Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Following the Bouncing Money Ball at Seattle Schools

Most of my readers know by now that I am very interested in capital issues and funding.  I care for two reasons.

One, every single student deserves a clean, well-maintained, safe building to call "my school."  It would be great if the technology is up-to-date and there is natural light and flow to the building to create an inviting atmosphere.

Two, the taxpayers of Seattle vote in ever-increasing huge sums of money for these buildings.  And, yet the district does not maintain the system properly.  As well, the district has a very convoluted idea that they can move money around from BEXs and BTAs and claim all the work promised will be done.  I have disputed that claim for a long time and I still believe it.

There has never been a transparent accounting of all the dollars in the BEXs and BTAs and what work actually happened.  Never.

Yesterday, I received the notice of the upcoming BEX Oversight Committee meeting on Friday morning.  The notice included several documents including the minutes from the last meeting as well as a status report on BEX IV projects and other major projects.  I wrote to the Board this morning about them.  (I note that Directors Burke and Geary were at the December meeting.)

I can only say I'm appalled. I'm sure there are MANY reasons for what is happening as stated in the minutes but, at this point, I don't care. 
  • The district should not be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
  • The district General Fund should not get interest dollars for money coming from the Capital fund. 
  • The district should be transparent about what money they are spending and on what.  If they took/borrowed money from Capital to put into General, we should get to know how much and where it went.
  • The district should not make promises to school communities and/or voters that they cannot/will not keep.  
  • The district should not be creating secret documents only for the eyes of certain people.  
Yes, I am going to send this on to the State Auditor.  I'm not sure what is or is not legal but let's find out.   As I said in my e-mail, there is no way this is a "best practice."

My e-mail to the Board:

Dear Directors,

I received my e-mail on the upcoming BEX Oversight Committee meeting.  I note that Director Burke and Director Geary were in attendance but I'm not sure they notified you as to what was said.  As I read thru the minutes from the last meeting,  I saw many disturbing issues (bold mine:)

Melissa (Coan) stated that because Arbor Heights project was moved forward, the program budget shows a three million dollar deficit.

Not good.  But my issue is that when you look at the December 2016 BEX IV Monthly Report, it looks far more serious than that.  But on problem is the constant movement of money from different capital funds (the BEXs and BTAs.)

Other BEX and BTA programs provide SPS with funds. The initial plan was to address the cash flow problems bond to keep SPS in the black for the next few years. It was decided by Assistant Superintendent of Business & Finance, JoLynn Berge that we would use the general fund dollars for this purpose this year as the general fund would benefit from the interest payments. 

Wait, what? The district's "cash flow" problems for the General Fund are to be solved thru Capital funds voted in by taxpayers for that express purpose?  And, the General Fund, not the Capital fund, will get interest payments?

I'll tell you what; why don't we let the State Auditor look at this one.  Because even if it is determined this is legal, I'm sure it's not any kind of best practice.  Also, the big question: what is this money being used for?  How much is being taken?

Richard Best highlighted the addition of two projects in the - Budget Pressures document, Cedar Park Elementary School and Decatur Elementary School. These schools were added as there is no identified funding source for the purchase of curriculum, furniture, or technology.

Mr. Best also reviewed budget concerns for Horace Mann, Jane Adams, Kimball and Loyal Heights elementary schools as well.

The committee expressed concern that the district has used 90% of the program contingency when there is still 50% of the work left to do in BEX IV. Mr. Best stated that projects occupied Fall of 2016 will be returning funds to the Program Contingency including Genesee Hill, Arbor Heights and Thornton Creek. 

Really?  Enough to cover the rest of the 40% left to get done?  I doubt it.

After some discussion it was decided that Melissa Coan will create a special sheet for only BEX Oversight Committee members which includes the forecast column.

I'm not sure if Ms Coan or the members of the BEX Oversight Committee understand but they are working/volunteering for a public entity.  Now I know to request every single document that Ms. Coan generates for the Committee if there are secret documents being created just for them.

The list of projects for BEX IV shows 6 of them overbudget.  Mann, Cedar Park, Seattle World School, Hazel Wolf K-8 are "slightly" exceeding their budget while Jane Addams and Loyal Heights  "exceed budget allocation."

It also shows that at Lincoln, Wing Luke and Bagley "project budget did not include upgrades to existing failing building systems, BTA levy request."

Again, stealing from Peter to pay Paul.  Voters expect that those capital funds be spent as promised.  What exactly will happen in those buildings if those upgrades don't happen?


Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum blog


Confused said...

Given this level of craziness, how is it possible that Director Peters feels comfortable proposing Amendment 1 with costs of at least $750k and unknown costs of long-term harm to REMS? Amendment 1 isn't solving a problem. It falls into the category of "Bells and Whistles" when we don't have money for the bare bones!

Anonymous said...

Oh and to think that those foolish Loyal Heights families were asking for a slightly smaller school from the get go. Just think of the money that could have been saved if the school district were willing to have compromised their grand vision in the least.

At least now they may consider getting rid of the $1 million dollar stand-alone preschool that they are currently planning on building on the new Loyal Heights school lot.

Yes, I think a new school will be great and an asset to the community. Yes, I understand the need for new classrooms. All we wanted was a slightly smaller (and conveniently less expensive) plan.

NW Mom

Another Name said...


I recommend you ask the districts to provide you with a list of costs related to the Student Assignment Plan. The district has not provided information related to transporting students to REMS? Each bus costs approximately $60k and I imagine the costs are astronomical.

The district highlights documents in a manner to further their agenda. Other costs are hidden.

I would like to see a further break down and analysis of costs related to amendments.

Unknown said...

Renovations and building 8 new classrooms while adding a school gymnasium, was supposed to be included for QAE per BEX IV. Every time I see an article written about BEX IV, I am not seeing QAE renovations appear. Are we about to get the short end of the stick and no one is telling us that our kids will continue to be out in the cold literally since currently PE is held in an outdoor area with a roof and other classes with limited heating are in the portables all day?

Anonymous said...

Another Name & Confused-- See Seattle Schools This Week Thread with Kellie & No Clear Solution and others. Discussion on one solution to mitigate these issues in the midst of a budget crisis. It also does not make sense to move kids without mitigation funds. For a creative solution, opening one middle school this year (delay Eagle) instead of two might work.
-big picture

Melissa Westbrook said...

Start getting those ideas in now, kids.

kellie said...

Thank you for highlighting this information about facilities.

In particular, thank you for highlighting that Richard Best noted that there was NO funding source for either Decatur or Cedar Park. I have found it very troubling how so many people and staff have repeated the mantra that those building were always in the plan, when in fact, they never were in the plan.

Both Cedar Park and Decatur were slated to be become "interim buildings" with the strong preference that Decatur was actually demolished. As such, neither of those buildings were funded in 2012 as part of BEX IV. Even after the 2013 Growth Boundaries made it clear the buildings might be needed for other uses, neither building was added to BTA IV in 2015.

I have been pretty baffled by the rush to put NE HCC in the Decatur building, when there was no budget and we have such a profound budget gap.

Anonymous said...

Melissa-- Creative ideas were sent. We will see if viable/what happens.
-big picture

Anonymous said...


"In particular, thank you for highlighting that Richard Best noted that there was NO funding source for either Decatur or Cedar Park. I have found it very troubling how so many people and staff have repeated the mantra that those building were always in the plan, when in fact, they never were in the plan."

So true. So frustrating.

-North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

Re: Unknown,

The QAE addition of 8 classrooms and gym is currently in the design phase. Construction is scheduled to begin in late June 2018 and to be finished before school starts in September 2019.


Rich H. said...

Melissa, I'm so thankful to have you and Charlie and the other people who contribute to this blog providing such helpful information. There is literally no other source of information about the school district. The Seattle Times only dresses up press releases, and The Stranger doesn't even try to cover schools (although they should, since they are Seattle's Only Newspaper...). I can't imagine trying to navigate this insane school district without your hard work. Thank you so much.