Thursday, May 03, 2018

Board Work Session on Capacity Management, May, 2018

All the directors were in attendance at the Work Session on Capital Projects Annual Report and Capacity Management Annual Report.

Noted capacity expert (and SPS parent) Kellie LaRue was there.  She let me know that surrounding district like Northshore and Bellevue no longer accept out of district students.  They, too, are overcrowded.  What's also interesting is that they have created new high schools or high school space and she suspects that SPS had been pushing off enough students to Running Start to not have started on that until the reopening of Lincoln.

The first portion of the meeting was on the Capital Projects Annual Report and the latter was the Capacity Projects Annual Report. 

Highlights and director comments

Richard Best, head of Capital Projects, ruefully stated that they wished they could have done all of Lincoln (they are doing the west side of the building but not the east).  I note this was one comment that came up at the Levies meeting at JAMS.

Director Burke asked for a list that had sub-projects like how many are capacity projects versus seismic issues.

Head of Enrollment, Ashley Davies, told directors they are forecasting 280 new students next year.  

Director Burke said that he did not believe using capital dollars for class size reduction was the best use of the money.

Director Mack, who was chairing the session, asked why some service areas are combined with K-8s but not others.  The answer given was that some schools are attendance areas schools and some are not.

Director Geary stated that it was her understanding that the district could control Option School enrollment but had to take anyone who lived in an attendance area.  Burke noted that Option School students don't always come in neat class-sized bundles. 

The district again says that high school enrollment is increasing and even with Lincoln, reopening in 2019, they will be short by 2021.  West Seattle High School is projected to grow with southend high schools staying steady.

Director Patu, who seemed off her game at the session, kept asking about Rainier Beach's building when the discussion was not about BEX but about capacity.

Director Harris chimed in that saying the SE will stay steady for high school felt like "Groundhog Day" with all the building going on in the city including the SE. 

(I note here that when I wrote to the directors recently about high school capacity and noted the opening of a charter high school soon, one director brushed that right off.  I think that the Board and the district should keep a careful eye on the situation.

The Washington State Supreme Court is to hear oral arguments on May 17th for the lawsuit against the charter school law.  I suspect the plaintiffs might not win and that will open the floodgates for more major players like KIPP.  I attended the Washington State Charter School Conference last Saturday and I think many people are ready to go, based on the outcome of the lawsuit.)

Director Burke concurred with Harris, saying that it does seem "counterintuitive" because the real estate you can purchase for the best price is in the southend.

Director DeWolf said that not all schools were accounted for and should be.

Staff talked about the City building 5,000 new units of housing.  Ms. Davies said the district had data from the City "broken up by age bands so you can see the increase for SPS."

Director Mack pointed out that there seem to be some issue with boundaries and feeder schools.  One example she gave was if Broadview-Thomson students were assigned to Whitman. 

There was then an odd interlude as it came to be explained how Nova is not an Option School (as Director Harris said it was) because Middle College and Nova are service schools with alternative learning in order to NOT in their enrollment in August.

Director Mack then said that she had read the Assignment Plan several times and that she felt like the Option versus the Service school was "nothing with what was being offered but more about assignment."

Mr. Best referenced a new tool that the district is developing that will further drill down on capacity management data.

Mack also asked - along the lines of Burke's earlier question - for complete information on BEX projects, what did and didn't happen, costs, etc.

One interesting item came up as a result of a question by Director Pinkham.  Davies said that students can apply to either middle school in their region.  If they wanted their assignment middle school, they didn't have to do anything but they could try for the other middle school via Choice Application.  I didn't know that was possible.

Davies stated that the waitlist dissolves on August 31st.  It appears they are continuing to move waitlists but how they are doing that is unclear to me.  But directors pressed them on that point.

Mack noted that many schools do not appear full and why not move their waitlists?  For example, Olympic Hills, in a brand-new building, is only half-full.

Ms. Davies gave a somewhat convoluted answer about schools creating configurations around enrollment numbers and staffing follows that.  It makes sense but it didn't answer the question.

Harris asked about the practice of not moving students from one school to another school that had room in order to not hurt the first school.  Davies said they do look at that.  Again, not really answering the question of why and who gets that choice.

Director Burke asked a simple question; Do we ask schools if they want more students?  Davies said no, they don't go school by school and ask.  She said some principals do want more kids and others don't.  (Yes, I can hear your reaction from here and I don't think this policy works for an overcrowded district.)

Let's use Hale as an example.  It was rebuilt to 1400 and yet, from the data, it appears they are somewhere between 1100-1200.  Now, they want to be about 1,000 for their "philosophy" but again, in overcrowded times, why would one school get the luxury of staying smaller?  It's a mystery.

And apparently the portable situation has changed with Garfield now getting zero portables but Robert Eagle Staff Middle School getting 3-4. It was stated that Mercer Middle School has 19 (!) portables. Amazing.  Staff also wants 8 portables "as contingency." 

There was also noted that some principals decide they don't need an art or music room and it becomes a classroom. 

Director Mack pointed out that it is odd how the district is adding City pre-Ks while taking out CBO pre-Ks.  She also said Sped placement was "opaque."

Geary wanted to know how many community centers have pre-Ks.  And that's a great question given that at the last Families and Education Committee meeting, staff there said they were going to start looking into space there.  Wait, what?  The City didn't look into their own space first but went right to the district for free space. Hmmm.

Director Mack asked why, if Cedar Park is half-full (not even 100 students), why are they adding rooms (per staff's slides).  Oh, that could just mean adding furniture of technology - "space" is just a catch-all. I don't think the directors liked that.  Stunningly, Mr. Best said when they opened Cedar Park,  they gave them furniture "but we didn't give them technology or curriculum." 

Going back to RESMS, Director Pinkham pointed out that the murals that would be covered would be Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle.  He is clearly not happy about this.  Mack asked if parents couldn't be asked, "Hey, we see you go assigned here but there is space over there? Would you be interested?" 

Davies said that they have the ability to look at waitlists "backwards" and may be able to use Mack's suggestion.

On next steps, apparently there are to be "community meetings on potential boundary changes" sometime between now and early June with more meetings in the fall.  Final changes would be okayed in December 2018/January 2019 to be implemented in Fall 2019.

My Thoughts

Look at slide 56 and we see these two stark sentences:

- Nearly half of all schools have reached or exceeded the operational capacity of the building
- About 48 schoools have not yet reached their 
operational capacity.

So in a district of about 100 buildings, half are totally maxed out and half aren't.  That's a lot of space that isn't being utilized.  Of those 48 buildings;

31 are attendance area schools,
 7 are Option schools,
5 are middle schools and
5 are high schools. 

So it appears that Hale is being kept small by its own wish but Cleveland is not fully enrolled  (it has over 100 kids on their waitlist which is the largest one for any high school) and yet I have heard they want to grow.  Both West Seattle high schools are underenrolled with Chief Sealth holding steady and WSHS going up some.  But Sealth only has 3 students on their waitlist and WSHS has 57.  (My thought would be that the movement of popular Roosevelt High principal, Brian Vance, to WSHS may have something to do with that.)

It looks like Ballard will now be the biggest high school in the district with about 2,000 students and the district wants to add four portables to enlarge their 1700 student capacity. 

Meanwhile on the middle school front, Whitman is woefully underenrolled.  Some of that has to do with the assignments to Robert Eagle Staff Middle School but, from reader comments on this issue, it appears that Whitman has both a lower-quality facility AND not weak offerings.  You won't get parents into a school that has both those issues.  And now they want to put portables at RESMS (and block some of the murals that are central to the identity of the school.)

I hope everyone who chimed in about this issue tells the Board, "I told you so." So many parents KNEW that RESMS was going to be overenrolled and warned the district and now, here we are. 

Interestingly, Eckstein is no longer overenrolled but now it's Hamilton's turn.  Mercer looks like it's going to be about 100 kids over capacity.  But it's JAMS with the largest middle school waitlist at 47.

For elementaries, there's Thornton Creek at 131 on their waitlist (which they can't fit).  John Stanford International has a waitlist of 125.  Then it drops down to Fairmount Park at 84 and McDonald International at 65 and Thurgood Marshall at 50. 

But boy, it does look like Option Schools are fairly popular.  Harris made a comment about this and "replicating" them which is a great idea AND would stave off charter school competition.

But Geary spoke up and said that they needed to be mindful that the choice to leave a less desirable school for an Option School is something not all parents know or understand and leaves some students in schools with higher poverty.  I do not agree with her on this point for two reasons.  One, Option Schools are open to everyone and no one has an advantage on getting in (except for a geo-zone).  Two, Orca and Cleveland have about 80% F/RL status and they are very popular.

Waitlist numbers for Option Schools
Boren STEM - 133
Pathfinder - 181
Hazel Wolf - 341 (not a typo)
Salmon Bay - 107
TOPS - 77

Then there's the strange case of South Shore which is very underenrolled and yet has 48 kids on the waitlist.  It is yet another newish building that we were told had to be done and yet here we are.  

Even Licton Springs is bringing up its numbers from 164 to about 180.  That's great but still low and apparently, RESMS and LS are chafing over the shared spaces. 

This is yet another place the district did not listen.  They should have put Licton Springs in at Cedar Park (where hey! they are going to get more bathrooms in 2019). 

In fact, on slide 64, here are the thoughts on what they might do for that complex of three schools.

- boundary change
- move or add additional site for the Highly Capable Cohort

You could have predicted that because HCC gets moved around all the time.  Problem is, where could they all go?  I have no idea. 


Anonymous said...

Salmon Bay, private schools and HC site (Eaglestaff) all pull from Whitman, which is why it is under enrolled in an area where elementary schools and Ballard high are over enrolled and have the opposite issue. HIMS is now over enrolled again and back up to Pre- Eaglestaff levels, after only one year of being somewhat near capacity. They do need to follow through and redraw boundaries and/or move programs or add sites. It is shame that next year will be so overcrowded with portables etc. when this was all known and could have been mitigated sooner.

Anonymous said...

My child is at a school that is overcapacity. We are on our 2nd year on a wait list for a school less than a mile away that is under capacity.

The school board needs to give some marching orders on capacity issues. The current system is ridiculous.


Anonymous said...

Whitman is under-enrolled because it is a vast wasteland. Last year's 5th grade class at Loyal Heights went to yes, Salmon Bay, and also RESM, St. Al's, St. John's and Kings. Those with the test scores or financial means to go elsewhere did. Those that remained at Whitman brought back stories that only further cemented its reputation.


Anonymous said...

If Hale is under capacity, why does it have portables? I think Hale is looking more for a size of around 1200 with around 300 in each class.


Melissa Westbrook said...

HP, not sure why but the building was built for 1400. This in the north end. If everyone else has to be full, so does Hale. If the district keeps both Cleveland and Hale artificially low, then we really don’t need a downtown high school.

Anonymous said...

Wasteland, a lot of people reading this blog HAVE kids at Whitman (like me), and the Whitman bashing is tiresome. Yes the building is a dump, but we have some fantastic teachers, an amazing music program and musical director, and many kids who are thriving, testing highly, and enjoy being there.
Ballard Family

Anonymous said...

@Wasteland- My child is several years older and that was exactly the same situation coming from Loyal Heights back then. We knew many students who went to the same exact schools you mentioned. Alot went to Salmon Bay or HC or the parochial privates you mentioned. It's good to hear from Ballard Family that their child is doing well. But like you, we do hear more from kids who have had negative experiences. I am hoping it will (continue to) change for the better, and that it will lose the negative rep.

Anonymous said...

Melissa - please provide the source for the "Hale was built for 1400" statement. I was under the impression that the rebuild didn't add significant capacity. Hale has at least 2 double portables on-site, and is also using a portable classroom on the JAMS campus. I remember there being a slight boundary change (from Hale to Ingraham) in the Jackson Park golf course area (circa 2010), but other than that I don't know of anything aggressively keeping Hale small, as it is an attendance area school, and cannot turn away residents. There has been a steady flow to Shoreline schools, but that is coming to an end soon, as Shoreline schools are reaching capacity, as well. HCC pathways also divert kids out of Hale, as they do for those living in the Roosevelt and Ballard attendance areas.

Also, Olympic Hills being "half empty" is a myth. Olympic Hills has a high percentage of FRL students. Assuming K-3 class size reductions become the norm for high-needs schools, the capacity of their new building is approximately 500 students (lower than the stated capacity of 660 without class size reductions). Last I checked, there were about 390 kids at Olympic Hills (not including preschool), up by about 40 kids from last year. They added a 4th kindergarten classroom a few years ago (when they were crammed into Cedar Park). Olympic Hills' enrollment is growing, despite the opening of Cedar Park as an option school, and this will likely continue, as there is new multiple family housing coming online in the area. Their building is not half-empty.

As for Cedar Park. The option school had about 2 weeks to market themselves last year prior to open enrollment. From what I've heard, open enrollment has gone well this year. They are in the process of rolling up (like Sand Point, QA Elementary, McDonald, etc... did in the past). As for the additional bathroom capacity, the existing facilities are insufficient, and the school has 8 permanent portables (on foundations). They should have never added 8 classrooms to the site without adding additional restrooms in the first place.

I find it amusing that there is such criticism now regarding schools that are filling organically, when we fought so hard against the extremely-disruptive reassignments/geosplits of 900 elementary school students in the north end that would have happened had the Board voted to go along with the staff's "growth boundaries" plan.

- North-end Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

NE Mom,
- source of Hale at 1400, district website, BEX page
- Olympic Hills half-full, the Work Session this week, by either staff or director but no on objected to the statement

I don’t make this stuff up; I do my homework.

Anonymous said...

Melissa -

That's strange, because here is what I found on the BEX II page (

Nathan Hale High School
10750 30th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98125

Project Description: An auditorium space for assembly/lecture hall was constructed. Total area approximately 17,000 gross square feet.

Building Size: 234,966 gross square feet
Capacity: 1,261 students (grades 9-12)
Site Size: 18 acresTotal
Cost: $10.1 million
Completion Date: September 2005
Architect: Mahlum Architects
Contractor: Sellen Construction Company
Award: American Institute of Architects

Not sure where the 1400 is coming from?

Also, I am surprised that no one objected to the Olympic Hills being "half full" statement. A big difference between BEX IV and BEX V are the ed specs for the elementary school buildings. The proposed BEX V buildings have been supersized in order to accommodate K-3 class size reductions. The BEX V "500-seat " buildings are about the same size as the pBEX IV 660-seat buildings. The proposed "large" (650 seat?) BEX V buildings are enormous.

I thought they had re-evaluated the capacities of all elementary school buildings, including the new Olympic Hills building, to incorporate class size reductions? If they are genuinely planning to reduce K-3 class sizes, then there is no way 660 kids could be crammed into Olympic Hills.

- North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

I did some more digging on Hale. I didn't realize that it was renovated in stages (BEX II and BEX III). Under BEX III, they added two classrooms and a new science lab (and did renovations in other areas, the commons, etc...). I don't know if that boosted capacity to 1400? Maybe they are including the portables, too? I did find a 2015 document that gave a capacity in the 1100-1200 range.

- North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

According to this document, the capacity of Nathan Hale for 2015-16 was 1,158.

Not sure what has changed since 2015-16, except for the addition of portables, but I haven't been able to find anything stating that the renovated building was built to house 1400. Melissa, please provide a link.

Thank you.

- North-end Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

NEMom, I will put up the link tomorrow.

Jon said...

It's worth mentioning the history, that only seven years ago Seattle Public Schools and Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson was selling buildings, against the opposition of people in the community who warned of capacity issues coming, and in a process that seemed at least a bit questionable ethically.

For example, here's one of the old posts on this blog on the topic:

While it's true that not doing what they did would only solve part of the problem now, it still points to how bad some of those past actions by our past Superintendents were for Seattle.

Melissa Westbrook said...

NE Mom, here you go under FAQs for Hale:

"What will the capacity for the school be?

School enrollment numbers are determined by a different District department, but based on current planning the school will accommodate up to 1,400 students. In addition to adding several teaching stations; the increased enrollment would be accommodated by increasing the number of students in a class room or other such measures."

"Is a student population increase to 1,400 students a given?

No, this will be determined by the District enrollment."

So with new rooms AND increasing class size, Hale can handle 1400. If other schools are overenrolled and making it work, all schools should have to as well.

There is also this interesting comment that one person had made when they asked for comments:

"The current Hale philosophy and program is designed for 1,000 - 1,100 students."

Made me smile.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh I forgot; the district cannot now go back on the size for Hale because that means they misled voters on BEX III. That won't look good going into BEX V.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Hale has less capacity because they take so many medically fragile and other special ed kids. They do have 2 portables already on site so I ask again, if they are below capacity, why portables?


Anonymous said...

South Shore has an MOU with the district to keep class sizes small; they will continue to be "under" capacity. I would be surprised if staff daylights this MOU.

The foundation that entered into the MOU was the New School Foundation which I thought had been part of the Sloan Foundation but I might not be right about that. The New School Foundation merged with LEV.

Some schools DO get to decide how many students they want, especially when their foundation provides appx a million bucks a year of funding for the school. Maybe it's less now, but they got the MOU signed when the foundation contributed significant amounts to the school budget. South Shore also gets a lot of say in their principal selection.

It's great the students and community at South Shore have so much say in how their school is run. It would be sad to take that from them in the name of "fairness." And it sucks that other school communities don't get that kind of consideration.

- Money Talks

Eric B said...

There are so many variables in determining a school's capacity that it's really hard to figure out what the capacity actually is. I have heard the Hale principal say that she would like 1250 or so students and would like to not be under 1200. The mix of SpEd students can make a big difference in capacity, since at the most intensive levels you might be replacing a classroom of 28-30 students with 6-10 SpEd students. You need those classrooms in several high schools in the city, and you shouldn't be moving SpEd kids around to make enrollment work. It happens and it's not fair to SpEd students.

One other possibility is that the 1400-student capacity was for 30 students to a classroom. If they knocked that down to 28/classroom, you'd reduce capacity by 100 students. I don't know if that happened, it's just another possibility that isn't "SPS lied and din't build as much as they said."

Anonymous said...

My kid had a Calculus class with 45 kids in the class, in a portable at Hale. It was crazy.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Money Talks, I’ve aired the issue of South Shore for years and years. It’s fascinating to me how they got ahead in the line for a new building which isn’t operating near full and they get an extra $1M a year plus the MOU says that does preclude them from F&E levy funds and yet are their outcomes better? Marginally. If the district partners with outside groups for one school, then there should be better results or something should change.

Anonymous said...

Re Eaglestaff crowding, Whitman underenrollment:

I have suggested for years and years that SPS uncouple Middle school boundaries from the artificial constraints imposed by plopping entire Elem. schools into a middle school. They should draw MS attendance areas that fit the school, not pick 4 elem's to send to a middle school. The elem. schools and middle schools do not fit neatly like a puzzle.

At high school, they draw fresh boundaries and thus they can ""try** to right size a school (they just don't have enough seats). I fail to understand why they don't do the same with middle school. It makes planning and boundaries SO MUCH HARDER to have to draw elem. boundaries with middle school capacity in mind. Ugh.

The simplest solution to the Eaglestaff/Whitman issue is to just draw the right boundary between those two schools, rather than kick the Greenwood Elem attendance area back and forth, back and forth, and rather than divide up the HCC cohort once again. Just draw the right boundary for the middle school itself.

-- Math Counts

Anonymous said...

They don’t do this because it would be unkind to separate children from their K-5 classmates and send them to middle school without their friends. Middle school can be a very difficult time socially.

Fairmount Parent.

Anonymous said...

It is no more cruel in middle school than it is in high school. I agree with Math Counts, middle school boundaries should be uncoupled from Elementary schools.


Anonymous said...

@ Farimount Parent, middle school is also a time when many kids enter HCC, which often means going to a different middle school than their elementary cohort. If they can do it, others can to. In fact, often it's just a few kids from a particular elementary school who leave for HCC (my child was one of only two 5th graders from his elementary school to do so, so entered knowing essentially nobody since the other HC student had not been a classmate). At least with AA schools that are redirected to multiple middle schools there are decent-sized cohorts heading in each direction. And on the plus side, they'll know more kids when high school comes around. I know kids who were with the same cohort in elementary and middle schools, and now that they are in high school they aren't really branching out and befriending new kids. I think they are missing out to some extent, and it's unfortunate.


Anonymous said...

Families choose to remove their children from the neighborhood cohort for HCC which is entirely different from the district splitting up groups of students for the sake of convenience.

Kids in middle school are dealing with huge physical, hormonal and emotional changes. Burdening them with the loss of familiar classmates is asking for more trouble. By the time they reach ninth grade, they’re beginning to develop a stronger sense of themselves and their academic interests and more self-confidence.

I would prefer an enrollment system where several elementary schools flow into one middle school and each middle school flows into one high school.

Fairmount Parent

Anonymous said...

The district really doesn’t care about splitting kids from their cohort as they enter middle school. Our rising 5th grader was sent to a school with 2 other kids because of changed rules and boundaries. It was a little stressful but luckily there were aquaintenaces from sports and other activities. It all worked out and at the end of the day I think he benefited, learned some skills. Kids are resilient. It was harder for us parents with fewer connections as we sought carpools. They should decouple the elementary and middle school assignments.


Anonymous said...

Fairmount Parent, unfortunately the boundaries for the middle schools and where they are placed doesn't work either for clear flow into a high schools. Wedgwood elementary is placed such that either in the transition to middle school or high school, the kids are going to be split up. Some of the kids at Wedgwood live very close to Eckstein and some live very close to JAMS and Hale. It was decided at some point to have the Wedgwood kids go to Eckstein for middle school and then be split between Roosevelt and Hale for high school.


Anonymous said...

@ Fairmount Parent, if "by choose" you mean they "choose" to get basic education (WAC: for highly gifted children, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is basic efucation) instead of staying someplace that doesn't/won't provide that, then sure, the "choose" it. But it's not really a choice for many, so that's a pretty disingenuous argument.


NW parent said...

Fairmount Parent - I was thrilled that my kid didn't go with her entire elementary cohort into middle school honestly. There was a challenging clique of mean girls in 5th grade that bullied her and we were glad to get away from them. So it can work both ways.