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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I want to support BEX IV, but...

I want to support BEX IV. I know that the District desperately needs to build additional capacity to meet the demands of increased enrollment. I would be a lot more comfortable supporting the levy if I could just get a few questions answered.




  1. The BEX IV plan includes about $80 million to put NOVA back into the Mann Building and to put a middle school back into Meany. That's $80 million to put things back to the way they were three years ago. I would really like to hear someone acknowledge the mistake of moving these schools in the first place, and I would really like to hear some "lessons learned" that will give me confidence that the District will not made these kind of $100 million mistakes again.
  2. Similarly, let's hear an admission of error and "lessons learned" regarding the closure and re-opening of elementary schools in West Seattle.
  3. The Board will vote to close the books on the Garfield renovation this week. This project was originally budgeted for $54 million but ended up costing three or four times that amount. Again, I like to hear that acknowledged and I would like to hear some "lessons learned" that will give me confidence that we won't see that kind of cost overrun again.
  4. The BEX IV plan includes a number of program placements. The plan, for example, clearly says that The NOVA Project will relocated into the Mann Building. That's interesting to me. How and when was that decision made? I ask because NOVA will no longer fit into the Mann Building, the property can't take the proposed addition, and NOVA doesn't want to move back to the Mann Building. Is this the new Program Placement process?
  5. The BEX IV plan includes the placement of north-end elementary APP at the new Wilson Elementary School. It has to go there because that's the only place for it. Why are construction decisions dictating program placement decisions instead of program placement decisions dictating construction decisions?
  6. Speaking of the Mann Building, the Board will vote this week to commit $1 million of BEX IV money to the cost of that renovation and addition. The commitment of these funds before the cash is in hand, before BEX IV has even been approved by voters, is a HUGE violation of the financial protocols adopted after the Moss-Adams audit. Why is the District breaking their own rules about spending money they don't yet have? More to the point, why should I believe that the District will respect the "lessons learned" described above when they are disrespecting the "lessons learned" from a previous financial fiasco?
  7. Will the renovated Mann Building be designed and built to meet the unique needs of NOVA? If so, will the building be versatile enough to house other programs in the future if the District's needs change? How program specific will the construction be? Will it meet the District's ed specs?
  8. Someone else is sure to ask this, so let's get it out there. The District did, at one time, have twice as many students. Why could they house and educate all those students then but they can't do it with the same buildings today?
  9. The District's projections say that they will need 70 more elementary school seats in the McClure service area in the next ten years. They have plans to add 200 seats to Queen Anne Elementary. That will meet the expected demand with room to spare. So why do they also plan to build a 500-seat elementary school downtown when there is no projected demand for those seats? It looks politically driven. The most recent explanation is that the District doesn't think their enrollment projections are right. Why are they reporting incorrect numbers? What other incorrect enrollment projection numbers are they reporting?
  10. If the ed specs for elementary schools has been increased from 500 seats to 650, then why hasn't the capacity of the proposed downtown elementary school been increased to 650? Have the planned additions been changed to increase capacity to 650?
  11. BEX IV plans call for a demolition and rebuild of the Meany building. Will all of the capital improvements made in that building over the past three years get torn down? We just got done paying for seismic retrofitting and a new roof on that building. Why are we demolishing brand new work? This reminds us of the District voting to build Denny on top of Sealth's brand new softball field and tennis courts. What are the "lessons learned" here?
  12. How can the District have any lessons learned with the high frequency of staff turnover? What efforts are being made to establish and maintain some sort of institutional memory?
What questions do you think the District needs to answer about BEX IV?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that the District's projections are based on where the kids' neighborhood assignment would be as opposed to where they are actually going to school. For example, my child is in Hamilton's APP program. However, none of the APP kids are included in Hamilton's projections - which is why Hamilton is shown as having excess capacity. My child is included in Whitman Middle School's count - which means their counts are too high. I think the District should adjust all of the projections to account for where the APP kids are actually going - not what their neighborhood assignment is. The APP population is big enough that I'm worried it's going to lead to overcounts at some schools.

Mary

Patrick said...

About how the district accommodated many more kids in the past without more buildings than we have today -- If you're taking about the early to mid 50s baby boom, they did it in ways that would be unacceptable today. For instance, Jane Addams Middle School held 2100 kids, but they did it in two shifts, morning and afternoon. Even at that the classes must have been huge and the hallways full and I'm guessing most kids did not eat lunch in the cafeteria because even half the kids would have made it very full.

Also, my impression is special ed students and ESL students got little accommodation and probably just sat in a big general ed classroom not getting much out of it.

And of course the District has given up some buildings too. Queen Anne High, Lincoln, many smaller schools.

Anonymous said...

Things were cheaper. Well there were no ESL kids back in the '50s. No computers, no MAP, no seismic retrofitting, less issue with environmental codes and rain garden. We weren't paying Super 230K nor renovating a HS for over $100 million either. Families can live a good life on less than $3000/year salary with 1 car and 1 bathroom! It was good to be a mechanic or milk truck driver. We were investing in our infrastructures and chasing down would be communist instead of terrorist. We had cheap labor because we didn't have civil rights law and fair labor practice acts or EEOC to deal with.

I won't vote for the $1 Billion+ school levies. It's too expensive. Not with all the other proposed levies/bonds out there, not to mention once again tax dollars used to front another new stadium. I'm not seeing good returns for the tax I've paid or for government that practice good governance where ALL its citizens benefit. Nope, I'm seeing serious malfunction of corporate welfare, hugh public build cost overruns, lawsuit payouts, and DOJ's intervention.

-we can do better

Data Driven Decisions Please said...

I'd love to know if the numbers support Burgess's dream of a downtown elementary school. If not, I'm inclined to vote NO.

We CAN negotiate.

mirmac1 said...

Riddle me this,

If discussions of BEX IV are prefaced with the following:

"The Seattle Public Schools (SPS) 2012 Facilities Master Plan will serve as the platform for project selection. The Board has developed policies and guidelines that direct capital planning staff to prioritize potential projects:
• Health and safety (seismic mitigation)
• Capacity
• Building Condition

And the 2012 Facilities Master Plan (still marked "draft") makes no mention of a South Lake Union School or a Downtown School, but does say "The Capital Planning Staff has used the Board priorities along with a data-driven approach to project selection."

Then, show me the data that proves a downtown school is a necessity, not a nicety for workers to drop their children off for math in Mandarin.

Anonymous said...

Agreed to Mary's post. My kid is counted at Eckstein, but attending Hamilton where they are busting at seems. (Not that Eckstein is not - they are on FIRE over there). But we need more accurate numbers. A couple hundred of the Eckstein count are really at Hamilton and they are still failing to put the APP (non-geographic population)in accurate building headcounts. This is what lead to the crisis last July when they realized Lowell was WAY over capacity but looked OK on paper. Fix the numbers before making BEX decisions!

- Not learning from our mistakes.

Anonymous said...

I plan on voting no unless Mr. Banda steps in and does the talking instead of DeBell and assures me these proposals pencil out in the real world. That and the Lake Union Streetcar School is someone's fever dream that will never see a dime of levy dollars.

Mr White

Anonymous said...

Speaking of riddles, why doesn't Lynne Varner ever tweet about the Mann/Meany fiasco? The money it cost to mothball a building, move the SBOC and Nova cohorts then spend $8M to reopen only to learn from Charlie that wham, Mann is too small. In spite of all the mendacious neglect NOVA and SBOC are growing. Blooming where planted is a miracle and Varner has nothing to say about this? I thought this brand of Darwinian management (thanks to Eli and Edythe) was something she'd just have to comment on. No? This is why I tell the nice people at Fry's "No thanks" whenever they set up a table to catch Seattle Times subscribers. I'm looking for cables and there they are next to the gaming aisle. I feel sorry for them. It's a nasty job, enlisting subscribers for their screwy editorial board. I'd rather read Charlie.

Mr White

Anonymous said...

What I have is a basic trust issue. It feels like I'm dealing with an addict who won't quit, but keep coming up with excuses. I just don't trust SPS (or for that matter Seattle city hall anymore) with that much money. They haven't been able to use what money they have wisely. They don't have good accounting practices or oversight or planning ..... It used to be a Catch 22 dilemma for me and I would vote yes to pay more taxes, hoping for the best. But now, I'm done.

tough love

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am way overdue with a report from the last BEX work session and Oversight Ctm meeting.

Charlie asks all the right questions.

Director Carr said it best when she said this BEX needs a narrative that voters can believe in. Schools First "it's for the kids" will NOT work and if they go that route, look for it to lose.

Ditto on lessons learned except when they discuss Garfield at the Oversight Ctm mtgs, it's a lot of "tsk tsk, perfect storm of building escalation, etc". I have never heard anyone say anything was done wrong.

I have noted to the Board that they are committing money to projects based on BEX passing. I know they need to plan ahead but they could be putting the cart before the horse.

As well, the point of fixing things under BTA only to tear them down under BEX has got to stop.

The last BEX presentation showed them going OVER capacity needs in several places. That would be totally wrong to do because we cannot then have TOO much space. Voters would never trust the district again.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, you are of course correct. Cart before horse. I think I share the concerns that many other voters have regarding the refusal to admit "We were wrong." On nothing. This has been board culture for as long as I can remember and that goes back to 1990 when my first child became a Seattle student. The waste is spectacular. The board has stood by while millions have disappeared or been pissed away. Tearing down for a new build while RIFing people who help students? It never, ever stops. Who will stop this abuse of funds? This is why I take umbrage whenever you're smeared as a thorn in the side because who else is hammering away on these points year after year?

Mr White

kellie said...

I can only really answer #5 - Construction driven decision making.

Adding capacity to a constrained system is challenging and SPS is most certainly a constrained system. For starters, now that we are in a geographic assignment system, capacity can only be added in locations that are at a minimum geo-approximate to student addresses.

So once you start with the premise that additional capacity at Rainier Beach has no impact on assignments at Ballard (unless you move the boundaries to the point where Franklin is within RB boundaries and Garflied is within Franklin boundaries, etc), then you are constrained by available property, and ability to construct for adding capacity.

In other words, if you don't have enough elementary capacity in the north end, you need to first evaluate what property CAN add capacity and then you need to evaluate what capacity can be added at a reasonable cost.

So you do start with the students, but only in a general geographic sense and then work on the construction and after settling on suitable locations and cost, being the hideously painful process of re-drawing boundaries and moving programs.

In theory, you could start with the entire field of possibilities and look at every commercially available property to see if any of them can become a school but that is hard work, expensive and not likely to produce results. After all, there are not a lot of multiple acre sites just hanging out on the market and even if there were there are certainly not a lot of multiple acres sites readily available that would be simple and easy to get permitted to become a new school.

Anonymous said...

Melissa referred to the slides from the latest BEXIV presentation that showed surplus capacity in some areas. I've seen those slides, and I have a few questions about them.

Was the capacity data run against the latest enrollment projections?

Do these "new" projections really exist, if so, have they been released?

Has the data been analysed school by school, or just by region?

Were things like special ed space, before/after school care, preschools, PCP space, etc... taken into consideration in their calculations?

If the answer to all these questions is "no," then why waste the Board's time by including them in the presentation?

North End Mom

Anonymous said...

Melissa referred to the slides from the latest BEXIV presentation that showed surplus capacity in some areas. I've seen those slides, and I have a few questions about them.

Was the capacity data run against the latest enrollment projections?

Do these "new" projections really exist, if so, have they been released?

Has the data been analysed school by school, or just by region?

Were things like special ed space, before/after school care, preschools, PCP space, etc... taken into consideration in their calculations?

If the answer to all these questions is "no," then why waste the Board's time by including them in the presentation?

North End Mom

Benjamin Leis said...

I want to pressure the board/district to do the right thing with this levy but push comes to shove I'll vote for it because without it I don't see where my kids are going to go to elementary school/middle school or in what kind of conditions.

Ben

Patrick said...

Ben, realistically it's almost certain to pass, now that they need just a simple majority. Most levies seem to pass with 65%+ voting yes. Even if it failed, the District could still revise the plan and put it up for vote at a special election.

Jan said...

Charlie, the 54 million Garfield number always bugs me a little. I realize that may have been a "plugged" number somewhere early in some BEX round (or, am I wrong -- was that the number out of the gate when they actually bid the project?). The PI article (or at least one of them) says:
"Renovations of historic buildings are expensive, and thanks to labor shortages and skyrocketing costs for materials, Garfield's $78 million cost has now ballooned to more than $100 million."

Now mind you, we are way past 100 million now, and a gap between 78 and 100 is a big gap -- but I had always thought that the real number, the credible one that was devised at the point when they were actually bidding the project and starting work -- was in the high 70s, not the mid 50s.

Using the smaller number always feels like sort of a "cheap shot" to try to make things look "even worse" (when they are plenty bad enough!) Because at the height of the bubble, there WERE labor shortages, and big construction cost increases -- so whatever school had gone out for bid at that time (versus an earlier school) would have taken that hit. The only way to have avoided it would have been to refuse to do the school at all, or completely start over in terms of the scope of work. And I concede == maybe that is what we should have done -- I think we will never know.

But once they had a "real number" of $78 million at the start of work, it seems to me that that is the number that is relevant for purposes of cost overruns, not an earlier plugged projection on a BEX wishlist.

I am not trying to defend the overruns. I just want a "defensible number" to shoot at -- and to me, the spread between $54 million dollars and 120 million dollars, during a huge real estate/finance bubble, seems not defensible.

If I bought property in 2000 and figured an estimate of $300 thousand to build a house on it, then went away, and came back in 2005, fired up the project and got a bunch of bids in the $450 thousand dollar range, due to inflation in labor and costs of materials in the intervening years -- I might wish I had built back in 2000, but I wouldn't consider myself $150,000 "over budget" on the first day out.

Am I missing something (other than the hugely negative effect of other projects further down the list that were negatively impacted -- which is a true, and bad, loss, but doesn't change which number is the right starting one.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I will go back and check but I believe the original number put out was about $55M. I probably have it in writing somewhere and will find it and verify.

I think Garfield should be a case study for the district on building, over-building and allowing too many cooks in the kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Let's see,.....Garfield's cost overruns and many years to finish putting up sound-proofing/baseboards/fixing toilets that ran 'hot' water; Closing schools/disrupting communities only to endure costs of re-opening (and planning to within 18 months!); MGJ's 'good-bye' contract amount so she won't sue...even though she was in the wtong.....
Nope. I'm not voting for the next levy. tough love from this family also.

Two and a quarter years to go