Disqus

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Odds and Ends

From the district:

"The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced Wednesday, Dec. 16, that 57 Seattle Public Schools teachers earned their National Board certification in 2009. Seattle now has 174 National Board-certified teachers, and more than 85 additional teachers are working toward certification in 2010.

The National Board noted that Seattle Public Schools is among the nation’s top 20 in terms of the number of teachers who achieved national certification in 2009, ranking 15th."

Good for all these teachers. Beacon Hill International had the most with 6 newly certified teachers.

I also note that this is the silly time of the year when the students come back from Winter Break and have 2 full days off plus an early release day before Feb. 15th when Mid-Winter Break starts. (It's even less time if you are at a school with its own early release/late start days.)

There's a regular Board meeting this Wednesday at 6 p.m. The big item is the introduction of the Transition Plan. I hope that those who plan to speak call early tomorrow morning as that is when they start taking names for the speakers list. Call 252-0040 or e-mail: boardagenda@seattleschools.org.

Peter Maier has his regular community meeting on Saturday, the 9th at Bethany Community Church located at 1156 N. 80th, at 10:30 a.m.

Also for those interested, the BEX Oversight Committee has its monthly meeting this Friday at 8:30 a.m. in Room 2750. It's one of those meetings where you sit and watch (no input allowed) but it can be entertaining.

I mentioned previously that the first nearly $50M of the BTA III money will go to reopen the 5 new schools and here's what Kathy Johnson of Facilities reported to the Board in November:

"First three years of levy spending, $48M, will be focused on re-opening five buildings to accommodate increased enrollment. Building improvements will be code-driven to upgrade systems and produce safe and secure buildings. Included will be new furniture, technology, and white boards."

White boards? Why do we need white boards for elementary? It's nonsense to be putting this kind of money into an elementary. Also from the minutes:

"A little money on street appeal and improving the main entrance goes a long way. Develop a lessons-learned report on closed schools."

Lessons learned? Like not closing a school and then reopening it a few years later? That kind of demographic planning and learning? And fyi Facilities, we don't have money for basic maintenance, remember? How will you fund "street appeal"? Put it onto the PTAs?

FYI, we start the season for the levies now. I have decided to not appeal to anyone to vote against the BTA levy. What I DO plan to do is get out information on the state of our facilities and our maintenance policy. Seattle voters do tend to pay attention to details and will make their own decisions about how to vote. So you will likely hear from me via radio, tv, newspaper and other media. I have appealed to community leaders to let the Board and the district know how troubling the state of our maintenance backlog is. We'll see if any of them act on it (meaning, talking to the Board, not coming out against the levy).

17 comments:

Unknown said...

What can they write on if they don't have white boards?

mascarah said...

For whatever it's worth- I'm a 4th/5th grade teacher that has been using old stained chalk boards for six years, and would be DELIGHTED to have them replaced with white boards. I would rather have a smaller class, sure, and now may not be the time with a $49 million budget shortfall, but I wouldn't say it is wasted money.

Unknown said...

Good to know. For some reason I thought no one used chalk boards anymore because chalk dust causes respiratory problems with long term exposure.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mea culpa. I'm talking about Smart Whiteboards (not dry erase). These are the combo projector/computer boards which I frankly do not believe they need for elementary school. The bulbs alone cost $400 to replace. I had a teacher at Roosevelt who said he could do just as well with an overhead projector and they refused to allow it (even though they have many in storage in the district warehouse).

Of course teachers need some kind of chalk/dry erase board to communicate.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

I'm glad to hear that you will not be speaking out against the levy. That money would include desperately needed seismic upgrades of several of our school buildings. Many of our school buildings are unsafe and it would be a disaster to see these buildings fail during an earthquake. The other good part about the upgrades is that it would require handicap, ADA, upgrades which would mean people with physical "disabilities" would find it easier to navigate their school buildings.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dora, there is money in the BTA levy to do things that need to be done. Trouble is, this district is not doing the RIGHT thing which is to properly maintain our buildings. All the levy money in the world will not solve this problem.

Joan NE said...

Melissa, I am too am glad that you decided to support the levy. I am also glad that you are going to bat for backlog maintentance.

Q Does the levy budget going before voters have sufficient funds for backlog maintenance?

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

I agree with you. Proper maintenance of the buildings would have included seismic and ADA code upgrades.

SPS has been able to skirt around the issue of code upgrades by keeping other changes to the buildings at a minimum. At a certain construction cost threshold, all code upgrades would have to be done.

I brought this to the attention of the board during the levy hearing. There is no money in their budget to handle the cost of the upgrades that will be needed when they start replacing the structure of the roof system of various buildings with a safer roof diaphragm as is described in their cost breakdown.

No one there seems to understand that when you replace the roof, the walls need to be reinforced, the walls then need to be attached to the footings (which in many cases has not been done), etc. With the amount of work that needs to be done, the ADA upgrades would have to be included in the renovation work per code.

The money allocated for the different schools that are to receive the roof upgrades is not enough to cover the entire scope of work that will be required by the building department.

I sent a letter to that effect to SPS and got a letter back from counsel that did not address my concerns but only gave me a list of work to be done at the Meany building.

I want the levy to pass but I am concerned that the money that has been allocated for the seismic work is not enough to cover the entire scope of work that will need to be done. Then, what happens? Would that mean that after facilities comes to that revelation, too late in the game, that only one or two schools would receive the necessary upgrades because the budget wasn't adequate?

Reviewing facilities' reports on the various school buildings, looking at what was spent(squandered) on Garfield and what the levy money has paid for in the past, I would highly recommend that there be at least one architect involved who understands the construction process and the costs that are affiliated with the design and construction of buildings.

There is a naivete with this levy process that concerns me.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, Joan, it doesn't. The BTA has never been a "maintenance" levy (and this was told to me by Kathy Johnson of Facilities years back). It is for big-ticket items that need replacing like roofs, HVAC, windows, etc. But it has gradual become the "kitchen sink" levy with a lot of everything thrown in. The academic side of it (the "A" which was originally for athletics) has grown tremendously. As well, technology needs have grown.

The levy is $270M. Of that, 51% is for the "B", buildings, portion of the levy. 51% is about $137M and of that $48M is going to reopen the 5 closed buildings. About $25M is going to 6 schools for energy efficient heating and roofs (a great idea but 3x the cost of regular with savings coming only about 15 years out - the Board is reconsidering this one and may do energy efficient roofs only or some combo to lower the price and spread out the "B" dollars to other schools). So if you have about $75M out of about $137M going to about 11 schools, that doesn't leave a lot to spread over other schools.

In short, my guess would be that the BTA III levy might attack maybe 10-12% of the backlog. Since maintenance is on-going, we can never BTA or BEX our way out of this situation.

Something or someone has to give. So which is it, the buildings or the district?

You know, people who use the Viaduct make a choice. We all know that it's a dangerous roadway that will come down in a huge earthquake. The majority of people who would be killed would be adults. Such is life - we all make risk-assessment decisions every single day.

The problem is that the majority of people inside of schools are children. Almost half our buildings are over 50 years old (and some are well-built but not don't have seismic retrofits).

I think it's okay for adults to make decisions for their own lives but I'm not sure I believe that we stand by and allow our district to make those decisions for our children's lives.

We might not have an earthquake for 10 years or a 100 years. We might have one tomorrow. What will we say then?

Anonymous said...

Indeed.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think abut the disastrous earthquake in China and how so many children died because the government didn't spend the allocated money for structurally sound buildings but instead squandered it on other items, including themselves.

We think that what happened in China certainly wouldn't happen here. We have codes in place and no one in their right mind would allow our children to be in buildings that are unsafe! Oh really?

http://sites.google.com/site/seattleschoolsgroup/

I began to investigate the Meany building when I found out that Nova would be moved into the building along with SBOC. What I found out was shocking. By SPS' own consultant's report, and you can see that Structural Report posted on the website shown above, the building was not up to any seismic standards. The irony is that the building that we were in, the Mann building, was actually safer even though the school board kept telling us that the opposite was true.

Then, out of curiosity, I looked at other school buildings and found that about eleven buildings were unsafe.

Let's put it this way, many of you who work in office buildings would be far more safe than your children. You would probably survive a 5.6 or greater if you were close to the epicenter. Many school buildings would not.

I have taken my concerns to the press. To their credit, NPR, the Seattle Weekly and Real Change responded. Both newspapers published articles and NPR is working on a presentation now.

Still I believe that all parents need to know what the situation is. Most believe that our children are as safe as we are during the day but that is not the case. There is mold, unsafe drinking water, light fixtures that are not secured to the ceilings, glass that is not shatter proof, unsecured masonry along the hallway walls, fire doors that don't function, buildings that don't have fire sprinklers, the list goes on and I could too.

Melissa is right, we need the money but it's got to be used wisely. SPS has been penny wise and pound foolish from my observations over the last year.

It's time to demand that people making the decisions understand what they are deciding on and not just rubber stamp what some person within SPS recommends.

Joan NE said...

Thank you for the detailed answer Melissa. The only question I still have is this: Roughly, what do you guess is the amount of revenue needed to fully address the accumulated backlog of maintentance, if we could do it all in 2010?

Anonymous said...

Joan,

A breakdown of all of the schools maintenance requirements, including seismic, can be found at:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities/2009BuildingCondition/rptInventorySummary.pdf

Melissa Westbrook said...

According to the district, we are nearly $500M in backlogged maintenance. Yes, kind of takes your breath away.

I am completely mindful and aware of how unrealistic it is to expect it to be taken care of. As Dora points out, there are real safety issues at some schools. Others have to deal with balky boilers that either freeze or heat the building unevenly. Not life-threatening but certainly not a great environment for either teachers or students. (And the schools are the staffs' workplaces - don't we owe them a safe and healthy workplace?) Bringing up the rear are the basics like light fixture repair, painting, landscaping, etc.

If Memorial Stadium gets redone (still unsure whose dime it will be but at least it might be shared), that's a big one done. The 5 reopening schools will have $48M worth of work done on them (but sadly, that will not fully alleviate the backlog there either) and that will help.

The reality is that the district has a financial crisis that seems to be ongoing. It's just sad how many years I have typed that. Why is it we can't get on a good financial footing...ever?

So I hold no illusions that this backlog will get addressed in a significant manner. But what needs to happen is to step up the basic maintenance budget. (I'm looking at the $10M we pay 116 teachers to be academic coaches.) We're spending a little more than half of what we did in 1979. It's not enough and the proof is the state of our buildings.

I'm going to stop here because I'll be writing the levy its own thread.

The bottom line is that this is NOT going away as an issue. We cannot "levy" our way out of it either thru BEX or BTA or both. Someone, the Board or the Superintendent, has to make the commitment to our buildings. And the ONLY way to get that to happen (and soon) is for voters to send them a message. Create a petition, whatever you want, it will mean nothing to them. We have one big stick and frankly, if not now when?

Joan NE said...

Melissa - it sounds like you are suggesting we send a message by voting down the levy. Do I understand you right?

I am ignorant of the consequences of a levy failure. I guess the worst consequence would be that projects to make bldgs safer for children's will be delayed.

If the levy is voted down, when is the earliest date, legally and practically, that the Board can arrange another vote on a BTA II levy? Does law bar the Board from putting another levy to a vote again as soon as say two months from now?

If not, then the rejection of the levy on Feb 9 wouldn't be a total disaster would it? Maybe for a second try, the Board would be more interested to address the concerns of you and Dora and others, and get the levy plan "right," with reasonable, reliable accountability measures built in.

What do you think?

Is it too late for you or anyone else to submit statement against to be published in the voter's pamphlet?

spedvocate said...

Look... Melissa's point is that they don't use the money for the intended purpose. So what that safety's great? They aren't spending on safety. They might as well tell us that they're spending money on a .... let's see... classize of 12 for each and every kid... with all the after school tutoring you could want. We all know that one is a lie... so is the safety thing. They're spending on closing and reopening Viewlands... not a little... but a gigantic sum. My kids get nothing from building musical chairs. I'm voting NO on all of it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll end up repeating this but here goes:

1) I am NOT telling anyone how to vote. I am trying to flesh out all the details so that voters can make their own choices and have it based on fact and not emotion. (A Schools First person said to a group, "Adults who care about children vote for school levies.") That's very manipulative (not to mention off-putting). Adults who care about children THINK about the greater good, THINK about the ramifications of their vote down the line and THINK about whether the district is really taking care of our buildings. That's all I'm doing is asking people to listen.

Clearly, I am wrestling with this issue myself. I do urge everyone to vote for the Operations levy (that would be the disaster).

2) I did write for the Voter's Pamphlet but I didn't once say vote against the BTA levy.

3)Again, if the levy gets voted down, they can bring it back anytime this calendar year. They could bring it back in a month if they wanted. I would hope the vote would send a message but the district/Board could interpret it anyway they wanted. My feeling is they would take it very seriously.

The Board could simply go on record as saying they would be reviewing how the BTA III levy money would be spent if the levy passes and direct the Superintendent and staff to provide the public with financial accounting reports a couple of times a year on how BEX/BTA money is spent. That would be a really good message to voters and would counter anything I could possibly say.

I doubt if that will happen.