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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Plot Thickens

Say what?

As you might recall, when I expressed my concerns over the BEX III list, some said we should just get the money and then talk to the Board because after all they have the power to change the list. Or do they?

Hopping over to my favorite city blog in West Seattle, I see that the West Seattle community is a very feisty bunch. Apparently they had a meeting recently for the Westwood Neighborhood Council and Steve Sundquist said the board was trying to get a legal opinion on whether they (the board) have the legal right to cancel/change the Denny/Sealth project. Steve also said, per the Facilities rhetoric, that time is crucial because of ever-rising construction costs. (I did look this up recently and Seattle falls in the middle of the country for school construction costs. Because of the mortgage crisis, construction costs are likely to go down rather than up.)

Interesting. I would think that the Board would, because they vote the projects, the budgets and hire the superintendent, have the power to change or veto a project. Apparently, many of you thought that too as I recall from the myriad of posts.

The "my way or the highway" stance of district staff seems to not work for West Seattle. They feel hoodwinked by the dual nature of the project and the lack of information. I. with all my research, never found that it was going to create a dual school. So who knew that before the bond was voted on? The principals? Facilities? The Board?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anyone who heard Peter Maier's presentation knew that was the plan. I think the first time I heard of the dual campus was in October 2006. Ask Mr. Maier.

Jill said...

You may want to check out the wording in the full text of the bond -- it's in the voter's pamphlet on the King County elections website.
Here's what I think is the relevant portion (emphasis mine):

If the District shall determine that it has become imprac¬ticable to accomplish any of such improvements or portions thereof by reason of changed conditions or needs, incom¬patible development, costs substantially in excess of those estimated, or acquisition by a superior governmental authority, the District shall not be required to accomplish such improvement and may apply levy proceeds as set forth in this section. If any or all of the improvements have been completed, or their completion duly provided for, or their com¬pletion found to be impractical, the District may apply the levy proceeds or any portion thereof to other portions of the improvements or to other capital purposes of the District, as the District in its discretion shall determine. Notwithstanding any other provision of this resolution to the contrary, levy proceeds may only be used to support the construction, modernization or remodeling of school facilities.

Paging leadership... come in, leadership said...

This project was never a secret. It was in the main brochure, which I think is still on the main website-- if you can find it. The website always makes me feel like the district doesn't want me to find anything.

Where are the academics in all of this? Where is the leadership in all of this? I hear MG-J was at the Sealth meeting, said nothing, and left early. (It has been her M.O. to arrive tardy and leave early to most meetings at which it's just the plebes- staff and faculty.) Also stunning was that the new COO finally comes on the scene of BEX and does the same short stay and silence gig.

How can we blame facilities? They only take direction from the Board, COO, and Supt. They are given marching orders and are supposed to carry them out. They don't have the power to change things.

Any community outreach or communication on this is about 18 months too late. It doesn't make any sense to outreach or do communication about what is a done deal. Any engagement done now only does more to make the district look like the leadership makes the decision, hands it down to staff to implement, and then hides in the background while things get hot.

Jill's right. The "we're discussing legal" is a total cop out. The district always changes the projects and the language Jill found was pretty clear anyway. How long will it take for "legal" to issue an opinion?

Time for us to get off the staff and facilities folks and ask the leadership to dazzle us with their ability.

dan dempsey said...

Maybe our new board and Steve Sunquist will step to the plate.

I do hope that Steve can make a difference in this situation.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I went back and looked at all the district materials I had. Nowhere does it describe the programs at Denny and Sealth as becoming one program. It only describes joint or shared facilities. It seems odd that the very families that this capital project would affect seem to know nothing about this decision. Wouldn't their principals have said something to them?

I actually did talk to Peter Maier in January and he never mentioned a co-joined program.

Actually, you should blame Facilities. The only upper level person who likely had anything to do with this was Mark Green. Raj probably didn't, Fred Stephens, the head of Facilities, doesn't even come from a background in overseeing this kind of work (and has said so) and the Board as well doesn't ask very hard questions. For some reason, Facilities gets an expert label that no other department does and most staff take what they say at face value.

I don't care if I'm dazzled by leadership; I'd just like to not have this kind of issue come up over and over again.

paging leadership... come in, leadership said...

Uh... it's not going to be a 6-12 program. It's still slated to be two seperate schools with two separate programs. I grow weary of the reactionary misinformation.

It's still a leadership problem, Melissa. It is the district's leadership that is responsible for this large expenditure of public funds. If it's not being managed correctly and Mr. Stephens lacks experience, where is the oversight? Again, Mr. Stephens can only carry out the direction given from those above him. What kind of Board and CEO (Supt) pays so little attention to such an expensive and important endeavor???

Valkyrie said...

Unfortunately, it's not that reactionary. I'm a teacher at Chief Sealth, and the plan has changed from two separate schools to shared music and foreign language, and now they want to have one cooking program for both schools, shared staff lounge, and the cafeteria will be shared. It will be one big, very large room. They talked about putting in a 7 foot partition (which still does not abate the noise), and now they want to eliminate the partition. As time goes on and money is running out,the Sealth students are losing more and more. This merger was supposed to enhance academic achievement. The Sealth students are losing one third of their beautiful library, and at least one computer lab. How is that going to facilitate academic achievement?

Now, the District knows they screwed up because of the lack of community input, and they don't want to look bad after the voters approved the BEX levy.

Denny deserves to have a beautiful, new school...just not on the same campus with Sealth.
They should have the $125 million and Sealth will wait for the next BEX levy.

If you look at the video of the School Board meeting from Dec. 5, you will see that parents, students and staff had very compelling reasons to be upset with this impractical project.

dan dempsey said...

NO Surprise.

...What kind of Board and CEO (Supt) pays so little attention to such an expensive and important endeavor???

Let me think a micro second.
It would be the SPS again.

This keeps happening repeatedly in so many different areas.

The structure of decision making in this district needs substantial improvement.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would echo what Dan said; of course, it's important that leadership understand what is going on and they are, of course, ultimately responsible. But Facilities operates in such a closed door way that the leadership, the parents, the public have no real idea what is happening. There have been major cost overruns at Roosevelt (with continuing problems that the taxpayers will foot the bill for) and Garfield. Did we get a full explanation of where the money comes from to pay for these or what the entire sum of money was used for? No.

I went to both the Denny and Sealth websites to see what information was available to parents. I couldn't find anything at Denny. Sealth had, in their PTSA newsletter in April, some information about the projects. It is very upbeat but you can hear some concern in statements like:

"In many ways, this {planning the layout of the buildings} is more
fun for the Denny people, because they are planning a whole new building, while Sealth is
primarily getting new heating and electrical, which are HUGE needs at Sealth."

"The biggest issue, combining Sealth and Denny onto one campus, is the trickiest to deal with. The Denny staff seem to be all in favor of it, where many of the Sealth
staff see us losing space, including parking, and are unsure what we are gaining to
offset that. The Sealth staff is also concerned about keeping the student populations separated. The timeline for this has also been frustrating for many."

"The principals of Denny and Sealth firmly believe this project will work for all of us and enhance the education of the students of SW Seattle. The question of what facilities might possibly be combined or shared is what the committee tackles next."

And then there's one of Facilities favorite lines which I can see they passed on:

"But, and this is a BIG BUT, because construction costs are skyrocketing, and they are currently increasing 24% per year, Sealth will lose millions of dollars for our project because of the delay. Increasing construction costs are figured into the allotted money, although at the optimistic rate of 1% per month."

Construction costs are not going up 24% a year. Seattle falls right into the middle for school construction costs and we now have a downturn in building overall nationally. I'm not buying that figure. Also, since the Board voted to allow Facilities to lump each project's 15% contingency fee into one pot that they have ready access to and have already (we just passed the bond measure in Feb) been dipping into the overall $20M contingency fund, I suspect projects at the end of the timeline will have very little to work with should problems arise with their projects. Given that Denny/Sealth is a large and complicated project that could happen.