Monday, February 25, 2008

Questions and answers about Denny-Sealth

At the last Board meeting, a number of the Board Directors asked questions about the Denny-Sealth project, but didn't get answers from the central office staff. We have those answers for them here.

Directer Martin-Morris asked if there wasn't a bait-and-switch perpetrated on Seattle's voters because they were not advised of the re-location and co-location elements of the Denny-Sealth project.

Director Carr asked where the additional $5 million would come from for Option 3.

Director Maier asked if we have learned our lesson on community engagement.

Director Chow didn't ask any questions.

Director DeBell asked about police on campus or at least some sort of onsite security personnel.

Director Bass said that she would ask here questions privately.

Director Sundquist didn't ask questions so much as lament the erosion of purchasing power that would come from a delay in the reconstruction of Denny Middle School.

Answers to follow.


Charlie Mas said...

Directer Martin-Morris asked if there wasn't a bait-and-switch perpetrated on Seattle's voters because they were not advised of the re-location and co-location elements of the Denny-Sealth project.

The answer is Yes.

There was no reference to re-location, co-location, merged campus, shared campus, or even shared facilities in the description of the Denny project in the Voter's Guide, the ballot, or in the bond resolution. The thinly circulated flier that the staff has dug up make a reference to "Combining the two campuses" although the new construction for Denny on the map is shown as a separate campus in the school's current position. It also makes reference to "some shared facilities" and includes, in the list of possible shared facilities a 1,000 seat auditorium and new gymnasium. Where are they?

Let's remember that there was no word restriction in this document and in the Voter's Guide re-location" and "co-location" would count as only one or two words at most.

In addition to this bait-and-switch, however, there was another.

In ALL of these documents, the planned work at Sealth is described as a "major renovation", the same description used for the planned work at Nathan Hale and the work done at Ballard, Roosevelt, Garfield, West Seattle, and Cleveland. In all of these other cases, the "major renovation" has been a total top to bottom rebuild. At Sealth, the planned major renovation elements are carpets and paint. So that's a second bait-and-switch.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I didn't see the word "major" used but I'm going to assume you checked this out. What is disturbing is that when I was on the Facilities Master Plan committee, I said to the staff that they needed to have a glossary of what the terms that Facilities staff uses mean. What is the difference between a rebuild, a renovation, an update, and a remodel? They use these almost interchangably and its confusing.

When they release the new FMP (which again, is not a plan but a collection of information), it is unlikely there will be a glossary.

I believe the entire Board (save Mary Bass who has been willing in the past to stick her neck out) will vote for Option 2 on Wednesday. They never got any clear numbers on doing Option 3 and what the real costs/savings are (and yes there are savings as Charlie has pointed out because they wouldn't be ripping out work done at Sealth under BEX II).

But I also have to wonder if Sealth will see the entire $10M extra reflected in their project. These things have cost overruns and I'll bet that's what will happen to some of it.

I also still question taking BEX III Technology money for Sealth's project rather than using it towards the Enrollment office software updates for the assignment plan.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Interesting. I followed the link to the Agenda and here's what it says about Denny/Sealth:

"Approval of this item will authorize the transfer of $10,000,000 of BEX III funds to the Denny/ Sealth construction project supporting Option 2 recommendations."

$10M of BEX III funds? Only $8.5M is supposed to come from BEX III. The Debt Service fund is not part of BEX III and that's where $1.5M is supposed to come from.

Also, there's an item about the Board signing off on water work done at Salmon Bay. So I'm confused as to what work they told the Board is being put off at Salmon Bay so they can dip into the BEX III Infrastructure fund for Denny/Sealth.

Charlie Mas said...

Director Carr asked where the additional $5 million would come from for Option 3.

Staff didn't answer this question because they aren't interested in Option 3 so they didn't explore it as the Board directed them to.

As I have previously stated, I don't believe that Option 3 would really cost $15 million more than Option 1. So that's first.

Second, you can see that the extra $5 million won't be coming from the BEX III Program Reserve. I don't know why not - isn't this what it is for?

Third, why doesn't the extra $5 million come from the savings the District realized from accelerating the entire BEX III construction schedule? The BEX master schedule was pushed forward in October. The schedule change was supposed to save all kinds of money. It was this interest in acceleration that created this problem in the first place. Come to think of it, where did the savings from acceleration go?

If Denny-Sealth doesn't have access to any sort of contingency funding from BEX III, such as the BEX III Program Reserve, then any cost overrun would require a cut in the project scope or scale. The Board could vote for Option 2, but a $10 million cost overrun (about 8%) due to anything unexpected and Option 2 becomes Option 1.

Charlie Mas said...

Director Maier asked if we have learned our lesson on community engagement.

That depends. What lesson will the Board teach on community engagement?

If the Board votes for Option 2, then they will be teaching the lesson that the staff can go ahead and skip community engagement and the Board will sweep it under the rug for them.

I think it will teach a different lesson if the Board votes for Option 3 instead.

In either case, yes, the staff will learn the lesson.

Director Maier said that as a result of the engagement snafu at Denny-Sealth he is making sure that the District does a good job of engagement with the two high school projects in his District, at Hale and Ingraham.

I can't help thinking that's like driving through a red light at 4th and Lander and hitting a pedestrian in the crosswalk, but making up for it by being very careful as you drive through the intersection at 4th and Holgate. Sure, that's great for the pedestrians, if any, at 4th and Holgate, but it doesn't do anything for the poor guy you left bleeding in the street at 4th and Lander.

Charlie Mas said...

Director Chow didn't ask any questions.

Hey, the staff recommends Option 2; that's all Director Chow needs to know.

Director Chow is now infamous for saying that she doesn't need 100% buy-in on this deal. Well, of course not; nobody does. 100% buy-in is a ridiculous standard. But how much buy-in does she need? Does she need any at all?

Let's remember that the majority of the students at Sealth oppose Option 2 and prefer Option 3.

The majority of the teachers at Sealth oppose Option 2 and prefer Option 3.

The teachers' union, the SEA, passed a resolution opposing Option 2 and preferring Option 3.

The majority of the staff at Sealth oppose Option 2 and prefer Option 3.

The staff union, Engineers Local 609, passed a resolution opposing Option 2 and preferring Option 3.

The majority of the community at Sealth oppose Option 2 and prefer Option 3.

The majority of the Westwood Neighborhood Council oppose Option 2 and prefer Option 3.

The 34th District Democrats passed a resolution opposing Option 2 and preferring Option 3.

I don't know what stakeholders Director Chow is listening to, but the students, the teachers, the staff, and the community all oppose Option 2 and prefer Option 3. I understand she doesn't need 100% buy-in, but this deal appears to have 0% buy-in. Is that enough for her?

Charlie Mas said...

Director DeBell asked about police on campus or at least some sort of onsite security personnel.

Director DeBell was told that it is up to the City to decide whether or not to fund police officers on campus. The slide presentation, however, specifically mentions "On-site security personnel" as a way to promote safety on a co-located campus. Of course, the funding for that personnel won't come from the Capital Bond, it won't come from the Facilities department budget, it won't come from the District central office. Money for on-site security personnel would have to come from the schools' budgets.

It's very easy for Facilities to suggest ways that the schools can spend money to address problems created by the merger.

Of course any spending on security staff would reduce the money spent in the classrooms. Is that our priority?

Melissa Westbrook said...

So as I mentioned previously, the agenda item for Denny/Sealth said the $10M was coming from BEX III funds. So I called up Accounting to make sure that the Debt Service fund wasn't part of BEX (I knew it wasn't but hey, it doesn't hurt to check). Nope, it's not part of BEX. So I asked why the agenda item didn't include it.

The guy I spoke to (nice guy) said that the Debt Service fund just HAPPENED to have an extra $1.5M and that it could go to Denny/Sealth. I had to tell him that it was just a little suspicious that the $1.5M was exactly the sum that Facilities wanted to take from the Debt Service fund. He was nice about it but didn't have much to say.

He calls me back and says no, the money is supposed to come from BEX III sources AND the Debt Service Fund but it was a miscommunication and would be corrected.

Now, this was AFTER he told me that both Don Kennedy (COO/CFO) and Fred Stephens (head of Facilities) vet all the agenda items about capital measures.

And now, that particular item has a placeholder for it and the original language has vanished.

Something is up. Either that or another "whoops" down at the JSH.

Anonymous said...

Question. Director Sundquist has definitely been much more openly involved in communication at Sealth than the prior Director. He even came by one lunch and had an open table for students/faculty to talk to him. Still, despite resounding overwhelming support for Option 3 by Sealth staff and students he states he is leaning towards Option 2.

I was working on my presentation for Weds. at the Board and going over the IB part and pow, it just clicked that maybe a big reason he is sticking extra strongly to Option 2 than possibly other Board members is because a 6-12 school theoretically could also include pre-IB and thus broaden and prepare for IB and thus build the program. In fact, that was the one aspect that intrigued me for a bit in the beginning with the idea until a lot of other threads started falling apart for various reasons.

What do you think are the big reasons he is stalling? Is it support for IB? The $$? Or is he just waiting until there's an even more massive upswelling of support for keeping the campuses separate before being willing to cut the losses from Director Stewart's reign of initiating this project and then go for option 3? Other ideas?

I think it's a lose-lose for him in some ways (it already is for us teachers - obviously this has bruised our reputation with some in the community). He can't sound like the fiscal conservative if he votes to separate the campuses, but w/ WSHS up in arms over the schedule change and CSHS staff over the colocation/merger/whatever, neither problem of his creation, what might be his motivations for either option 2 or 3 as seen by long time Board observers?

dan dempsey said...

A fiscal conservative is someone who uses resources wisely to achieve a desired outcome.

While option #2 appears to cost less, the desired outcome is a facility to support high academic achievement not chaos.

I disagree a fiscal conservative would not be creating such a chaotic unstable environment. Did anyone ever find another one of these mega 6 - 12 schools that was consciously designed for a situation similar to Denny / Sealth?

Little wonder that most parents have decided that their children do not need to be the experimental guinea pigs of the SPS leadership.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The idea of middle school IB is a good one. But Sealth has barely gotten its IB off the ground so the idea to co-join them because of a possibility of middle school IB seems unlikely. (What if the Denny teachers don't want IB? There would be some irony.)

I know from sitting in on a BEX Oversight Committee (and I'm still waiting for info on how to contact members) that Director de Bell and the other directors had the impression from Director Stewart that the communities had signed off on this project. I think he was a bit chagrined to find it not true.

(And by the way, where is Irene Stewart? Why hasn't she stepped forward as a mediator if this was her idea?)

Director Sundquist does have a lot on his plate from his area as John points out. I suspect that it's just the newness of his position.

The new members ran as people who would work as a team. So despite the fact that many people in his region don't want this project, I think his desire to look like a team player trumps that. If this was a year or two down the line, maybe not.

I always wonder, though, how Facilities always gets new Board members to drink the kool-aid so soon. It's like they hear nothing by money, money, money AND believe every single thing that Facilities staff says on the subject.

dan dempsey said...


Many board members principal qualification is to hear money, money, money. They do not have the experience, staff, or qualifications to make academic judgments. Harium has taught school and has the knowledge and experience to make academic judgments.

Since he ran as making decisions on what is best for students and the community, look for him to vote against option #2.

I must have been too busy campaigning during the primary and too tired afterward to notice - but was the theme effective new leadership meant to imply "Mindless Alliance with the Superintendent"?

What would be new about that?

Charlie Mas said...

I can't help noticing that the Superintendent is not out in front of any of this. We see Don Gillmore, we see Carla Santorno, but we don't see the Superintendent making these statements or answering these questions. It's almost as if she is up there with the Board members listening to the statements and also making up her mind.

Is it just me, or has Dr. Goodloe-Johnson managed to somehow - oddly - distance herself from this decision or from any responsibility for the whole fiasco. Most of the problems came either before she took the job or when she was still very new in it, so maybe that's appropriate. Just the same, it's feels weird and somehow wrong. She really doesn't appear out in front leading the parade for Option 2. Or is it just me?