Are They Kidding?

(Update from KUOW on Friday)

"A quick clarification on a story KUOW aired about a recent survey on building conditions in Seattle Public Schools. The survey showed a backlog of maintenance problems in many public schools, especially for schools built in the 1950’s and 60’s. Yesterday (Friday) we reported a school official as saying that money for preventative maintenance comes from levies. Money for preventative maintenance comes from state funds. It is levies that are supposed to help pay for seismic renovations in the Seattle public schools."

(Updated with link to KUOW report.)

I was listening to KUOW this morning and here comes the voice of reporter Phyllis Fletcher saying that the district has released a new report on SPS facilities. She explains that the reports says that the buildings built in the '50-60' are really going downhill fast. (Well, yes, they are very old buildings at this point.) That basic maintenance hasn't been done and well, when you don't do basic maintenance you have to pay more for repairs later. (I went to the SPS website and wasn't sure which report she was referencing.)

Sound familiar? I hope it does because I've been saying this for years now.


"Our buildings are in a terrible state and getting worse all the time. We need more money for basic maintenance and get this; it may mean more levies or asking for our property taxes to be raised." (This is me paraphrasing the district spokesperson, David Tucker.)

(I did find a district document recently where there was discussion about having a levy for basic maintenance needs as BTA is for big maintenance and BEX is for remodel/renovation.)

Unfortunately, Phyllis didn't get to ask them the most basic question: why wasn't the district keeping up on basic maintenance? Why weren't they spending what OSPI recommends all along? How did they get us to this state?

I'm going to make a few phone calls today about this but as you can imagine from my interest in Facilities issues, I'm not a happy camper. (I'll see if I can get a link up on the story.)


Jet City mom said…
Count the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

Easy to follow- easy to remember- but
apparently the district thinks they can keep asking the public for more money, even though they have not been very accountable in any area- most recently the dollars attributed to " losses & theft"

Computers, projectors and other electronics totaling at least $118,911 have disappeared from Seattle classrooms in recent years, but the school district failed to report the known or suspected losses to the state, according to a new audit.

The report by the state Auditor's Office confirmed details first uncovered by a KOMO News investigation in 2008.

Utilizing public records laws, KOMO obtained inventory reports for the Puget Sound area's largest school districts and found nearly 9,500 items purchased with taxpayers' dollars have disappeared from classrooms in Tacoma, Lake Washington, Bellevue, Everett, Shoreline, and Seattle.

The auditor's report singles out the Seattle School District, which the auditor says has been reminded four times in the past five years to report all known or suspected losses to the state.

We need more money for basic maintenance and get this; it may mean more levies or asking for our property taxes to be raised.
Unknown said…
I'm just guessing on the lost electronics thing, but here's what I think: We (teachers) get computers, projectors, etc. in the classroom. Some are new, some are donated, and they're all inventoried. Then they become unusable or outmoded by new stuff (document cameras replaced all the overhead projectors, for instance) and we ask, where do we put this? And the answer is there's really no place to put it -- so you end up putting, say, a non-functioning, parent-donated computer in a book room, and it eventually gets moved to another room, and then gets put into the hall as "surplus" and then four years later someone shows up in the classrooms to take inventory and guess what? It's "lost."
Anyway, that's my guess. I've been at my school 15 years and nobody's ever walked into a classroom in the morning and discovered a computer, projector, etc. is missing. Things do get old and break, though, and that stuff does end up lost.
Other teachers? Does this sound familiar? Or are other schools really missing real working equipment?
Jet City mom said…
I have had different experience-
when I was on the board- the money from the high school musical was stolen out of the office- which was critical to the funding of the arts program for the rest of the year.

I also remember when the parent group held a silent auction at the school- some donated pieces were found to have been stolen during the auction.

The kicker is that after the auction- my co-chair and I were told that we owed security staff money for " working" the auction - We didn't even know they were on duty, they certainly didn't ask us about any items of exceptional value or if we needed help.

Also same school- had been co-sharing space with a performing theatre group for a number of years- during this time- the school's original equipment( sound & light boards) had been in storage at the district.

When this theatre was given notice by the district- to vacate- the school was without equipment to operate the auditorium as the district no longer had any records of what belonged to the district & the school.

So the parents & community ( inc teachers)had to come up with $$$$ to find equipment to make the theatre usable.

( Same school- has been broken into- and computers etc stolen- and while alarms went off at district headquarters- because @ the district the building was labeled " Addams", the police went to Adams Elementary in Ballard- not Summit K-12 in Lake City.) insert eyeroll here

Regarding surplused goods of which the district has many- Many companies hold surplus sales etc and I do remember things like that being done when buildings are renovated- even auctions are held for " vintage" pieces.
Dorothy Neville said…
A similar sort of data point. I am a PTSA treasurer. I attended the treasurer and executive officer training provided by the state PTSA. And a HUGE focus was accountability with money, because they said it's the number one conflict issue in PTSAs, somehow some of that carnival money or Tee shirt money or whatever doesn't quite end up in the bank. If there's an opportunity to steal, someone will take advantage of it sooner or later.

I can also believe Mary's scenario. All in all a combination of poor inventory control and petty theft.
Charlie Mas said…
Read any District budget document from any year and you will read about how, in the name of reducing costs, the District chose to reduce funding for maintenance. Year after year after year.

Reminds me of a story...

A milkman makes his deliveries with a horse and cart. One day he returns home from his route and when he goes to feed his horse with oats and hay, as always, he finds that he is out of oats. So he just feeds the horse hay. He notices, however, that the horse doesn't complain and, the next day, pulls the cart the same as always. He suddenly realizes that it was totally unnecessary for him to give the horse oats all these years and he vows to save money by cutting the oats permanently.

It soon occurs to him that he could save more money by feeding the horse less hay. So, over the next several weeks, he slowly reduces the amount of hay that he feeds the horse. Although it is getting less hay, the horse doesn't complain and continues to pull the cart, pretty much the same as always.

This practice continues for month but then the horse dies. "Damn my luck!" curses the milkman. "That stupid horse had to go and die just when I got it down to eating nothing at all!"
Charlie Mas said…
Here's a link to the story.
Shannon said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Mas said…
Here's a link to the 2009 Facilities Condition Report. The title is a bit misleading since many of the elements of the report are much older.
Shannon said…
I have an update to the transportation thread of a week ago. Apparently there is some computer glitch with the bus routes / mailing and we still have no info.
seattle citizen said…

There is a new thread on Harium's blog posted today:

Alternative School Audit

All those with cogent comments go thither
Megan Mc said…
I bet the computer glitch is that they arent saving any money and kid's rides aren't going to be shorter ;)
Charlie Mas said…
I will tell you this: the kids' rides are not going to be shorter.

The only kids who were going to get shorter rides were those who were on a bus that stopped at another school before it went to their school. Most of those two-stop buses are still two-stop buses.

There are other kids who are going to have shorter bus rides but longer commutes as their stop has been moved to a "community stop" further from their homes.

Think about it. The only way the ride can get shorter is if there are fewer stops or the bus covers less distance. For either of those to happen the distance from students' homes to their bus stop needs to increase.

They are creating savings by pushing the cost onto the user.
reader said…
I think it's easy to just say, well OSPI says spend 4% and look they didn't do it. (Isn't that what OSPI says?) As homeowners, I don't know anyone who spends that amount. Think about all the million dollar homes in Seattle... not all that fancy even in this economy. Do those people spend $40,000 on yearly maintenance? Think about a more modest $600,000 home. Do those people spend 24grand on yearly home maintenance? I doubt it. They spend a fraction of that. As a homeowner, we know that 4% may be the price to keep your home in pristine condition, but we pick and choose. I would expect the same from the district. I don't know if the district's buildings are in any worse condition than the average comparable homeowner's home.
Reader, there is a big, no a huge difference between a homeowner and a public school district. And that difference is that the district is responsible for the health and safety of kids in the care in their buildings during the school day.

And, yes, there is a wide range of conditions in these buildings but that doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it right that PTAs have been quietly fixing things that are the district's responsibly.

And it's okay for the district to whine about not having the money to do basic maintenance and come to taxpayers and ask for yet more money because they didn't do the right thing when they could? Explain.
Unknown said…
I can back up Mary's comments. I went through one of the moves this summer, and I found many items that clearly hadn't been seen by any recent inventory. It looked like with staff changes over the years, things got shuffled from one closet to another. I found old electronics that might have had original values totaling thousands of dollars, but were now terribly out of date...camcorders, early digital cameras etc. When they became obsolete, they were tucked away and forgotten. Presumably they will again be picked up on the inventory, now that they will be properly surplussed.

And by the way - home doesn't get nearly the wear and tear that hundreds of people a day cause to our schools. Even something simple like a floor - I might have my floors re-done once a decade at home, but with the hundreds of walkers in a school every hour, it would need much more re-doing. No doubt the 4% OSPI recommendation takes this into account. The argument that anything large (schools, government etc) can be run the way we budget our homes, small businesses and checkbooks is specious. And it is often repeated by people looking for any way to discredit the role of government, but it is just empty, misleading rhetoric.
dan dempsey said…
I do not care about 4% of budget or 4% of building values or 4% at all. This is useless minutia.

What has been well known for at least a decade and more likely several decades is that Seattle School buildings are in poor condition because of poor maintenance. No one is ever held accountable for much at the administrative level.
reader said…
The comparison to "homeowners" is often made, and often made by Melissa in particular. Lots of websites mention a 4% of value as a rule of thumb for homeowners as well. (Big civic buildings serving many people are way more expensive than houses serving a few. The 4% is rule of thumb covers both.)But nobody really adheres to that percentage because it's pretty far out of whack. And, it's unreasonably expensive. It would be unreasonably expensive to spend that much on school building repair. I think we can all agree that the buildings need to be safe, and maintained to some degree. The more irritating factor to the public is the constant rebuilding and moving that is pure waste. EG. Viewlands (closed, vandalized, re-opened maybe), Cleveland HS... 65 million, but no students, Denny-Sealth rebuilding over newly rebuilt... etc, etc, etc. Waste at that level makes the cries for more money pretty unreasonable.
...maintained to some degree."

Define degree. Also, it is penny-wise and pound foolish to not keep ahead of maintenance. It only costs us more in the end and where's the use of that?

The district has over 100 buildings to, at the very least, keep the water clean, the roof working and no dangerous conditions. Even the closed buildings need to be secured (witness Viewlands). Just keeping up with that is a lot.
adhoc said…
"It would be unreasonably expensive to spend that much on school building repair."

Huh? I think it is unreasonable *not* to spend enough money to keep our buildings in good repair and safe for all of our students. Yet, many of our buildings are not seismically safe, prone to repeated flooding, have poor air quality and mold problems, STILL have lead in the water, and are down right falling apart at the seams. Now I'm not talking about spending money to keep our schools shiny, clean, well landscaped, and cosmetically appealing like our neighbor districts manage to do (check out Shoreline, Edmonds, Bellevue , Lynnwood, schools). No, I'm just talking reasonable repair and safe. Is that really to much to expect?
dj said…
Thanks, Shannon. I'm wildly curious to see if with my daughter's school switch, she still has an hour-plus bus ride to attend another school that is in our cluster.

And Reader, I certainly would advocate for doing needed maintenance, rather than generating an amount of money to spend whether it needs to be spent or not. Who wouldn't? But I think things like drinkable water at school are reasonable to expect.
I would argue that many families do spend 4% on "maintenance" The 4% here is 4% of revenue and well 4% of the family budget is not unreasonable.
adhoc said…
We may not all spend 4% of our budgets on home maintenance, but I would argue that most (if not all) of us have potable, drinkable water in our homes. Most of us live in homes without a chronic black mold problem, or a roof that has been leaking for years. You are right we do have to pick and choose.
reader said…
Look, the district needs a reasonable rule of thumb to be set for maintenance, so they can budget in the first place. You need that rule BEFORE you make a budget, not afterwards. Therefore, the idea of 4% of "budget" to be reserved is ridiculous, for either the homeowner or the district. The only reasonable budgeting for maintenance is based on the value of the asset... and not based whatever you have to spend. Maintaining your home... costs what it costs, regardless of how your financial situation fluctuates.

Imagine that we had adequate funding for repairs. Then, if the budget were to suddenly double or triple, to accommodate some unforeseen need, would we say maintenance spending should grow also? No, obviously exactly the opposite would happen. Cleary we need a percentage estimate based on values. I just happen to think 4% is too high, and higher than any other endeavor would provide.

I wonder if we tested the water in homes in Seattle the way we test water in our schools, how many of them would be deemed safe... or "potable" as adhoc says. If you look at many schools in various neighborhoods... they are in the same shape as the average home. I'm just thinking of neighborhoods like QA, where all the neighborhood homes are ancient, more ancient than the schools.. which are relatively new. The school water is supposedly "unsafe", but what about all the water in the homes around the schools? Oh yeah. Nobody tested that. And that's where people drink most of their water.
Dorothy Neville said…
Reader is right, that a better number would probably be a percentage of the value of your home, but he throws in a red herring about that. It's not the market value of your home, it's the replacement cost of the structure on the property. So a better calculation would take into consideration square feet of dwelling and construction grade.

And homeowners might not always spend a fixed percent each year, but should be budgeting to save for depreciating items, such as roof, furnace, etc.

So the gold plated number would be something related to square footage and usage patterns. Perhaps a homeowner would be well advised that she will spend (on average, so saving is the key) maybe $100 a square foot per year. I would imagine there's some rule of thumb based on that published.
Charlie Mas said…
Rather than a percentage of the budget or a percentage of the building value - by any measure - I would like to track response time.

How many days after a roof leak is reported does it get fixed?

How many days after a broken window is reported does it get replaced?

How many days after a mold problem is reported does it get abated?

What is a reasonable service standard for these and is the District meeting it?
Well, again a homeowner has one building. The district has well over 100 to cover.

Charlie, to your point, I find something interesting that may answer your questions. I hope I can write it up soon.
reader said…
... and the replacement cost of your building, is still roughly correlated to the market value of the property. Labor costs increase where market values increase. They go hand in hand. Labor is probably the biggest expense in maintenance. As to measuring "time to fix", I can say I have a number of costly fixes I need to do, but have purposefully not done so. I'd like to get the full life out of some of my materials and will leave a few leaks going to do that. "Time until fix" doesn't reflect that prioritization.
Okay, last question, so Reader you accept that we let a lot of basic maintenance go to the point where it is beyond basic and will now cost us much more to fix? When you fix it, using a timetable to decide or gauging how bad something is before it is beyond basic maintenance is fine with me but how is okay to end up costing the taxpayers a lot more than if you fixed it sooner?
reader said…
It's not ok to wind up spending more by delaying repairs. But no, I don't really "accept" that the repairs have gone past basic everywhere. I don't know one way or the other. But the point is, it isn't obvious which repairs cost more by delaying, and which cost more by doing them instantly... even if the problem is a leak. So, an accountability measure that simply measures timeliness... wouldn't be measuring cost effectiveness or value. It really is a matter of professional judgement and figuring out minimum standards of acceptability for prioritization.

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