from SPS administrators.

Keep Watching....:)

Mary G said...

There are no buildings on top of reservoirs. I suspect there are good reasons why this is so.

Anonymous said...

Schools are allowed to be built over reservoirs due to earthquake concerns. This is the same reason most of the Thurgood Marshall property cannot have any structures on it, even portables (due to the I-90 lid).
-south end parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Watching, you said this:

"I 1240 requires the school district to do major repairs. Will Seattle Public Schools be asked to help foot this bill?"

That is incorrect. That ONLY happens if it is an SPS building that has been acquired thru a petition takeover. This is not the case here and the district has zero responsibility.

Who will this charter serve? I would guess they are trying to be competition for Cleveland or RBHS.

As I have noted previously, the Gates Foundation has created a capital fund group for charters in the Puget Sound region. Will they help will all repairs/renovations? Uncertain. A charter certainly could apply for state funds that are set aside for capital repairs for public schools.

Again, I wait for the Supreme Court ruling. That it is taking this long would seem to mean that the Court may be divided.

As someone in this neighborhood near the 75th reservoir, I don't want it used for a school.

It will be interesting to see how City Council district elections play out for these issues.

Anonymous said...

Just correcting some info on the city drinking water reservoirs - the open reservoirs are being covered to comply with water quality regulations. They plan to decommission the reservoir at 12th and Roosevelt, not cover it. My understanding is they plan to keep it as open space as part of a larger plan to increase density in the Roosevelt neighborhood. It's unlikely to be used as a school site.


Catherine said...

Speaking as someone who worked with King County and Seattle on a major "tank" aka reservoir... they can absolutely be built to have structures over them, it just requires more engineering and work and better (more expensive) "under ground" infrastructure. This planning has to be done before, did I say *BEFORE*, design and construction is done.

Watching said...

It appears this particular charter would qualify for state funds:

"NEW SECTION. Sec. 223. FACILITIES. (1) Charter schools are eligible for state matching funds for common school construction."

It is interesting to note that I 1240 is silent on private schools converting to charter schools, yet, it happened.

Anonymous said...

Where are the students for the new charter going to come from? Has a single student been recruited? I can't imagine anyone being interested. While a computer based education might be interesting - it isn't really sufficient. Something as well defined as the Center School (eg. It exists now, you can go see it) already has trouble filling enrollment. (meaning, all who apply are admitted and there's no wait list)


Lynn said...

They'll be students living in the Rainier Beach attendance area. More Rainier Beach kids attend Cleveland and Franklin than RBHS - and there are wait lists at those schools.

Anonymous said...

I think some APP/HCC families might look into Summit as well. For kids who've found HCC to be more of a ceiling than a floor , the opportunity for a more individualized approach might be appealing. Many of these kids are already familiar with online learning, as this has been one of the only ways to work at their appropriate level, so the computer instruction won't be a turn-off for some. Summit's Prep HS in Redwood City, CA is one of the highest ranked high schools in CA. I'm not a fan of charters, but as the parent of an independent learner who was frustrated and limited by APP, I would have at least looked into Summit. The experiential learning component (eight 2-week "expeditions") also sounds interesting, and a nice complement to online learning.

I think it would take a lot for someone to jump ship and risk the new school, but I also know there are a number of HCC kids who are very poorly served by the current program/services. While the new charter is certainly not for everyone, it has the potential to be a great fit for some.


Anonymous said...

I know that Gerry Pollet (legislator) has been working on getting a school put over that reservoir. He came doorbelling this fall and told us about it. Yes, you can certainly put a school on it - it is being decommissioned, not covered, so it is just a simple engineering problem, and not a super tough one. People, they build skyscrapers over parking garages! As long as supports are in place, it is fine.
-Rare Commenter.

Anonymous said...

Not so fast on poohpoohing the Summit charter high school. The ones in Cali seem to be popular and get good pr from families who have a thing against their public school. The CEO is one of those cult figures for charter true believers. Bet a buck Summit will get plenty of happypappy press from The Seattle Times. Maybe it won't fill the first year freshman only year, but soon enough it will be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Don't read anything into Center School enrollment as its a pain to get to for the southeast but bet there are all kinds of families who don't think RBHS Cleveland Franklin are good enough for their kids and will jump over to sitting in front of a computer when not involved in self directed exploration and assurance of making it into college the things the Summit website promotes. Same families could have found a great education for their student at RBHS Cleveland Franklin.

No idea why the city or district couldn't have ponied to keep this building a resource for the ID. Close to negligent in my book for community and educational planning. Flat out stinks that Gates bought it and brought in a charter.


Anonymous said...

"Decommission" means it would no longer be a reservoir, meaning at some point it could be demolished and the space repurposed. It's still SPU land and I doubt they would readily relinquish it to SPS.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Actually,this issue on converting a private school to a charter IS possible under 1240. (As I mentioned in August 2013, ace reader Eric B found it.)

Okay, so let's go over what we do know.

- First, the words "private school" do not even appear in I-1240 so that should have been a dead giveaway from the start. I was told by the BOE that yes, "the statute is indeed silent on this issue." They aren't saying it's a omission but I believe it is a deliberate one.

- The private school has to be a 501c3 (or create one).

The private school cannot be religious or sectarian (but that doesn't mean they might not be able to get around that issue - many private to charter schools in other states have, to some degree).

- The new charter cannot accept any gifts or donations from a religious or sectarian group.

First Place was a very different case; they were private but no one was paying tuition. It was something of a hybrid-funded private school.

ChartersNo, the Summit parents who come out hard are paid to come to new areas to say that. I confront one such person (this one from Green Dot but Summit does it as well) and asked her, "Was your airfare and hotel paid for you to come here and make these statements?" "Yes, but..."
Were you paid to be here?" She walked away.

Look, parents like most schools so in ANY given school, you'll find supporters.

Also, here's the link to a Stranger article by lawyer Hugh Spitzer on why the 1240 challenge is so strong:

"Most important, Initiative 1240 contains defects that run afoul of at least two state constitutional provisions.

In 1909, Washington’s supreme court held that money from the Common School Fund may be sent to “common schools” but to no other schools—including other publicly-operated schools."

"Justice Stephen Chadwick wrote that a common school must not only be open to all children but must also be “subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to selected qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.” Justice Chadwick pointedly added that the Legislature’s calling a school a “common school” didn’t make it one."

The other constitutional defect in the proposal is a provision granting the non-profit charter school corporations the right to purchase or rent school district and certain other public property at below fair market value. Unless the courts ruled that these corporations, with their privately-appointed boards, were actually governmental entities, the below-market sale or lease of public property to these charter schools would violate the State Constitution’s ban on gifts of public funds to the private sector.

Watching said...

Melissa, Thank you for the comments and information.

Let's remember: We are still awaiting the Supreme Court decision.

It would be interesting to know whether or not this charter has asked the state for funding. If the Supreme Court rules I 1240 unconstitutional...will Summit return these dollars? After all, SPS is in the midst of a capacity crisis and we are reliant upon levy dollars.

FWIW...The Supreme Court issues it's opinions on Thursdays. I keep waiting and Watching...;)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Again, a charter cannot ask for money until they open their doors (that is my understanding). So any "ask" for capital or other dollars cannot come until Summit opens (and hence the need for the Gates infusion).

Crossing my fingers for THIS Thursday. Again, I think this long delay has meaning.

Bulldog said...

While the official enrollment reports for the 14-15 school year have not yet been published, because of this issue around Garfield staffing, there has been a modest bit of high school enrollment information released.

By several un-official reports, only a handful of siblings secured choice seats during open enrollment and all other students were wait listed at the time of open enrollment. According to a letter sent to the Garfield PTSA, Franklin was the ONLY comprehensive high school that accepted students last year off of the wait list.

Therefore, families can reasonably expect that if you don't want your assignment school for some reason, that your only viable option is a choice school - Nova, Center or Cleveland. As such, one might imagine that a charter high school like Summit, might quickly become the "safety school" for students looking for an alternative.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Bulldog, good points.

TechyMom said...

There is a property near 85th and 15th NE that looks like a school, and has been for sale for a long time. Does anyone know what it is? Has the district looked at it for a north end school?

Anonymous said...

The Roosevelt reservoir is in the process of being decommissioned. Once the Maple Leaf reservoir was capped, the Roosevelt reservoir was no longer needed, as capped reservoirs lose less water to evaporation. Right now the Roosevelt reservoir is empty, there is a two year waiting period to ensure that we don't really need the reservoir.

The property is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. Under law it is required to sell the property at fair market value, so the school district would have to pay for the site. I spoke briefly to Flip Herndon, the district is well aware of the location. I live nearby and would love an elementary school there, as we are far from both Wedgwood and Bryant, the two closest public schools.

Anonymous said...

Techy Mom, I think the property near 85th and 15th was a private Jewish school. I have no idea if SPS has looked at it. It seems small.

Anonymous said...

The property at 85th and 15th is also known as "Waldo Woods," due to its grove of mature trees. Several years ago, there were plans to develop the property (it was then owned by Campfire), and there was a great deal of resistance from the neighborhood over how many trees would be cut down.

After what SPS went through over the trees on the Ingraham HS property (construction delays, due to protests over tree cutting), I don't think they would be interested in the Waldo Woods property.

- North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

SPD will be vacating their North Precinct property in a few years. It is located near NSCC, and would seem to be a good location for a school?

- North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

I'm still "Watching". Here are a few documents related to the sale of this building. It is interesting to note that Seattle Public Schools owned this building in 1987.

SPS didn't own the building they owned the land and tore down the old Gatzert to sell the land to pay for part of the "New Gatzert"...


Josh Hayes said...

I dunno, North-end Mom - I was just dropping off some papers there yesterday (had a break-in over the holiday :-( )and it seems awfully small to me. Might squeeze an elementary on there? It also looks like some of it could be designated wetland, which means you can't build on that portion of it IIRC. Maybe they could work a deal with North Seattle College for a little land there too?