Friday, January 11, 2008

Denny/Sealth (Continued)

Below is an e-mail I sent to the Board and Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson today based on what I heard at the BEX III Oversight Committee meeting this morning. As you will see, there are just huge problems with this project that the Committee easily recognized and were troubled by. This is the Board's first real challenge and it will need to handled well and quickly because future bond/levy measures and their success may rest on their decisions.

Dear Board Members,

I attended the BEX III meeting today (or rather, the first hour and a half where Denny/Sealth were discussed). There were any number of eye-opening issues raised that you should be aware of in the continuing discussion of Denny/Sealth.

First and probably foremost from the new members' viewpoints is the issue that staff (Don Gilmore) gave a presentation to the BEX III Oversight Committee that had been tweaked and added extra slides that the Board did not see. (Members of the Committee were handed the same presentation you received but the slides presented were different.) There was new information, tweaked information and changed information. For example,
  • page 7 -Remodeling Benefits had added benefits to it.
  • page 8 - The Summary page was different.
  • page 13 - Under Required Improvements under Academic, it was changed from "classroom improvements" to "academic programs"
  • page 24 - Option 2, the added budget was put at only $5M and not $5-10M as presented to the Board
  • page 25 - Option 3 - had an added red box that I could not read from where I sat but was not on the Board presentation (Mr. Gilmore also said that under Option 3, Denny would incur the costs of moving to Boren but did not explain why)
  • in addition, Mr. Gilmore, in referencing option 3 said that Denny would cost $97M and Director de Bell had to remind him that he had told the Board $102M
I pointed this out to Director de Bell and Mr. Gilmore said only the Options pages had been changed. I told him there were other pages changed and he said he forgot about them.

I'm not going to presume to tell you what to do but if it were me and staff gave a different presentation to another group where they changed figures and added ideas, I would not be happy. You, of all the parties involved, as elected officials, need the most clear and full picture. It was not explained why the presentations were different. Are there substantial differences? You'd have to judge but "classroom improvements" is not the same as an "academic program" and $5M isn't chump change.

Beyond that, there was clear confusion over what the staff was saying. Director de Bell, again as in the Work Session, laid out a thoughtful and careful picture of the concerns such as the academic benefits to co-joining the buildings, the lack of staff buy-in from Sealth, the lack of buy-in from some Sealth students who fear their high school experience will change with the additional of a middle school and that the open choice system would have some effect or could be affected by this plan.

Committee members asked about the community input and were told by staff, as in the Work Session, that this particular project did not have the longer and lengthy input as other projects due to closure and consolidation. The public process was put at about "one month".

One new slide called a Fact Sheet said that the money would divide up as Denny $75M and Sealth $50M which is not how it came across in the Board presentation. It also showed a 29% escalation in costs over the next 3 years which is a figure I have a hard time buying.

Another sheet projected costs for future BEX projects. It was jaw-dropping in two ways. It said that Rainier Beach and Ingraham would be renovated. (As a side note, I asked Facilities last January about renovating all the high schools and they said yes, that was there plan but then, as now, there is no reference to Nova.) The costs they projected on this sheet were $250M EACH. So in less than 25 years, the cost to renovate RBHS and Ingraham will be double AND Sealth won't get renovated for at least 30 years.

Meaning, every other comprehensive high school in Seattle will get a total renovation except Sealth. What they get now will have to last for 25 years at least.

Director de Bell pointed out that normally the staff at a school is very excited about a new project and Sealth's staff is unhappy. He said that Director Stewart had advocated this project and he seemed to suggest that she had community support all around for it. This is likely to have been true because people probably believed Sealth would be getting the West Seattle High School treatment.

One Committee member, Mark Maloy, who works in King County said that it is not all that unusual for projects to be changed and reworked and cited the 9th/Jefferson building. Other members said if anything were changed it should be sooner rather than later.

The head of the Committee, Ed Peters, in discussing the options said that he thought Option 2 HAD been what he was voting for. Clearly, many voters did not clearly understand what they were voting for and whether the District via Schools First told 45,000 households, Seattle is made up of many more than 45,000 households.

There was discussion about the most flexible use you can get from projects. To my mind, two buildings, whether down the street or on the same property are more useful that a co-joined building particularly one that is joined at the cafeteria (in the galleria).

There was also discussion over where the money would come from for Option 2 in order to make Sealth feel they were getting something out of this project. Karin Nyrop said that they could NOT take money from other projects as had been done in BEX II. Mr. Stephens said the Superintendent and CFO had some ideas and were discussing it. Ed Peters said they would want to see the dollar figure first before signing off on Option 2. He said that Option 2 seemed to give the most long-term upgrade for Sealth and would satisfy people's day-to-day satisfaction. Ed Peters said whatever option they did it needed to take care of the needs for Sealth for the next 25 years.

John Palewicz, another Committee member, seemed perplexed by whether the issue was academic co-joining or Sealth not getting a better building. He said that needs to be made clear.

Committee members seemed to agree with Director de Bell that they needed community buy-in from staff and the larger community.

I asked to speak and told them that as co-president of Roosevelt High School I knew that our school had not been designed with many security measures. (Indeed, I spoke briefly with Michael Tolley after the Work Session and he mentioned concerns about Cleveland, another brand-new building, as well.) I said that the galleria was a 250-foot security nightmare that needed to be able to be closed off not only in the middle but at either end as well as the bridge above it. The District has to have safety in mind in these school designs and not leave schools unsecured. Roosevelt is now grappling with how to lock off our gym area during games so people don't freely roam the school. With the project for Denny/Sealth you are creating a community of 2100 students plus staff and, with the galleria, the ability for anyone in a bad mood to easily get from one community to another. I urge you to ask any police officer or district security officer about this issue.

Please feel free to ask Director de Bell about the veracity of any of my statements about what was said at the meeting.

It is clear that this project is a mess. My best guess is that Facilities needed to get Denny redone but had the problem of Sealth's aging boiler and the issue of doing Denny before Sealth with them being down the street from each other were problems. They joined the projects hoping to get enough done at Sealth and hoping no one at Sealth would notice that they were not getting the Roosevelt, Cleveland, Ballard, Garfield, or West Seattle treatment.

There is no clear academic plan for this project, just a vision of a unified curriculum and shared facilities. There is not majority unity from both schools. (No one is looking, as Director Chow said, for 100% buy-in but you risk a lot by going ahead without staff buy-in.) Sealth, in the voters' pamphlet was grouped with Hale as getting a renovation while Rainier Beach and Ingraham were grouped as getting improvements. Anyone would have believed, looking at the work done at high schools renovated in the past, that Sealth would be getting a renovation and not improvements. As I mentioned, a slide was put forth showing that RBHS and Ingraham are planned to be renovated (with Ingraham already having over $26M in renovations from BEX 2 and 3 and Rainier Beach already having renovations of about $7M from Bex 1 and 3) at a cost of $250M each.

How do you think Sealth will feel when they find out they will be, by say, 2025, the only non-renovated high school in the District?

The Committee recommended immediate community engagement in as many ways as possible. Facilities could have avoided this problem by doing the work SOONER and not letting closures sidetrack it. The money lost is their fault because they did not do the front-end work, not because the community is being stubborn. Time is money but you will lose an enormous amount of good will of voters and will leave a bad taste in Sealth's mouth if you proceed without buy-in from the communities involved.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Melissa for attending this meeting. Thank goodness there is someone other than a Sealth staff member who is able to see the spin, manipulation, and covertness of the District as it applies to this issue. Your post is absolutely fascinating. So much more insightful and accurate than Emily Heffer from the Times.

Anonymous said...

Was board member Steve Sundquist there? He is representing West Seattle now. He is new and may not be aware of the 'spin, manipulation, and covertness' of the District. Did he know about this meeting?

Melissa, thank you for bringing to light this process. You are wonderful.

Is anyone attending the Finance Committee meetings who would be willing to provide us with reports? This would be a great service and would increase accountability.

Thank you. Moonflower.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, Director Sundquist was not there. As you can see from my post, it was an e-mail to all the directors. I hope they check with Director de Bell on what I have reported and then go from there. Whether they care if the presentation was slightly different than what was presented to them, whether they believe Sealth is getting the same fair shake as the other comprehensive high schools or whether they are being spun is up to them.

They need to investigate this issue thoroughly because clearly there is much confusion.

dan dempsey said...

In any situation in which a decision is to be made, one’s “Mode of Operation” may leave one stuck with only one’s point of view.

The inadequacies of the SPS mono-view point are multifaceted.

Some of the components of the SPS mono-view point are:

1. The Autocratic Process - which neglects community input
2. The Flawed Data, which is cherry-picked to support “the correct” mono-point of view
3. Political follow the leader decisions - rather than searching for the best solution
4. Always in a hurry -- unable to take the time to perform adequate research and thoughtfully develop plans that can be effectively implemented and are then able to be sustained over time to produce positive results.
5. Over-reliance on our “employed experts”. Although employed on the payroll, those on which we rely could hardly be judged as experts based on current or past practice and performance.

Washington Education’s “Modus Operandi Nonsense Approach” has produced a continually widening achievement Gap in Math over the last decade. Not just in the SPS but also in our state.

The SPS is now giving us the Multi-Million dollar Denny/Sealth facilities fiasco.

In the past it gave us the “Phase II” school closures fist fight at the School Board meeting in October 2006.

When will it ever end?

When ??
This detrimental decision making will end when:

1. This board requires accurate relevant undistorted data to be intelligently applied when making decisions.
2. The primary goal is producing “better learning for all”.
3. Decisions and projects are prioritized and evaluated in relation to the primary goal of “Better Learning for All”.
4. It is recognized that improvement of this complex system will never happen as long as Centralized Autocratic decision making is in place.
5. Autocratic pathetic decisions are reversed.

The coming new student assignment plan is very premature; significant energy should be placed into “Better Learning for All” as detailed above.

Two weeks ago EdWeek sent out the report “Quality Counts 2008”. The change in the achievement Gap for Children of Poverty from 2003-2007 for both reading and math are narrowing nationally. The opposite has happened in Washington State where the change in these Gaps are both increasing. For Gap Change In Reading we rank #42 and in Math #48, that is out of 50.

A decade of SPS rhetoric about eliminating the achievement gap has lead to continual and substantial growth in the Mathematics Gap for both Black and Hispanic Students.

Who is accountable? Who is accountable?

Just like every Large Urban School District - No One is accountable.

Charlie Mas said...

Big story in the Times today which essentially said that the District was valiantly accelerating the construction schedule to saves tens of millions of dollars and that community members who are objecting to the plans are a bunch of whiny obstructionists.

"School Board Vice President Michael DeBell said that community buy-in is important but that cost overruns are a real threat."

"Board member Harium Martin-Morris said even if the district did a bad job at outreach, there's probably not time to go back to the drawing board. It's too expensive, he said."

Ah, how I love this new era of accountability.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a thought that occurred to me: the District staff have acknowledged that the community engagement around the Denny-Sealth project was sparse and inadequate. So what are they doing about it? I don't see them making any special effort to do community involvement now. They haven't pushed a lot of information out into the public in the past few weeks, have they? I don't see their board presentation on the web site. I don't see anything about Option #2 or Option #3 on the web site. In fact, the information on the web site continues to be sparse and vague.

If they were really contrite about their failure to do any public engagement, you would think that they would be trying harder now. They aren't.

dan dempsey said...


Very interesting how screwing up the academic and social environment at Denny/Sealth is not a big enough concern to out-weigh the cost over-run concern.

Suck it up you whining South West elementary parents. {with that kind of thinking they can start building a lot smaller schools - this has been the attitude for far too long but does not appear to be changing. All hail the Stalinists at the JSCEE}

It is interesting how this district makes decisions on a regular basis that drive families away from the SPS.

Who is responsible or accountable for this latest coming calamity?

As usual no one, because Seattle Central Admin is once again Teflon Clean.

Harium needs to rephrase the following from:

"even if the district did a bad job at outreach, there's probably not time to go back to the drawing board. It's too expensive."


"The district did zero outreach, because as usual the SPS do not want any input from the public."

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know if anyone is watching this thread anymore, but I just went back and read the minutes of the BEX Oversight Committee regarding the Denny/Sealth project.

There were two items that jumped out at me.

In the minutes from the October 12, 2007 meeting was this item:

"Robert Evans [Heery] responded that there have been many public meetings and problems are being resolved."

I wonder what Mr. Evans regards as "many" and what problems he thought were being resolved.

In the minutes of the June meeting, Donald King, of DKA reported that "The school communities have agreed to a combined site and a preferred conceptual plan." I can't help but wonder what was the basis of Mr. King's report.

If I were on the committee and I had these two reports, I think that I would be surprised to hear otherwise from the community and the staff at Sealth. Given the recent revelations about the lack of public engagement on this project, I would seek to reconcile the two versions of history.

I would also wonder why I'm getting reports on the public outreach from the vendors instead of the district staff.

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