(Photo courtesy Jen Boyer)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though Wednesday night’s Seattle School Board meeting brought the official “introduction” of something close to the final draft of the BEX IV levy that’ll be sent to voters early next year, it was almost anticlimactic.
After months of advocacy for an ASAP rebuild, Arbor Heights Elementary brought another yellow-shirted contingent and rallied outside before the meeting, and had speakers during public-comment time, too.
One board member, Sharon Peaslee, asked the big question: “What would it take to move Arbor Heights forward on the levy?” referring to the fact the dilapidated school (see our tour report from this morning) is still toward the back of the pack on the timeline, now back to opening a new building in 2018, when not even its current kindergarteners will still be there.
But before we jump ahead to the details – a touching moment, with one participant wanting to say thanks. The list of public commenters is drawn up in the days before the meeting; they have 20 spots (extended tonight to 25) and you have to call or e-mail to get a spot. Priority is given to people who want to talk about something the board is voting on – so the people who wanted to speak about the board’s resolution to oppose charter-schools Initiative 1240 got many of the slots.
Second from last on the waiting list – which was as long as the guaranteed list – was Robin Graham, co-president of the K-5 STEM at Boren PTSA. Zero chance she would get to speak about their big issue – the fact no permanent home is designated for their school, which the district has taken to describing as a “program.”
During the public-comment period, “something just amazing happened,” as she put it in e-mail to us after the meeting – something for which Graham wanted to share this public thank-you:
Dear Arbor Heights Community,
I wanted to thank you for giving the STEM community the opportunity to speak at the Oct 17th School Board Meeting. The fact that you so gracefully ceded your spot to another parent so we could speak to the board speaks volumes about the amazing people you are. We were so disappointed to only have spots on the wait list, so this was truly a gift you gave our community.
We are so hopeful that your communities zealous advocacy on behalf of your children and families will pay off.
With hope, respect, and big props,
Co-President K-5 STEM
We happened to be recording handheld video from the front row in the auditorium, as a scheduled AH speaker yielded to Graham, who voiced support for AH as well as advocating for STEM:
Earlier in the day, during our tour of Arbor Heights with 2 parents, principal Christy Collins, and school board president Michael DeBell, Arbor Heights community members made impassioned pleas too, as they did during the meeting. We will add the full official video once it’s archived online.
Otherwise, since no vote was taken Wednesday night – there was nothing for BEX-watchers to do but try to read between the lines of the questions that were asked and comments that were made.
After assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy ran through the latest version of the PowerPoint – which was supplemented in district documents by this project list with dates – came the moment when board member Peaslee asked, “What would it take to move Arbor Heights forward on the levy?”
McEvoy’s answer did not address whether Arbor Heights could officially move up in the levy timeline, but reiterated what we had heard from DeBell at the school earlier in the day – that there are alternative financing methods that could be used but couldn’t be chosen until the levy had passed.
Duggan Harmon, assistant superintendent for business and finance, cited “internal borrowing” from the “community schools reserve,” or maybe “short-term borrowing,” which “looks good now,” but, he cautioned, could change. What will be done with Schmitz Park once the school moves to Genesee Hill? Peaslee then asks. McEvoy says nothing’s been decided yet, “to be determined,” but says it’ll be discussed with the community among others.
Shortly thereafter, West Seattle’s school-board member Marty McLaren said she has spoken to the Schmitz family – which donated the land – and their main concern is that it stay open as Schmitz Park Elementary School.
Regarding Arbor Heights, McLaren referred back to a non-West Seattleite’s suggestion in public comments that Thornton Creek (a north-end project) and Arbor Heights be switched. McLaren asked McEvoy whether that could work. McEvoy’s reply: That “it is one of the things we did look at. … What we found is that we were going to have to roll up into interim sites to make that work.” Those interim sites have limited capacity, McEvoy elaborated.
Board member Betty Patu asked, so what are we doing NOW for Arbor Heights about kids having to wear coats in the classroom and other problems? “We’ve been working with the maintenance department to be sure we’re on top of any safety issues and concerns … (including) the heating system,” Lucy Morello replied. She said she thought they had already addressed those concerns, and “as far as I know everything has been addressed.” McEvoy then said they weren’t going to replace the boiler because the building will (eventually) be razed. But, she added, “if we need to escalate and move them into (Boren) in order to present them a learning environment.” She said that she understood the community would rather stay at Arbor Heights for now.
Concluding the review and remarks, DeBell said he thought the overall BEX IV plan was strong. Superintendent José Banda used that word too.
The other mentions of the BEX projects/schools came early in the meeting – before the action and introduction meetings – there is always a “board comment” section. During that, McLaren said she again wanted to offer kudos to the community because “parents from a multitude of West Seattle communities have come together to brainstorm and support (each other)” in seeking solutions to the district’s problems in WS. “I think that you all are modeling a way of community engagement that all of us in the city can learn from and be inspired by – putting aside your differences and coming together in support of our children.”
She also noted that her next community-conversation meeting is October 30th 9:45-11:15 am at Concord International Elementary School in South Park.
Board member Kay Smith-Blum pointed out that the teaching and learning staff is accountable for deciding which programs go to which buildings (though she did not mention STEM specifically), not the capital projects staff that decided on the levy list.
Sherry Carr (who also had visited Arbor Heights) warned that the choices would be tough and a lot of deserving projects/schools are out there.
DeBell lauded AH as “a real community” and thanked them for their hospitality this morning. “Trying to connect with those communities that are affected is an important part of good governance.” He then said he agreed with Carr that tough decisions are ahead and they have a responsibility to the entire city and not everyone will get everything they want, and that’s just the way it goes “in an era of scarce resources.”
WHAT’S NEXT RE: BEX: The October 24th public-comment meeting (next Wednesday) will run for an hour, 4-5 pm, which means at least 20 speakers at two minutes each. Then the November 7th School Board meeting, at which the final list will be voted on, will have the traditional public-comment period of at least 20.
Other meeting notes of West Seattle interest:
BOARD OPPOSES CHARTER SCHOOLS INITIATIVE 1240: Much of tonight’s public comment focused on the board’s resolution opposing charter-schools I-1240. Only one of the speakers voiced support for it.
TEACH FOR AMERICA CORPS MEMBER FOR SEALTH? Michelle Mark, a Teach for America corps member, was seeking conditional certification so she can become a science teacher at Chief Sealth International High School. Several people spoke in her support during the public-comment period, and she also spoke, talking about her work at the UW. Board member Sharon Peaslee asked the assistant superintendent for HR, Paul Apostle, why a teacher is being hired so late in the year. She asked what experience Mark had with special education and English language learners. Apostle said that Mark worked with students with “a variety of needs and challenges” in a summer-school program in Chicago. Board member Harium Martin-Morris said he is familiar with the program through which Mark went and that it’s rigorous. West Seattle’s board rep Marty McLaren said she talked to Sealth principal Chris Kinsey and that he is confident Mark is a highly qualified applicant.
CITY YEAR: Toward the start of the meeting, the board heard a presentation by CityYear – whose red-jacketed young corps members (17 to 24 years old) half-filled the auditorium. A student from Roxhill Elementary – “scholar” as principal Sahnica Washington and her staff call them – spoke briefly. And principals from CityYear schools, including those in West Seattle, were in the audience. School-board member Betty Patu says she is glad to see “young people turning their life to help others.” CityYear is funded by donations, by AmeriCorps, and by “schoolhouse budgets” including some levy dollars. Roxhill is one of three CityYear schools in West Seattle; the other two are Highland Park Elementary and Denny International Middle School. Their executive director told the board, when asked, that their 67 corps members in Seattle schools each costs about $40,000 a year. Know someone who might want to join CityYear? Find info here.
The board usually meets the first and third Wednesdays, 4:15 pm at district HQ in SODO, with routine items first, public comment at 5 pm sharp, then back to the agenda with action/introduction items. If you want to speak at a board meeting, you need to call/e-mail starting first thing the preceding Monday morning to get a spot.