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.