Saturday, March 16, 2019

BEX V Work Session

This was the second Work Session that came after the Budget Work Session.  Both were held at Garfield High School.

Just stating from the outset that the disconnect from the Budget Work Session "enrollment is dropping across the district" and the BEX V Work Session, where the district is adding on capacity is jarring.  Sadly, no Board members mentioned this.  

New Operations Chief Fred Podesta started out with the not-so-new and often used phrasing for SPS and capital projects, saying he had heard about how they were "on time and on budget."  It's yet another example of someone in senior leadership accepting as truth a phrase that makes SPS look good.

The majority of projects have been on-time and on-budget (as closely as one from the outside can see).  But when they aren't? It's pretty bad.  And, Seattle consistently costs a lot more than surrounding districts.  Yes, I get that Seattle is a hotbed of construction but the firms that are bidding on school construction projects are not the same people that are building downtown.  I'll have more on this cost differential at the end of this thread.

Director Eden Mack noted that with new buildings coming online, there would need to be boundary adjustments. 

There was some discussion about Rainier Beach High School.  The plan is to keep the student body on-site and build in phases.  This will take - checking the timeline - until 2025.  That seems like a long time for a school that has been waiting for a long time.  That SPS equity lens seems to have a case of near-sightedness when it comes to RBHS.

Richard Best, head of Capital projects hastened to say that they think they could do it faster.

Mack pointed out the need for an ongoing advisory committee for facilities (this would be different from the BEX/BTA Oversight Committee), saying there needs to be more community engagement.
Director Burke said that there needs to be a deeper process for the education specifications for school buildings.

Best noted that Mercer Middle School will only be built to 1,000 students but may need 1200.  Huh? (I also see that they say they will build RBHS to 1600 which I think is quite strange given it hasn't been over 800 students for years and years.) 

There was then discussion with John Krull, Technology head, about technology in SPS.  President Harris mentioned librarians as tech leaders in the schools.  I would agree that in many schools, this is the case. 

Harris also said she didn't want to see "a cage match" with Tech especially over cash flow in BEX V.

Best also said something about how the City's permitting is so slow and landmarking is also an issue. 

There was also discussion about "portable management."  Director Burke brought up Whitman.  Best said that not many of those portables are being used.  He also said they are trying to work with the City on the redo of the nearby Sound View park.

Mack said she was sorry Whitman did not make the BEX V list.  Best said they do have some improvements like the roof (but didn't mention how severe the issue is with rain coming thru in some places).

He said they would be getting rid of 76 portables, mentioning that Viewlands has more than a dozen.   He noted that the old Schmitz Park would be getting more in order to serve as an interim.

Wondering About:

- the notation on the Draft BEX V Levy Implementation Plan
  • Elementary Schools 2020 right size capacity - 25,717; capacity added by BEX V projects, 2,102
  • Middle Schools 2020 right size capacity - 12,526; capacity added by BEX V projects, 208
  • High Schools 2020 right size capacity - 13,466; capacity added by BEX V projects, 512
Costs for SPS elementary, middle and high school projects.

Viewlands - $88M (built for 450)
Northgate - $90M (built for 650)
Kimball - $84M (built for 650)
Alki - $66M (built for 500)
Montlake - $64M (built for 500)  To note on Montlake, I was told, over a decade ago, that the footprint for Montlake was such that they could never build larger than 325-350 (Montlake is currently 269 students.)
John Rogers - $91M (built for 500)

Mercer Middle School - $151M (Built for 1,000 but Mercer is already over 1,000; no explanation was given as to why Mercer can't go bigger and no Board member questioned that.)

Rainier Beach High School - $238M (built for 1600)

Olympic Hills Elementary got a new building under BEX IV that cost $41M and, I believe, it was built to hold at least 550 students. It currently has 428 students.
 Let's take a look at what other districts are currently spending.

Lake Washington SD
Elementary $45M (built for 610 students)
Middle $77.5M (built for 900 students)
Juanita High School $145M (built for 1800 students)

Issaquah SD
Middle School  $72M

Shoreline SD
Elementary $46M for 500 students
Enstein MS $102M for 1,075
Kellog MS $102M for 1, 070 students

Renton SD
Satori Elementary, a state-of-the-art STEM school opened Fall 2018.  It holds 650 students.  Cost: $44M.  About Renton SD:

The district has about 16,000 students in 22 schools. It has been adding about 200 students a year, Matheson said, partly because families are moving there as prices rise in Seattle. 

I have often called out what I think is overdesign in many SPS schools including the live plant wall at Hazel Wolf and the rotunda at South Shore K-8.  The district always has an excuse for costs but it is clear SPS certainly pays more for school buildings than surrounding districts.  By a lot. 


Musical Chairs said...

If Mercer gets too big, the district can just hire a bad principal. It might take a year or two, but once families figure out the new hire is no Mr. Carter, enrollment numbers will turn right around. SPS does this all the time.

Anonymous said...

I don't get how it is we just passed a billion $ in levies to build more schools, and now they're forecasting way lower enrollment. And I don't get why the board isn't pushing back on that. Do the board members not recognize this discrepancy? Do they have background information they're not sharing hence their lack of worry? Are they not paying attention?

What is really going on?

Inquiring Minds

kellie said...

As Mel as clearly outlined, there are some serious concerns regarding this BEX and capacity issues.

One of the "undocumented" assumptions in the NSAP was that school boundaries would be revisited every about FIVE years. This was just another undocumented assumption as the board did not want to be too prescriptive and trusted that staff would do a boundary process in 4 years or 6 years if that made sense.

We are LONG OVERDUE for a full boundary examination. We have so many schools that are full, adjacent to schools that are nearly empty.

There is more than enough middle school capacity in Seattle, but the middle school feeder patterns just are not correctly sized AND because of staffing capacity, enrollment is not making the necessary soft choice adjustment to smooth this out.

The original plan for opening Washington had one of Mercer's feeder schools moving out of Mercer and into Washington. Mercer is over-crowded because the capacity added at Meany was simply not properly distributed through the system.

Joe Wolf said...

Re. Mercer/Meany/Washington feeders:

Kellie is correct. The initial staff proposal related to the re-opening of Meany included the re-assignment of Kimball from Meany to Washington. The Kimball community pushed back against the proposal and it was deleted from the final recommendation and subsequent Board action.

Montlake ES/BEX V: Montake and McGilvra's enrollments have been stable for a long time. Both schools serve almost entirely high-cost single-family neighborhoods that are unaffected by the residential upzoning happening in central Seattle. I would recommend asking the District how/why the additional capacity is planned to be utilized.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Do the board members not recognize this discrepancy? Do they have background information they're not sharing hence their lack of worry?"

I think Harris, Burke and Mack certainly do. But saying, "Hmm" outloud doesn't mean the district management worries about what the Board thinks. If you are a toothless tiger, then why would staff explain this discrepency?

Mack did say that boundaries would need to be changed and I agree with Kellie; this needs to happen throughout the district, given all the new buildings/capacity.

Anonymous said...


Just to follow up, then: why do you think the board doesn't take its over-sight role more seriously? Are they afraid to micromanage (although micromanagement might help some operational dysfunction in SPS)? Are they afraid to step on toes? Do they think their constituents would support what staff are saying and doing (if they knew what they're saying and doing)? Is their inaction intentional, strategic, fearful, or oblivious? I honestly can't tell.

Thank you for your testimony before the board last week, by the way!

Inquiring Minds

Joe Wolf said...

Correction to my previous post: Kimball was initially proposed to be re-assigned from *Mercer* to Washington.

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Ballard mom said...

It looks like Seattle pays twice as much for a school as other districts!!! I don't know if the other school districts finished their schools before the building boom increased construction prices, but I have often thought Seattle builds larger schools than it needs and isn't getting enough bidders to get the best prices. That should be their first priority with our tax dollars!