Tuesday, October 17, 2006

BEX III Opposition

I received the following e-mails today from Pat Murakami, a SE Seattle parent and activist.

On Wednesday, October 18th, the Seattle School Board will vote on BEX III - the upcoming capital funding levy. The Board is planning to approve an option which includes $64.7 million for a new school building for The New School.

We just went through the very painful process of closing SE Seattle schools in Round One of the school closure process. There are empty buildings The New School can use, or their existing building could be remodeled. Additionally, there are many schools with pressing needs throughout the District that would be a better use of capital funds.

If you feel the District should not spend money building a new building while other buildings in SE Seattle go empty, please email them immediately. As a member of the closure committee I know the District has other workable options that won't be such a waste of our tax dollars. In my email I promised to work to oppose passage of any levy that included funds for a new building. Notifying the district that you won't vote for the BEX III levy should get their attention.

Thank you.

Pat Murakami
Seattle Public School Parent


Someone brought up legitimate concerns about not having a K-8 program if the New School is not given a new building.

Frankly the District should add 6-8 wings at every elementary in SE Seattle and do away with the separate middle schools. That is what parents have been asking for. It would be a far more effective use of the funds slated for the New School building. Right now the District looses over 1,000 children as they enter middle school. The New School would serve only a handful of children but those funds could add 6-8 wings to 3 elementary schools in SE Seattle.

The District can add a 6-8 wing at Emerson (which is where the closure committee recommended placing the program – it is a newly remodeled, gorgeous building), put the middle school program at Rainier Beach (which is currently under-enrolled and formerly housed a 6-12 program) or have a program specifically for New School at Aki Kurose (co-housed with their current program).

Yet another option is to remodel the Columbia building (where Orca is right now) and turn it into a Pre to 8 campus. New townhouses are going up all around that site and Rainier Vista (which still hasn't been built out completely, nor have all available units been rented) has no school anywhere nearby.

I don't know if you've been to New School but the proposed site is literally across a field from Dunlap Elementary. The District is spending a fortune busing children all over the place. Schools should be strategically located to serve neighborhoods, not built on top of each other.

I'm happy to answer any other questions.

Pat Murakami


Anonymous said...

It's very upsetting to me to hear, on the one hand, talk of presenting a unified voice to the Board, and then to read posts such as this one, which directly calls for a letter writing campaign to remove a specific school from the Levy. The New School program is very impressive, and is resulting in test scores (for a very diverse community of students) that are competitive with some of the higher performing schools such as TOPS and McGilvra. This is a program that needs to be celebrated and used to force the state to apply similar funding to all schools, not a program to vilify.

I am a parent of a child at the New School and a member of the South Shore Building Committee, and there are several aspects of Ms. Murakame's post that I take exception to. Firstly, there are no empty buildings the New School can use, with the exception of Rainier Vista. Rainier Vista is being closed due to poor repair. Costs to bring Rainier Vista up to district standards would be similar to the costs of renovating the South Shore Building. The District has determined, with extensive study, that renovation at the South Sore site is not a viable option. In other words, it costs less to build a new building than to upgrade the existing one.

Secondly, the K-8 option at the South Shore building benefits a wider community than just the New School community. The present plan includes additional 6-8 classrooms to recieve students from outside the New School. The option of building 6-8 wings at Emerson or at the Columbia building may be possible, but will be just as expensive (if not more expensive due to present lack of planning/design and thus later construction start dates) than the expansion of the South Shore facility to include 6-8 grades. I don't believe locating 6-8 students at Rainier Beach is realistic if the goals are to keep families in the system through middle school. Would you honestly send your 6th grader to Rainier Beach High if you had other options?

Finally, a common misconception about The New School is that it is a magnet school. It is not - it is a neighborhood school which draws it's students from within a mile radius. It is true that we are across a field from Dunlap, but children are not being bussed "all over the place" to go to The New School.

We have not demanded a new building, but we do ask for safe and appropriate facilities within our neighborhood. I understand that the closure process is very painful, but to scapegoat The New School defeats the purported goals of the Save Seattle Public Schools organization. Before you fire letters off to the District, please take the time to understand the whole situation.

Thank you,

Kirsten Wild
Seattle Public School Parent

Anonymous said...

Ms Wild makes a number of valid points. However, The New School is not a neighborhood school and no amount of saying so will make it so. The New School lacks the distinguishing feature of a neighborhood school: a reference area. Unlike a real neighborhood
school, the District cannot make mandatory assignments to The New School. It is an alternative school with alternative governing structure, a preschool, alternative funding, and alternative school enrollment. The District has it officially as an alternative school.

No one is scapegoating The New School or saying that the New School isn't a fine program and getting excellent results.

What people are saying is that The New School should not be ushered to the front of the line for a new facility when so many other schools have been waiting in buildings just as bad or worse as Southshore for much longer.

Pathfinder is an excellent example of a school that has been in an inadequate building for a long time. NOVA, in the Mann Building, is in worse shape, as is Viewlands, AS#1 at Pinehurst, and Arbor Heights. Other buildings that need renovation include Bagley, McGilvra, Montlake, Rogers, and Roxhill. All of these buildings are in worse shape than Ranier View. In addition to these, there are another ten schools with buildings in worse shape than John Marshall, which was in such bad shape that the District closed it.

So sure The New School should have a safe and appropriate facility, but there are others ahead of you in line. That's all. Just wait your turn like everybody else.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's comments got me wondering about the distinction between alternative schools and neighborhood schools in Seattle. We, at The New School, have always been told we are a neighborhood school. The Seattle Public Schools website does not list The New School under the "Alternative" school list. I spoke with someone at the South Enrollment Center to understand where The New School falls in the spectrum. It is not an alternative school in the "all-city" sense, meaning it does not draw students from all the clusters (like Summit or AE1), and it is not a regional alternative school like Orca, TOPS, or AE2. It is in an (un-named) category by itself: it draws from the S & SE clusters & it does not have a reference area, but preferene is given, first, to siblings, and secondly by distance. Resulting in what feels like a neighborhood school to those of us who attend, since the vast majority of students come from within a mile radius of the school. Hope this clarifies things.

Kirsten Wild
New School Parent

BrendanWorks said...

Ms. Murakami deserves our thanks for serving on the school closure committee. It has been a very difficult process, and I'm sure she faced a lot of heat for working hard to solve a very difficult problem.

That said, with her knowledge of the finances and horrendous tradeoffs that are made with every capital and operations dollar, I think her solution to our current situation--to add 6 to 8 wings to every elementary school in SE Seattle is unrealistic. You'd have to close every school in the region, all at once! That would be a budget-buster as well. There are 9 such schools that would need major additions, and if you factor in the different needs for middle vs. elementary school, I think it's safe to say that such a plan would swallow up every single BEX dollar, and leave nothing for the rest of the district. No improvements to water safety, technology, and nothing for the urgently needed improvements to high schools like Ingraham. Such a spend would also doom the levy to failure at the polls because of the regional inequity.

The bottom line is that in many cases it is just more expensive to keep repairing buildings like South Shore with fundamental problems (like heating and cooling systems, unsafe structures, bad roofs.) Opposing all new construction in the district would mean pouring good money after bad to maintain failing, unsafe buildings. That would be the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars.

There's also no denying that Rainier Beach badly needs middle school seats. There is ONE middle school in the entire Southeast Region--Aki Kurose. It has more than 600 kids in it already. How can anybody propose adding another 400 or 500 kids? And it's way far north for most families in Southeast. (In comparison, the central sector has FOUR middle school options, and all other regions have at least two.)

If we don't build a K-8 at South Shore, most if not all SE kids will be bused far from home for middle school for decades to come. And our neighborhood will lose a thriving school in the center of the community.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what Brendanworks means when writing:
"There's also no denying that Rainier Beach badly needs middle school seats. There is ONE middle school in the entire Southeast Region--Aki Kurose."

There are three middle schools in the Southeast Region: Aki Kurose, Asa Mercer, and the African-American Academy. In addition, ORCA will be expanding to a K-8 soon after moving into the Whitworth building.

BrendanWorks writes: [Aki Kurose]
"has more than 600 kids in it already. How can anybody propose adding another 400 or 500 kids?"

The stated planning capacity of the Sharples building is about 900, so it isn't hard for anyone to propose putting another 300 students into it.

BrendanWorks writes: "And it's way far north for most families in Southeast."

That simply isn't true. Aki Kurose is on Graham, only 4 miles from the southern city limit. So half of the people south of Aki Kurose live within two miles of it. That is hardly what I would call "way far north".

You can have a point and try to make it, but get your facts straight.