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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Voting for the Levies

Did you?  Still pondering? 

I hear of virtually no one who is against the Operations Levy.  The reality of what the state is NOT providing is clear for all to see.  Take 25% of our General Fund away and watch the bottom drop out of our district.

But BEX.

 In case you missed it, there are several loose groups against it but interestingly, none of them have joined forces.  Depending on your point of view, this could be a good thing because there is not a focus or widespread message. (And the media seems oblivious to this fact which is interesting.  Either there are some lazy people or they don't really want to cover the issue in a real way.  I don't know for sure.)

It seems that a lot of the issue around BEX falls into two camps - poor decision-making/misuse of funds and "the district needs to be sent a message."  

There is some irony that I am the one explaining why this is a bad idea at this point in time, given my previous stances in the past. 

But there is a time to send a message and this is not it.

I had a reader write to me about why she and her husband were so torn about BEX.  How upsetting it was to NOT be able to see where the capital dollars go (except for the district's cheerful but detail-free capital building updates).  To know that the district refuses, as does Schools First, that the district has NOT always come in "on budget and on time."  To know that the district has overbuilt in some places even as there was need all around.

I hear that and, of course, understand that.

If there was not the staggering capacity management problems of today, I might consider it myself.

But these issues and needs DO exist  and folks, as Kellie LaRue and I say, this is just triage.  The need is beyond BEX.  But, without BEX, according to Director DeBell "there is no Plan B." 

Now I know the stats.  The off-year, single issue elections, especially for schools, overwhelmingly pass.  The people most likely to know about the election and actually vote are those who will vote yes.  Both levies are extremely likely to pass.

But the district also has a lot of unhappy people out there who are unhappy for a lot of different reasons.  That could be a problem.  And, sure you can bring the levy back but what would the district change in it that would woo voters back?  What gets cut because the district has to spend another $1M on another election?  And which issue would the district be trying to address?

 Transparency, accountability, people who don't want money to go to any charter school, people with issues about leadership?  (Look, there's an election coming up in the fall so THAT'S the time to address that one, not now.)

The time to have "sent a message" to the district?  That was the Supplemental Levy.  That would have been the perfect and great time (and fyi, they didn't spend that money like they said they would).  But no, it passed.

And now we have opposition where there is so much need?  Take a principled stand by all means but understand that it will hurt a lot of people.  Hold their feet to the fire after the vote (because it really is a vote for a pot of money and not a plan).  

17 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I agree.

The District desperately needs the operations levy.

The District desperately needs the capital levy.

Voting no will not help the children, not in the short-term and not in the long-term.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

An opposing view does not a propagandist make...

- Voting

Po3 said...

I just took a look at the SPSSchoolds Exposed blog.

The separated at birth postings are mean and nasty, the owner should be ashamed!

I hope this person is not in a classroom!

John S said...

I'll say it again: If you like SPS capacity now, you'll LOVE it if BEX fails. Do the portable manufacturers sell stock?

(Melissa Westbrook as district propagandist. That's funny. Yeah, they love her downtown.)

Scrawny Kayaker said...

I find it VERY hard to vote against any tax unless I'm certain it will be used for something detrimental. There are so many people who vote reflexively against all taxes that I feel it's my duty to vote reflexively for them!

suep. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suep. said...

I have to admit, machinations like this are making me question BEX.

See: Plans to open a downtown school

Note the quid pro quo from Vulcan, which is offering property in exchange for the freedom to build elsewhere in South Lake Union.

Block 59 - As part of a development agreement, Vulcan is proposing to convey a property at Dexter and Republican in exchange for additional development potential in the "Mercer Blocks" in SLU.

This is NOT a district necessity right now. This is the private agenda and backroom dealings of a few. The public is not being informed or engaged in this discussion, yet the public is being asked to pay for it with levy money.

Why is this still in BEX?

Anonymous said...

Yes, for heaven's sake vote for the levy! Our schools need the money.

I find one thing ironic in an alarming kind of way. There's so much talk about holding teachers "accountable" through test scores, and having pay depend on test scores, and so on and so forth. Is it possible that this concept of withholding money in the name of accountability is beginning to backfire on the district?

I'd say, "Ha, take that, district!" except that the district is us: parents, kids, teachers. A blow to the district finances is a blow to us all.

- Kay Ann

kellie said...

@ Suep.

That memo about downtown is dated in September and that was before the shift to "donated space." Do you have something more recent?

For the record, I am opposed to the district paying for a new downtown school, but not for paying to operate one in donated space. The operating is relatively cost neutral and equivalent to the same costs for starting a new school in an inventoried building.

kellie said...

To follow up on Melissa's comment about this BEX being about triage.

My estimate for the cost to at least somewhat fix the capacity problem and replace buildings that are in critical need is about $2 Billion. I think that $700 Million is about all the Seattle taxpayers should be asked to pay. The remainder should come from other sources, and there are other sources.

BEX is in effect a repair and replace levy. As such, it has become the unofficial levy for basic building maintenance in much the same way that the operations levy pays for so many basics. All buildings have an expected life expectancy. In a district the size of Seattle, there will be at least one and likely more buildings that reach their "expiration" date every year. So it is appropriate under the WA State Tax structure for there to be a levy that pays for this building replacement process.

Under the BEX III plan which was heavily focused on high schools, the BEX IV plan was intended to be middle school focused. Just because the nine current middles schools are not scheduled to be replaced in this BEX does not mean that the cost to replace those schools disappears. It simply moves to the next levy.

This BEX has become the triage BEX and is only replacing the "most-expired" buildings like Arbor Heights and Bagley, replacing the portable villages that have sprung up all across district like Schmitz Park, and repairing inventoried buildings for current students. It covers only about 1/3 of the need at most.

I find it more than unfortunate that this problem has dragged out the way it has. The revolving door of superintendents has played a major part this. However, the bottom line is that building maintenance is a district issue BUT NEW SCHOOLS are an urban planning issue.

I do not know of a district anywhere that is expected to self fund an expansion equivalent to the school expansion of the baby boom era. Seattle is growing by more than 1,000 students per year. That is approximately one comprehensive high school per year.

The City of Seattle should be negotiating land deals on behalf of the district to acquire new property in the neighborhoods that do NOT have a school. The State should be working to make Seattle eligible for State Capital funds that are designed for growing districts.

I truly understand the many reasons why someone would want to vote no. There are so many compromises in this BEX that is hard to recognize the good that is being done.

But the bottom line here is that it is already too late to use BEX to fix many issues for the 2013 school year. A delay of even a few months for a revote will mean that we lose fixes for the 2014 school year.

So while I will happily talk about all the things that I do not like this BEX and I will continue to give voice to ideas that I think are less expensive and often work better, I urge folks to vote yes.

But more than that, if you vote no as a protest or you vote yes, with great distaste (like me!), contact your legislators, (not the school board), your city council members and your state reps and even your federal reps. They have the ability to help but they won't do it unless parents are requesting it.

KG said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Melissa Westbrook said...

KG, fine if you feel that way but it doesn't do much for the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

I hear what you are saying, but I am still on the fence. You say "hold their feet to the fire after the vote." How? I think I feel, like many parents, that this is my only chance to have a say and be heard. I am fully aware of what Kellie says, and I agree - we will lose a whole year of possible fixes. But I have little confidence they will really "get it" unless this levy goes down. Yes, I get that this may mean my kid has to go to school for a 6am-noon shift - I am of the thought that it has to get worse before it gets better. Kellie is right about all those ideas about state and fed funds - why should I believe any of those things will be pursued by the district if BEX passes? I do have a bit of "this will get their attention" - including folks at the mayor's office, the state level, etc. I can't help feeling that the folks we have downtown are really not competent. We've had years of nonsense and poor decisions - why would they get it right with this one? I think there is a very small number of folks who really get what is going on - (Kellie, I do think you're one) but honestly most parents don't have the resources of time and energy to sit on task forces and committees (which seem to be ignored anyway - shout out to Advanced Learning and FACMAC!) and we're supposed to just trust the district or trust you that this time, things will be different. I want to respectfully disagree, and I want someone to give me a really good reason to give them this "pot of money" as you call it, with zero oversight. Give me one other way to "hold their feet to the fire" - I've sent endless emails and attended meetings and held signs. None of it ever mattered. Seems like my vote on BEX is the line in the sand. Don't tell me how bad the kids need it - I know that. I'm willing to go to shifts at school, and pray that our legislators will take notice when this finally wakes up the majority of parents who aren't following this blog. Show me why this money will be used efficiently and correctly. Otherwise, I've got to go with a "no" vote. I just don't know what else to do. It could be too late for my kids - but maybe I can make it better for those who are just starting out in SPS.

-becoming less rare commenter

mirmac1 said...

It did not take long for me to see that "advisory" committees are simply used as window-dressing. "Oh! We consulted with (insert parent group here) stakeholders!" Yeah, consulted and ignored.

What counts is a latte at Cafe Apassionato in DeBell's district. That is gold. It's worth 10K to 20K votes, apparently. Or as little as a $2K contribution in the PPPE (Alliance's exclusive Ed Expert club). Shoot, I wrote checks for that amount to my child's school last year! But who at JSCEE give a rip?!

All I have is my vote. Meanwhile I keep writing checks.

mirmac1 said...

Seattle’s new elementaries would be among state’s biggest, most expensive

SPS thinks monster elementaries are nifty!

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