Tuesday, October 07, 2008

BTA Meeting

I attended the first community meeting to discuss the future BTA levy. I came away somewhat confused and not feeling good about public engagement. There were 3 staff members, 1 Board member (Peter Maier) and about 8 members of the public.

One thing to correct from the get-go that I erroneously stated before is that this is a maintenance levy. This is NOT a maintenance levy. It is the smaller scale capital projects in the areas of buildings, technology and academics. Maintenance, as it was explained, are projects without a hammer (landscaping, painting, small repair). The BTA projects range from roofs and window replacement to carpeting. It is a workhorse levy as I termed it previously but it is not a maintenance levy. (My apologies for any confusion.)

Here's the PowerPoint that was presented. As Charlie mentioned in my post announcing the meetings, it's not all that helpful and somewhat tedious. There were 5 pages of "district" information which I was told they are required to say at every meeting. It was annoying because yes, we did run out of time at the end of the meeting for questions and discussion.

Here's the district's overview:
"The purpose of this project is to provide the voters of the Seattle Public Schools the opportunity to approve a new six-year Buildings, Technology,
and Academics levy (BTA III) in 2010 thus renewing the BTA II levy which expires in 2010. The scope of work will outline a four-phased project. Phase 1 will be the hiring and management of a consultant contract to evaluate building conditions and develop cost estimates for the BTA III levy. Phase 2 will be to gather stakeholder input on the identification of future BTA III projects. Phase 3a will be environmental review, if necessary. Phase 3b will develop a draft project list along with levy amounts for review and approval by the Seattle School Board. Phase 4 will be the levy document materials preparation and filing of said documents with King County Elections.

So we are in Phase 1, hiring a consultant. I had been confused about this because we had just had a survey done 3 years ago. From the PowerPoint:

"Evaluation of the condition of the buildings at 87 sites which include open schools, inventoried/surplus schools, Memorial Stadium, and John Stanford Center. Also included are the academic adequacy and a seismic evaluation of these same buildings."

From the first survey done by a company called Meng Analysis:

"In the fall of 2005, Meng Analysis was commissioned byt he Seattle Public Schools to complete a comprehensive survey of the School District facilities. The School District prioritized 80 schools that were to receive building condition surveys, and 73 that were to receive educational adequacy surveys.

The building condition surveys are a comprehensive report on each of the major building systems for the selected schools, with a qualitiative condition assessment as well as a listing of maintenance and repair deficiencies for each of the building systems. In addition, a structural review was conducted to assess seismic conditions."

You can see how similar they sound. What is different (and it took me calling Meng to clearly understand) is that it will include buildings they did not do previously as well as BEX I buildings. I had wondered why they just couldn't do the buildings they missed last time (and save some money, budgeted at $600,000-700,000). But, they are going to create a database of the buildings that will allow them to cross-reference what happens and/or is needed. (According to the district, this is all on paper. Go figure. My thought was why didn't they do this 4 years ago?)

This will likely keep them more-up-to date but it doesn't make a dent in the backlogged maintenance. (The state recommends 4% of the general fund for maintenance, the district had been at 2% about 10 years ago and now is at 1%. I think this is why the State Auditor gave them a wag of the finger for not doing enough preventive maintenance.)

The district will still have to hire consultants for cost estimates though because, as they stated, district staff are not experts and cannot make those estimates.


  • page 7 is a list of ages of buildings in the district. Fourteen percent of the buildings are older than 1920, between 4-6% are 1920-1949, 20% are 1950-1959, 11% are between 1960-69, 6-7% between 1970-89, 10% 1990-1999 and 16% are between 2000-2009. The problem with this chart, as someone pointed out, is that a building can be from 1930 but have been rebuilt.
  • The district says 13% of bldgs "make a positive contribution to education environment, 19% are suitable buildings, 32% are "compatible with intended use/design but need remodeling and 36% are "not compatible with intended use/design."
  • The district sure sticks to labels that are vague or inaccurate. They still say they are remodeling the building at South Shore (and never call it what it is - New School) and they continue to list Secondary BOC on the BEX II list even though all their money was lost to Garfield's project. They say something will happen for that community but is now 7 years and nothing has happened.
  • Here's the description for Denny/Sealth: "Implementation of the Denny-Sealth Campus Plan, including a new Denny building, new common facilities and a renovated Chief Sealth building. Honestly, does that sound like a joint building? You could read that and believe that each is being rebuilt close by each other with some shared facilities. Why the district can't speak clearly on projects is mystifying.
  • There was some discussion about the athletic fields and replacement of synthetic turf. Turns out they have about a 6 year life, some were installed differently in different situations and thus wore differently. They are hoping for better outcomes this time but it was pointed out that the 6-year life doesn't necessarily correlate with the hours used given how many non-school uses these fields encounter.
  • It was stated that the consultant would be doing their assessments and parallel to that time, school staff would be asked for their input. Also the public can nominate buildings for projects. This is a bit of a sticky wicket because the forms can only be faxed or mailed (possibly handed in at your school's office but you have to hope they make it to the district). The fax number isn't even on the form. Public forms are due December 1, 2008 (although the consultants' work won't be done until Feb. 2009 so why the cut-off is December 1 more than a full year before the levy seems odd). They said that public nominations would be checked against the consultants' findings for any given school and a cost estimate made for the project. It was unclear to me how much weight any given input had. For example, if someone nominates their school for new windows but the consultant says the windows are okay for now, will they still do a cost estimate?
  • There will be Community Meetings on options in March 2009. There will be Board work sessions on the options during March-August 2009. They will announce their preferred options list in September of 2009. Basically, the public gets less than 2 months (October 1- December 1) to nominate schools for projects with 1 month to see the options list (March 2009) and make their choices known.
I did try to point out that the Facilities department hasn't exactly endeared themselves to many communities and that they needed to be as open and transparent as possible in order to win over unhappy voters. It seems they want to but it has eluded them in the past and given that we had so little time for discussion during this meeting, I have to wonder.

I also pointed out that on BTA II there was money put into buildings that either later closed (Columbia which used to house Orca but is now an interim building) or are being torn down (Denny). Between the Columbia building and Denny building there were 13 projects. I suggested that they need a long-term vision so they don't spend levy money on buildings with doubtful futures. I got a shrug and was told it wasn't that much money. No district staff person has any business shrugging off taxpayer dollars that have been mostly wasted.

One thing happened that gave me pause in the district's widely-touted public engagement focus. There was another activist parent at the meeting and at one point, Fred Stephens, who is the head of the Facilities department, went over and sat by him and they had a 10-minute private conversation. Mr. Stephens was clearly not listening to the discussion going on. Now, in a larger meeting, this would have gone unnoticed but it's kind of hard to miss in a room with about 12 people. It felt somewhat disrespectful to the other people in attendance.

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