Following up on our Wednesday morning report regarding Seattle Public Schools trying to craft a plan for dealing with school crowding before it builds new BEX IV-funded schools (assuming the levy passes), we went to the Wednesday afternoon School Board briefing/work session. Here are the toplines, including district officials saying they especially want to hear from you regarding the most controversial possibilities:
The process isn’t just about what happens before – if – BEX IV proposals take effect, but how to answer questions raised while it’s before voters, as School Board president Michael DeBell explained for starters. (Note that this meeting was a time for presentation and discussion, not decision – nor public comment; that comes up at the meeting at district HQ next Tuesday.)
If you missed it Wednesday, here’s the slide deck with background information and the complete list of “options” that staff presented to board members. It all stems from this: District demographer Rachel Cassidy recapped that this year’s enrollment came in about 400 students higher than expected – almost 50,000 total.
Dr. Tracy Libros, who is in charge of enrollment, says this is the last year that transitional measures related to the New Student Assignment Plan” – not so new any more – will be needed. They are discussing tiebreakers and other contingencies. Recommended “standard tiebreakers” include, for attendance-area elementary and K-8, sibling/distance/lottery, for attendance-area middle schools, sibling/feeder school/distance/lottery, and for attendance-area high schools, sibling/feeder school (for WSHS and CSIHS only), and lottery.
One major point is that, after this school year, the district plans to end the transitional transportation plans put into place after the boundary change two-plus years ago. This means no transportation for almost 2,000 students who are getting it now. Board member Harium Martin-Morris asked about the cost of extending it another year; about half a million dollars, he was told. Board member Sharon Peaslee then asked, “What’s the cost of NOT doing it?” That cost will include how to handle enrollment increasing at neighborhood schools of students who have been using transportation for option-school attendance.
More than an hour into the meeting, the list of specific schools and possible options came up. Note that – this was revealed in response to a followup question – portables were only suggested as an option where the district knows they can be placed. However, it then was noted in discussion that this may be a problem if portables are taking up playground space – and allowing a larger student body, which means a larger NEED for playground space.
Assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy said West Seattle Elementary is a case of note in our area because it may need up to 4 more home rooms if the end of transportation grandfathering brings more students back to WSE.
West Seattle board member Marty McLaren asked about the suggestion that kindergarteners from one or more local schools might be taught at Boren as an “annex.” McEvoy said, “We want to hear what the community has to say about that.” (WSE for example has four kindergarten classes this year.) She also said she wants to hear from the community regarding the idea of moving Schmitz Park Elementary fifth-graders to Madison Middle School.
Wrapping up with a look at how many portables might be needed around the district if that option is deployed for handling more students, district staff noted that 32 were added citywide last summer and “it just about killed staff.”
Before the meeting – which ran two hours, longer than planned – the board also heard briefly from a rep of the FAC/MAC committee (which includes community members) that has been looking at capacity issues for a long time. Their sentiment was bullet-pointed as: “Use portables as a temporary solution … discuss room repurposing with site leadership … attempt to avoid splitting of age cohorts (grade level)” – in other words, moving kindergartens out of elementaries, or fifth grades out of elementaries, should be avoided if at all possible.
In discussion toward the end, board member Kay Smith-Blum proposed marketing non-crowded K-8 programs to would-be middle-school families, for example, who might otherwise be going to their crowded neighborhood schools.
Next Tuesday is your chance to come down to district HQ to speak out about all this (here’s the announcement of that). The board will have another work session on December 19th, and is scheduled to take action on a proposed plan in January.
If you can’t make it next Tuesday – SPS tells us you can e-mail your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org