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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Another Item of Note - Downtown School?

Downtown School in the works?   From the Queen Anne/Magnolia News.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

But I thought enrollment was decreasing?

HP

kellie said...

The real question about a downtown school is about the funding to build that school.

Typically, "new" school buildings are funded by impact fees and occasionally by foundations. When new schools are required as part of development and growth, that growth is expected to pay for the infrastructure.

Because of Washington's odd funding system, SPS's BEX levy is really the "repair and replace" levy. This is the only money that is available to update and modernize already existing schools. With over 100 buildings, BEX funding is already over-subscribed and now that BEX needs to pay for all technology purchases, there is already a lot of competition for those very limited funds.

A downtown school would be a great amenity for Seattle. And the strategy of "if you build it, they will come" is highly probable. With so many downtown employees and new housing, there is a high likelihood that families would take a chance on a downtown school and downtown lifestyle.

Now that said, there is no funding mechanism for "speculative" school buildings inside BEX. That urban planning function is typically handled by the city, impact fees or foundations.

The folks that have been pushing for BEX funds to pay for a downtown school, truly do not seem to understand that using those funds means diverting funds from desperately overdue projects. The "new schools" that were added via BEX were simply capacity that was being built for already enrolled students in portables.

In other words, the most recent "new schools" would replace 32 portables at already existing schools and serve students who were already enrolled in SPS. Genesee Hill, Thornton Creek and Cascadia were full on day 1 with already enrolled students, who had been in extensive portable farms or interim locations. And those portables and interim locations were immediately repurposed.

We don't expect the fire department to build new firehouses for increased population out of their current operating budgets. We shouldn't expect SPS to use already over-subscribed building funds for speculative need, when there Is already so much documented need.

I served on the Community BEX task force for BEX V last summer. There was a strong push to include a downtown high school on that BEX. I and several other folks successfully argued that it was simply unconscionable to prioritize the needs of theoretical-potential-possible-students over the needs of already enrolled students. In other words, Rainier Beach was a much higher priority than a speculative project.

Many school are BEX candidates multiple times before the building condition is poor enough for the building to make the top of the list. When BEX III prioritized high schools, the "plan" was the BEX IV would focus on middle schools. When BEX IV rolled around, capacity issues were so severe that most of the BEX IV candidates were pushed to BEX V.

Whitman, Washington and Eckstein are desperately overdue for BEX but they did not make the cut and were once again pushed to BEX VI, along with multiple other schools.

It is not OK for the City to push basic urban planning and infrastructure onto SPS.








Alsept Teresa said...

The idea that a new school would be built before Eckstein, Washington or Whitman are remodeled is so outrageous that only in Seattle works it even be considered.

When I tell people that I work in a building that is 67 years old and has never been remodeled they are shocked.

Anonymous said...

Washington and Meany have lots of excess capacity, and I think Lowell has some too. Why would the District build a new school that will siphon kids away from under-enrolled schools?

Head Scratcher

Anonymous said...

Because ...did you watch the school board meeting? Hi I'm a lawyer for the construction trade.

Do you see lobbyist? Look for any trade group or construction organization donating to a candidate and there you will find a unethical person running for school board.

Oh and of coarse they will have all the usual suspects endorsing them for the non partisan position.

Wink Wink

Ed said...

Wink:

And at least one board member running for city council.

Silas Potter called and wants his old position back too!

kellie said...

The downtown association has been pushing for a downtown school for at least 10 years.

This is a very reasonable thing for the downtown association to push. A downtown school has the potential to be a great amenity to help development. Downtown schools would also add to the character of Seattle and make downtown much more livable for families. It wasn't that long ago that there were no grocery stores downtown.

To be fair, BEX "looks like" a big pile of voter approved money for new schools. It is not unreasonable for folks outside of SPS to identify all the money in BEX for school buildings and think ... "hey, let's try to use that funding source for our pet project."

However, SPS should have shut down this conversation a long time ago. If you look at the long history of public schools in Seattle, while SPS has been accountable for the OPERATING of schools, the actual building of new schools was primarily driven by development, donations and surplus government land.

There is NO CAPACITY problem driving this conversation. Downtown students are primarily assigned to Lowell and there is plenty of capacity both at Lowell and at the adjacent elementary schools. The argument is that Capitol Hill is not the "downtown neighborhood."

Ok, I get it. It is nice to have a "neighborhood school." But, oh well, there are dozens of neighborhoods in Seattle that do not have a neighborhood school and the students are bussed to a nearby school. Just take a quick look at all of the former schools that are now community centers. Families who live near former schools are all bussed to a nearby school. Downtown is just not that special on this topic.

There are many funding sources for a downtown school, outside of SPS. The downtown association should be focusing their energy on securing a funding source for a building and getting the City of Seattle to donate the land. Leasing the land to SPS is another ridiculous non-starter.






Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, Kellie, good insights all. As well, the idea of building a new school before so many of the middle schools?

The article does say that it have to be the next BEX. But again, like Kellie said, it cannot be just the district’s job to get this done. They would have a downtown school - functioning right now - if a corporate citizen had helped the district with renovations to the Federal Reserve Building OR give or a floor or two in one of their new buildings.

Ed said...

For all of the reasons "Wink" has already provided, the downtown association and their allies in the building trades, are "running the table" and figure (with Tim Burgess/Saul Spady's $$) they can get anything they want in this environment.

kellie said...

@ Mel,

The article does not directly state that they are looking at BEX. However, the quotes make it clear that is the "BEX conversation.'

Fred Podesta is quoted as saying that the voters might approve something like this and the dates quote is 2025. That is clearly code for voter approved BEX funding as 2025 is when the BEX VI would happen.

The other part of the article that concerned me was "leasing" the land from the city, for a school that "might' happen over six years from now. With the "free" pre-school space, it is simply ridiculous for SPS to lease more land from the City for a pet project that the City and developers want and is not required for SPS operations.

To be clear, if Lowell and John Hay and Bailey Gatzert were bursting at the seems, then it would be SPS's responsibility to do something. And that "something" would be portables and an addition at Gatzert, not a new building. But in the absence of any capacity issues, this is simply a pet project and SPS should behave accordingly.

Even if the BEX route were successful, it would be 10 years before there was a new school. There are many sources that could fund a fantastic downtown school and with charters being legal, a charter school is a far better route for the developers and downtown association to take.

Anonymous said...

If most of the BEX funding is coming from Seattle tax payers then the construction labor and materials should come from or be performed by Seattle based companies or workers. Who cares if they are in a union if that company is not in Seattle. My Seattle based property taxes are for Seattle not Renton or Bellevue or Mexico. I don't want to see a Seattle company importing cheap labor from outside of Seattle. I want to see the money go into the economy where it's being extorted from that is if there is any left.

Dear Seattle voters, (Have you noticed they never say tax payers?)

Sorry Seattle we used all the money you gave us for BEX on other things and we have no possible way of replacing it because we are broke. But we want you to trust us in the future that we will never do this again even though it has become a common practice.

Please continue to fund our incompetence on BEX 2.0

Sincerely,

Seattle Public Schools


2cents

Anonymous said...

Schools near downtown with excess capacity:

Lowell 84
Madrona 146
Stevens 37

Meany 352
Washington 383

NOVA 100

There is no need to build a school downtown.

Fairmount Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

2 Cents,I say “taxpayers” all the time especially when speaking of capital projects. For some reason it only gets used AFTER the levy passes.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see the push for the downtown school again. We had a rep knocking on our door canvassing for a candidate running for Sally Bagshaw City Council seat waxing about how great it would be to have a downtown school because of overcrowded QA schools. The idea as presented to me was a brand new school that will draw more families to live downtown and with small class size since the number of students will be small (with an exploratory, project based learning emphasis).

I gently point out the huge cost and the fact that there are other schools that are under-enrolled nearby such as Lowell. My response was not well received. Lowell and Bailey-Gazert are undesirable was the answer back. I got the feeling the two schools are not part of the desirable downtown zone unless their SES demographics change and test scores go up significantly. The irony is as gentrification creeps into the downtown periphery, these schools’ demographics will change, just not quickly enough for some.

I suspect this candidate could easily get the Downtown Association’s support if he makes it through the primary. I’m noticing several stealth pro downtown/development running for city council seats. I suspect we’ll get new council members, but with the same old results - a focus on downtown or other hot development zone at a cost to city neighborhoods.

Voter

kellie said...

Thank you for posting that information Voter.

"undesirable" is unironic code for high poverty, low test scores and homelessness.

The great irony of the push for a downtown school is that a downtown school would "actually ironically" be one of the most diverse schools in the district on paper. Because the same homeless shelters that make those other schools "undesirable" would most likely be drawn into the attendance area for a downtown school.

Additionally, this report is sadly lacking in basic facts. The opening of Magnolia should mean that QA schools are no longer overcrowded and won't be for some time. There is no chance in hell that the downtown school would have "small class sizes." Schools are funded based on enrollment. A small school would mean more split classes, not smaller class sizes.



Anonymous said...

As Kellie said, a downtown school would have a large number of homeless kids because that's where the homeless shelters are. Lowell has many of those homeless kids now and it can be a challenge to meet their unique needs while also meeting the needs of the kids who are not homeless. A downtown school that might actually make sense would be one that focused specifically and intentionally on serving homeless kids - it could have after care, 3 meals a day, wraparound services for the whole family, etc.

Better idea

Joe Wolf said...

Tagging onto Kellie's posts:

When I worked at SPS we developed "permanent classroom addition" scenarios for several elementary schools, including Bailey Gartzert. BG had the largest site footprint to work with; it would be pretty straightforward to execute.

kellie said...


Thanks Joe! That plan is in completely alignment with how SPS has managed growth in the past.

First, place portables where needed, as a flexible response to growth. Second, replace portables with long term permanent structures. An addition at Bailey Gatzert is pennies compared to purchasing land and building a downtown school. And is the fiscally appropriate response from SPS.

Again, a downtown school could be an amazing amenity for Seattle and downtown development. But paying for that school should not be done using funds that would otherwise be spend on our aging infrastructure. There are plenty of sources of funding for a downtown school, other than BEX.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you to both Joe and Kellie for those insights.

I concur with Kellie; the district is welcome to work with the City or good corporate citizens to get a “downtown” school. However, to spend ANY district money (and they already have on some preliminary work) on a new school for downtown flies in the face of ALL the other schools, especially the middle schools, who are in aging buildings.