Video: School Board hears West Seattleites’ BEX-IV concerns; finalizes Fairmount Park contract

Tonight’s Seattle School Board meeting had two key points for West Seattle. First, though the BEX-IV levy was not on the board’s agenda tonight, it took up much of the public-comment period during the board’s meeting, mostly regarding moving up the timeline for the Arbor Heights Elementary rebuild.

That’s our video of all the West Seattle speakers – including one whose focus was on K-5 STEM at Boren. Ahead, text summaries of all the speakers – and the latest on the plan to reopen Fairmount Park Elementary, with a design-contract “emergency” vote tonight:

From the public-comment period:

*AH parent Teri Ohta was first to speak. “We simply can’t wait till 2019 … our building is 64 years old and rated the worst building in the district … for educational adequacy.” She said the uncertainty over the building’s condition is already having an effect on enrollment at AH.

*Ann Dunbar, both a parent and teacher, thanked Superintendent José Banda for visiting the school even before he started his job. She recapped some of the challenges AH has faced over the past few years – going back to the time four years ago when AH was proposed briefly for closure. Then she mentioned that 2017 was originally the proposed date for completing a rebuilt Arbor Heights; now, it’s 2019, and that’s “a whole ‘nother generation of children.”

*Rosslyn Shea, AH parent, ceded her time to a teacher who talked about a water pipe that broke because it had rusted through. “For an hour and 45 minutes, I had a flood in my classroom,” the teacher said, explaining that it was hot water, yet the children stayed in the classroom, and three adults had to work for all that time to keep the water from flooding the room. Janitors, she said, pitched in too and finally got the water flowing outside. “Of course, there was no instruction during that time,” she said, because the water crisis was all-consuming. “We really need the building redone. … In the past I have had tile pop up.”

*Arbor Heights resident and teacher Lynn Salter spoke next. “Arbor Heights has been described as an aging building. The district has said it would like to do away with portables. We would like to point out that Arbor Heights has 15 portables that were installed in 1952 and have become a permanent part of the building. She talked about a child becoming ill from cold temperatures in the room; finally, space heaters were brought in, but bad conditions did not improve. “We all know that wine and cheese improve with cheese. School buildings do not.”

*Parent Lori Goodwin talked about how happy people are about the school community, and how much that makes her wish her child could go to AH, but: “Unfortunately, I have been following the news about the condition of the building, but the state of the building makes it a deal-breaker for us” so they will seek another school when it’s time for her daughter to begin. Her daughter has allergies and eczema and needs safe, convenient water. “There’s just no way I can put her in that environment.”

After each speaker, the AH supporters – most wearing yellow, as they were at last week’s BEX-IV meeting in West Seattle, rose and applauded.

*Stacie Hart, an AH parent, said she had sought other options for her child when he entered kindergarten two years ago, but didn’t get in, so her son entered AH. “Arbor Heights lost 35 kindergarteners this summer – an entire classroom,” she said, explaining that principal Christy Collins (who was at the school board meeting but did not speak) reached out to the families to ask why, and was told the condition of the building was the dealbreaker. Hart suggested that the board might be creating capacity problems at other schools because the school’s condition is keeping people from enrolling there.

*Sue Holmes, a former AH parent and current teacher, talked about attending last week’s BEX IV meeting. “We were shown a PowerPoint about all the wonderful things the district has done and … accomplished. The more I watched that PowerPoint, the more disillusioned I became” – she cited a student in the presentation (actually a video) saying the district cared about them because of what they had received from a prior levy. Apparently, then, Holmes said, the district must not care about Arbor Heights: “It’s really not a safe building.” She said they’ve talked for years about what needs to be done – but they haven’t seen any improvement.

*Marcia Ingerslev, an AH teacher who had two children at the school (both now grown) and might have future grandchildren there, said: “In my classroom, I teach my children to wait patiently, to know their turn will come – ” to trust they’ll get everything they need, but also to speak up in case of emergency. “I tell them, if they see something dangerous, if you see a dangerous situation, you need to tell someone … it is a brave and noble thing to do. … I tell them, ‘It is my job to keep you all safe.'” She turned to those on hand and said, “Do any of you know of an unsafe situation you need to report?” The AH contingent all raised their hands, before Ingerslev appealed again to the board to move up the rebuild timetable.

*New AH parent Christian Pearson talked about his experience with the district, first registering, then discovering his son qualified for Spectrum, realizing they would enroll him in Arbor Heights … and then “all of a sudden I find out about the building. My background is architecture … safety, welfare, health of the people with the buildings we provide. This building is past its time.”

*Dana Varon noted she had spoken for AH four years ago during the closure process. But now, she came to the board for a different reason, as a parent whose children are now at Denny International Middle School and K-5 STEM. She talked about the “lack of planning for West Seattle … it feels like Whack-A-Mole … you whack down one problem and eight other problems crop up.” She moved on to talk about the STEM school and how district leaders had talked about their commitment to West Seattle – “and none of them are here any more.” She elaborated that the 35 AH kindergarteners decided to go to STEM. “I want to see a plan for West Seattle. Clearly Arbor Heights needs to be first. STEM needs to have a home. We don’t have any idea where we are going – and neither do you .. Please show us you have a plan for where we are going, so we aren’t just whacking moles.” Her parting line was, “How about that five million dollars you’re going to use for downtown – could that be used for West Seattle?”

There was only one other speaker addressing the BEX IV list – and he spoke about the Jane Addams situation in North Seattle.

BOARD COMMENTS RELATED TO BEX COMMENTS: Board member Betty Patu addressed all those who had spoken, remarking that it was sobering to hear that kids are having health and safety problems, stressing that addressing that even outweighs addressing school crowding, and that she and her board colleagues “really need to look back and figure, what are we going to do about those kids” in the schools that “are falling apart.” The Arbor Heights reps applauded. West Seattle’s board member Marty McLaren thanked everyone who had participated at all the district meetings lately and “those who keep reminding us about the condition of our buildings .. what this does is it underlines that we are all working together to make things better for our students.” Board member Sharon Peaslee said, “It seems obvious to me that we should be addressing our capacity issues by replacing our very oldest issues, and I will certainly push for that. … We hear you.” She also said that she recognized the early time now set for public comment at board meetings is not feasible for the majority of people (though she did not go on to say anything about pushing to change it). Member Sherry Carr said it was “helpful” to hear from members of the community. Board president Michael DeBell thanked the Arbor Heights community reps for showing up, and then noted that advocates for a downtown school were here too and “are looking for a school of their own.”

FAIRMOUNT PARK ELEMENTARY CONTRACT AMENDMENT: The board had to vote on declaring that “an emergency” exists requiring them to award the Fairmount Park Elementary addition contract to the current design architects, Miller Hayashi, without competitive bidding. If it had to be bid out, district staff said, the addition wouldn’t be completed in time to reopen the school in fall of 2014, as currently envisioned. District official Ron English recapped that this added almost $1 million to the original $600,000 contract with an architecture firm that already was working on figuring out what was needed to ready closed-since-2007 Fairmount Park for reopening – “interior renovations” – because now it’s been determined that an eight-room addition is needed. If an emergency is not declared, “we lose about three months,” said English.

As the board asked clarifying questions, it was explained that BTA-III levy money is paying for that first $600,000 of work, but the $1 million would come out of BEX-IV – though that has not been voted on (or even had its language finalized) yet. McLaren asked how the amount of the addition design cost was decided. Based on cost per square foot, was the reply. Even if BEX IV is not approved, said district manager Lucy Morello, “we may come back to the school board with this proposal and ask that the board move forward with this from unspent dollars from BTA and BEX III.” Morello said basically that opening Fairmount Park was imperative. Since “we don’t know what school is going into Fairmount Park,” said McLaren, what would the actual effect be, since no schools are currently scheduled to go into Boren temporarily before Arbor Heights? Morello said there are many pieces to the puzzle that might require use of Boren as an interim site. “We are ready and able to make it so that a STEM program can be at Fairmount Park – we’re just waiting for a decision on that to be made,” Morello explained, in response to a question from DeBell, who said that he wanted to make sure the contract wasn’t missing any opportunity for best design of addition to make the best STEM school possible. Morello said there is a contingency in the contract to add STEM programs “if that is the desire of the district.” She added “it probably wouldn’t cost us very much … to add on to this project” for housing STEM at Fairmount Park, if it is decided to do so. As questions continued, Morello said it is still a complicated picture because BEX IV isn’t finalized yet, and “there are a lot of moving pieces” regarding where STEM is. And “as soon as we can open the building, the better we’re going to be in West Seattle, and the (earliest) building we can open is Fairmount Park.” The motion for the emergency contract passed unanimously.

WHAT’S NEXT for opportunities to speak to/hear from decisionmakers about the BEX IV levy:

*West Seattle’s board rep Marty McLaren has her next community-conversation meeting this Saturday, 10:15 am-12:15 pm, West Seattle Library (2306 42nd SW).

*A board work session is scheduled next Wednesday (October 10th), 5:45-7:15 pm at district HQ. If there are changes made, a new version will likely be made public shortly before this meeting, to which the public is invited, though public comments/questions are not allowed during the meeting.

*The final (or near-final) draft is to be formally introduced at the board meeting one week after that (October 17). The board now starts its meeting at 4:15 pm, then goes to public comment at 5 pm before continuing more of its action agenda. As usual, signups for public speaking will start the preceding Monday morning (October 15).

*One last public-comment meeting on BEX IV and the other district levy going to voters next February is scheduled for 4-5 pm October 24th at district HQ, according to footnotes on the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

24 Replies to "Video: School Board hears West Seattleites' BEX-IV concerns; finalizes Fairmount Park contract"

  • kayo October 4, 2012 (7:14 am)

    Bravo to Arbor Heights parents for speaking so eloquently for your school. I really hope the board (especially Michael DeBell, who seems so interested in the proposed downtown school) were truly listening and taking your words to heart. I think the money for a downtown school would be a disastrous mistake for BEX IV. If the district wants this levy to pass, they need to remove that 5million and put it toward the real crises that already exist here and elsewhere in the city.

  • Bonnie October 4, 2012 (7:23 am)

    Wow! Looks like they got an earful from Arbor Heights! One note, I would have gone but the meeting starts at 4:15pm. Why so early? I can’t make it at that time with both my children. I know it was changed last year but for what reason?

    • WSB October 4, 2012 (7:27 am)

      Bonnie, the stated reason was that so many board meetings were dragging on till 10, 11 pm, they decided to ratchet it back. However, their online statement about it (look at the district website and follow the links to the School Board section) suggests they will evaluate and see if it’s working or just stifling debate. The public comment now always starts at 5, and they take on some theoretically “routine” business at 4:15. When I arrived around 4:55, they had already taken a break to get ready for the public-comment section.

  • bertha October 4, 2012 (7:33 am)

    I would like to remind Mr. DeBell that downtown parents chose to live there knowing a school was not available. On the other hand, families in Arbor Heights have no choice but to send their children to a dilapidated, unsafe building.

  • rose October 4, 2012 (10:18 am)

    what does BEX IV stand for…assume it is the 4th of something…Building Expansion? i’m not a parent so am not “in the know” on this.

    • WSB October 4, 2012 (10:24 am)

      Building Excellence. It’s mostly a construction/renovation money-raising tool.

  • AH Parent October 4, 2012 (11:36 am)

    Thank you to all the parents and teachers who have spoken at all the meetings to represent our school for those of us who can not attend. The testimony in this video was great! And thank you to the WSB for video taping these meetings – and others like them, so we may all know what’s going on.

  • Mark Ahlness October 4, 2012 (1:12 pm)

    Suppose the Arbor Heights program had been closed and the building became the new home of Pathfinder, as SPS wanted to do in 2008. Anybody think the building would still be waiting until 2019 for an upgrade/replacement?

  • AH Parent October 4, 2012 (2:12 pm)

    @Mark Ahlness – a friend is wondering that about the old GH spot that used to house Pathfinder. Unless they intend a total tear down, she wonders (having had a Patherfinder student in the GH location) how SP finds that acceptable. She said it was almost as bad a shape as the AH building sounds like (to her, she’s not been in AH herself).

    • WSB October 4, 2012 (2:24 pm)

      AH Parent – yes, the plan is to tear down the existing Genesee Hill and build the new “Schmitz Park” on that same site.

  • AH Parent October 4, 2012 (2:31 pm)

    Thanks for the answer WSB – that isn’t fair. Again, just voicing what so many other have (in case the district reads this)… How can you justify a school needing to be rebuilt WAIT for a school that is just overcrowded? I get they need their issues fixed too. But like one of the parents said in the video – perhaps the overcrowding in the north end is due to the lack of attention on the buildings in the south end. I am sick of what little regard our families, teachers, students and neighbors have been shown over the past decades!

  • Hmmmm October 4, 2012 (2:56 pm)

    Maybe ‘we’ Arbor Heights needs to start calling ourselfs what we are — PORTABLES that need to be replaces with an aged building. The word “portables” seems to get more attention with the district. Adding a hallway doesnt make it more of a building than putting a metal roof over a trailer home and calling it a house. SP’s portables are newer. Lets replace our portables with a real building!!!

  • NT October 4, 2012 (4:02 pm)

    I (as a SP parent) fully believe in and support the idea of an AH rebuild getting underway *before anything else* – the condition of the building is inexcusable and SPS needs to take care of it immediately. Many other SP parents who aren’t following this issue are shocked when I have told them about the condition of the AH school and every one of them feels that this needs to be the district’s first priority. I think there is money (many millions of dollars) leftover in old levy monies that are slated to be spent in the new couple of years (even being spent now on Fairmount Park). Why in the world wouldn’t they be using this available money right now to start the AH project?

    • WSB October 4, 2012 (4:06 pm)

      And in fact, as I think I noted in this story (sorry if I didn’t), that’s what the district said last night – they might proceed with Fairmount Park addition-building even IF BEX-IV is defeated, because they have leftover money here and there. How much, I don’t know, nor do I know if it’s enough to cover building a brand-new school – haven’t asked those questions yet – but do keep that in mind. – TR

  • father of student October 4, 2012 (4:56 pm)

    Seattle public schools need to count the cost of building and running there mouth before they make a move. Were all getting tired of there two faced talk and no progress. I’m a father of a STEM SCHOOL student. They need a ton of work as well

  • Another AH Mom October 4, 2012 (5:25 pm)

    I am just sick and tired of the district ignoring the Arbor Heights problem. They take a bunch of portables, build a bleak ugly hallway between them and then call it a school? Shame on them!

  • AH Parent 2 October 4, 2012 (8:47 pm)

    It should have NEVER taken this much time, effort and energy, yet I think we FINALLY have the district’s attention. Thank you to ALL of our West Seattle friends (and those beyond) who have rallied with us and shown their public support. We appreciate you! This type of unity is needed in order to ensure ALL of our community schools are great and ALL of our students are learning in a healthy and safe environment.

  • WS K Mom October 4, 2012 (8:51 pm)

    I’m so glad to hear that AH families showed up in high numbers and expressed their continued concern at the dismal quality of the building. But, please let’s not make it into bitter battle about which WS school is worse off. Schmitz Park houses 1/2 its students in portables and its building is old and over capacity (aging plumbing, etc). It also needs a new building.

    With two WS public schools IMMEDIATELY needing new buildings in WS, and with continued over capacity issues, why oh why is SPSD not considering reclaiming the EC Hughes building?? The school district is willing to commit $1.6 million simply to upgrade Fairmont Park, but they are renting EC Hughes to a private school for a song (less than $4000 per month).

    A private school should purchase its own building, not get the benefit of a building on the backs of the public school kids. Please, let’s have some discussion on how better to utilize existing public school resources (i.e., existing public school buildings) for public school kids.

  • WSParent2 October 4, 2012 (8:54 pm)

    Mark Ahlness, I was wondering the same thing about what state the building would be in if Pathfinder were occupying it…although we know that was never the intent.

    SPS should not be putting any money into opening new schools until the established ones with decaying buildings and with capacity issues are taken care of.

  • Heidi A October 4, 2012 (9:08 pm)

    How they are leaving K-5 STEM in a limbo is indicative of all that is wrong with SPS; no clear planning, no communication, and no tranparency = no trust and a lot of angst. My email to SPS and the Board:

    The subject of this email is despondent and distraught because I have no other adjectives for how the K-5 STEM community is feeling right now, while we are being told that there are no decisions and that the future of our “program” is uncertain. I’m the mother of a second grader at K-5 STEM and Co-President of the PTA. As the Co-President of the PTA, I am the recipient of parent comments and questions. I have parents telling me they can’t sleep at night and can think of nothing else but the fact that our future as a seems completely uncertain, if not doomed. Parents are in tears because they believed Seattle Public Schools when we were first told in February that a new school was being opened. When you voted to open the school, you referred to it as a school. We took a collective a leap of faith at open enrollment, assuming that SPS was acting in good faith and would uphold its promises. Now, many parents are filled with guilt, we thought STEM was a good bet but now it seems we gambled with our own children. There is a huge sense of distrust and anger.

    We have parents and community members who put in countless volunteer hours to start a school. SPS officials spent hours at Design Team meetings designing a school and developing curriculum. The district recruited a highly qualified Principal from out of state and highly qualified teachers who left secure positions at other schools, all on the representation that they would be the first leaders of an innovative new school. Parents spent the summer incorporating a PTA because we thought our children would be going to a permanent school. We are asking donors for donations to support our new school. We have already received inquiries about our school in response to flyers distributed at Washington STEM’s meeting on Wednesday. The PTA is about to send $750 to the IRS for our official 501(c)(3) recognition, which will be granted if we have a public purpose mission of supporting a school.

    Mr. Banda attended our opening ceremonies, welcoming our children to their new school. No one said, “welcome to your new program, which may or may not exist in the future because we have to look at some options and we can’t tell you what those might be at the moment.”

    We are troubled by the comments reported on the West Seattle Blog as being made at Mr. Banda’s community meeting on Monday night. Ms. McEvoy reportedly said that Fairmount was “originally” considered as the permanent home for K-5 STEM. Yes – that was what we were told would be the future. But now the suggestion is that this may be off the table because SPS didn’t know the “program” would grow. Parents have told me that this feels like a slap in the face. The first meeting in February at Schmitz Park was standing room only, with many people watching from windows outside because the building was full. There was a waiting list from day one.

    Were all of our efforts truly wasted? Why did SPS spend so much money on creating a school if there is no real plan for it? Should we stop representing to donors that we have a school? Should we cancel our school fundraising event, scheduled for October 29th and generously hosted by a local business? Should we forget about asking the IRS to recognize us as a PTA and not waste the money? What do we tell our children? Should we pull our children out, go back to our neighborhood schools, find a private school, or vote for charter schools? These are the sad, despondent questions that parents are asking me.

    The community is so committed to the school and there is much to do, but we are distracted and consumed by how we have to respond to this lack of uncertainty and information. We would all love to move on and focus on teaching and learning and making our school a model of success that can be replicated in other schools, throughout the city, and throughout the state. Please, I beg you, on behalf of the K-5 STEM community, keep the commitment and allow us to joyful move on to creating a school that has all the right ingredients to be a successful, high performing school.

    This will benefit all schools within Seattle Public Schools as we figure out best practices, what works, and what doesn’t work. As a PTA, we are committed to working with our neighbors to share programs and replicate success.

    How do we do that? Simple, tell us we will be a school in West Seattle with a permanent home. My personal opinion is that the Fairmount building is the best option. If the concern is that the program has grown beyond expectations, such that other options needs to be considered, Fairmount, with the addition of classrooms currently planned, seems to be the only option for equitable access. What other (undisclosed) option would allow the most families access to STEM?

    Certainly, if we are a “program” placed at another school, this reduces the number of families with access to STEM because it will be limited by capacity and by neighborhood boundaries. Likewise, K-5 STEM was created to alleviate capacity problems. Congratulations, it has done that and will continue to do that if we have a permanent home in a fair location. Fairmount makes the most logical sense as it is centrally located. It is convenient and accessible for families from north West Seattle and south West Seattle, we can continue to have a diverse population. Diversity is important is important to me because we left a diverse school where my son learned about Somalian traditions, we want to be part of the solution, and want our children to experience diversity. We currently have a diverse population, but I don’t see that happening if we are isolated as a program in another school or at a less central location. Fairmount is also closest to the West Seattle Bridge, making it easier from families from other neighborhoods to choose STEM. We currently have families from South Seattle, Beacon Hill and Columbia City, again adding to our diversity, but they are unlikely to choose STEM at a less central location. Keeping K-5 STEM as a option school at Fairmount is the only equitable solution and consistent with the promises made to us.

  • Another AH Mom October 4, 2012 (10:29 pm)

    I’m sorry STEM parents that SPS is doing such a poor job. I hope things improve and you all get some answers.

  • STEM mom October 4, 2012 (11:40 pm)

    Let’s do the right thing SPS rebuild Arbor Heights before doing anything else in West Seattle. Give them the newly remodeled Fairmont Park when it is ready, build alongside their current building if there is room on the site. Do SOMETHING now – the rest of us can wait. STEM can stay at Boren longer than 2 years – it may take that long to get the science labs, playgrounds and everything else we were promised anyway. I’ve been to all of these meetings lately and I have listened. If you think STEM parents would send their kids to this dilapidated school you’re wrong. You are killing this school. If you fix the schools that you have you might just fix your overcrowding issues too and you can go build your school downtown that FACMAC told you not to.

  • Goodguy October 7, 2012 (3:17 pm)

    Bad idea moving STEM into Fairmount Park because as an option school, it would hurt north end capacity and force weird gerrymandered boundaries on West Seattle. A more logical option would be to move STEM into Schmitz when it’s vacated, spreading out W.S. option schools (Pathfinder & STEM) and geographically spacing neighborhood schools so they’re close to more kids and not right on top of each other. The idea of a STEM option with a first rate park next to it is very attractive for adding real-world environmental programming in the mix too– apart from making STEM subjects interesting, time outdoors improves cognitive ability (per Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods”). As a feeder school attracting some south W.S. kids, this would also shore up capacity at Madison M.S. ensuring its programs receive good funding support and its programs continue to develop to serve W.S. kids as they grow up. The current mess is admittedly a puzzle, but I think we can do something that makes everyone happy and makes long-term strategic sense, so long as we work to be inclusive on decisions that affect W.S. schools and build all W.S. up with excellent and diverse schools.

  • Goodguy October 7, 2012 (3:32 pm)

    Anyway, the bottom line is that Fairmount Park as a neighborhood school is the best approach for all concerned, and will be the magic bullet to solving chronic W.S. capacity problems born of Pathfinder’s move to Cooper. What’s done is done but moving forward, let’s not forget Cooper’s lesson, let’s not be tempted by political scheming at the expense of sensibility, and let’s not let history repeat itself.

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