School-levy briefing @ Arbor Heights, with more on possibly accelerating AH rebuild to 2016

(From SPS administration, from left: Lucy Morello, Bob Boesche, Pegi McEvoy)
As ballots for the February 12 election, with two Seattle Public Schools levies totaling more than $1 billion, start arriving in mailboxes, a lineup of district officials came to Arbor Heights Elementary this morning to make the case to the media (turnout included four TV crews). They spoke in AH’s Room 19, in front of an old-fashioned blackboard. (Added: Unedited video of the briefing)

And there was news about Arbor Heights itself, which had been planned in the BEX IV levy to open a rebuilt school in 2018 (a year earlier than the once-tentatively planned 2019), replacing an aged, dilapidated facility with numerous problems: District officials confirmed what we heard at, and reported from, the West Seattle HS PTSA meeting last week – that SPS is taking steps to be able to move up the rebuild two years, to a 2016 completion.

More on that coming up – but first – the pitch for BEX IV and the operations levy:

“We do not take it for granted that we are going to ask for support all the time … and that our community will automatically (grant it),” said interim deputy superintendent Bob Boesche. “It is a privilege to have that support … we believe it is a justified request,” which he also described as “a big ask.”

He acknowledged concerns, saying he’s aware there’s been a time that “stewardship” of SPS money has not been optimal. Returning to the topic later, he also acknowledged many ask “Can I trust Seattle Public Schools to be good financial stewards now?” and insisted the answer is yes, particularly because of the leadership changes, “from the top down,” over the past two years.

Points he stressed:

*These are replacement levies
*BEX III projects were on time and on budget (West Seattle note: Denny and Sealth were part of that levy)
*Operations levy = Prop 1, three years “covering a lot of day to day operating (costs)” – a fourth of the district’s $600 million/year general fund
*Ticked off a long list of programs it supports, including international education (West Seattle/South Park have Concord, Denny Middle, and Chief Sealth HS international schools)
*Restore arts education to “the levels where it used to be”

Boesche contended the district has “taken a hard look at its central administration costs,” which he says have gone from 9 percent of the budget to 6 percent of the budget. “Our goal is to push as much of our funding out to our schools as possible.”

Key points assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy hit regarding the six-year BEX (Building Excellence) IV levy, a “cash as you go” program, as he described it:

*17 major building-construction projects
*Reducing the number of portables
*Technology needs – wireless Internet access for schools

Regarding the Arbor Heights rebuild acceleration, capital projects executive Lucy Morello said that an architect recommendation will be brought forward at the February 20th School Board meeting, since they “are moving forward with design.” Explaining the potential financing for this, Boesche described it as “tax-anticipation finance” while warning that there would be an “interest cost” that might affect the district’s “extremely tight” cash flow, since the “anticipation notes would have to come out of the general fund.” Interest rates “have been down,” though, he said, sounding a note of optimism.

Morello also told WSB that if this all goes forward, Arbor Heights’s community could move to Boren as temporary HQ as soon as fall 2014. That could ease concerns about their current falling-apart building – which includes security problems, as brought to light by the recent computer thefts (media visitors were shown the classroom that burglars targeted most recently).

Asked about the philosophy behind the up-to-650-student elementary schools planned (including the “new Genesee Hill school” and the new Arbor Heights), McEvoy said, “The larger the school, the more programs we can bring in – so we can bring back students to their neighborhood schools. … We can create schools within schools and small intimate programs, and that’s one of the things we are seeing throughout the nation.”

Boesche piggybacked, “Large schools do not necessarily equate to larger classes. …” and added that one school of 600 saves $650,000 operating costs over two schools of 300.” He said the district is trying to “bring parity into how our buildings are built.”

In our conversation with Morello, she also reiterated the plan in which the elementaries are being designed with infrastructure for 650 but could have the classroom space capped at around 500 if, by that stage in the design process, district enrollment trends change.

She also pointed out that if the Arbor Heights acceleration plan goes forward, West Seattle will open/reopen three elementaries, one in each of the next three years – Fairmount Park Elementary (reopening with an added classroom wing) in 2014, the new school at Genesee Hill in 2015, and the new Arbor Heights in 2016.

But this all rides on what happens in the February 12th vote. You can read about the measures here.

38 Replies to "School-levy briefing @ Arbor Heights, with more on possibly accelerating AH rebuild to 2016"

  • ahmamaof2 January 24, 2013 (1:08 pm)

    Thanks Tracy for attending!!

  • JWT January 24, 2013 (1:25 pm)

    How much does this special election cost to hold in February? Why wasn’t this held in November?

  • annoy January 24, 2013 (1:27 pm)

    AWESOME news for the AH Community! but while I am voting yes for both — like the “Seattle Sonics” returning, I’ll believe it when I am driving my kids to Boren. good luck – vote yes – and cross your fingers everyone!

  • Joe January 24, 2013 (1:57 pm)

    It’s completely ridiculous that we have to vote on something like this. Completely absurd.

  • kayo January 24, 2013 (2:19 pm)

    So true, Joe. Meanwhile sports arenas get rammed down our throats even when we vote against public financing for them. It is really messed up. Educating our children has a much greater financial and societal long term benefit. At any rate, happy to see AH getting moved up a bit. I hope if the levy passes that the district will actually follow through on this.

  • No on BEX January 24, 2013 (2:24 pm)

    I am with you Annoy. I don’t trust a thing they say until it is actually a done deal. Which is why I am voting no. (And yes I have a child in SPS)
    Also, the wording above definitely makes it sound like STEM will become a program in schools like Spectrum and not its own school. I think these little subliminal things they say are just a foreshadowing. Watch for it.

    • WSB January 24, 2013 (2:28 pm)

      For anyone interested, I am currently uploading unedited video of the half-hour-or-so briefing and will add it to the story once it’s “live,” so do come back and check if you want to hear for yourself exactly what they had to say (including my question about, and the district’s answer to, the Arbor Heights acceleration issue). Principal Collins offered a tour of the school’s trouble spots afterward – we’ve been on that tour and covered it before but did check out the first stop, mentioned in the story (the burglarized room), and will be adding a photo – TR

  • Amanda January 24, 2013 (3:27 pm)

    There really isn’t a better way to get under my skin except to give public funds to sports arena’s over libraries and schools. It is fundamentally wrong to do so, and I wish there was a way we could stop the “Sonics” from coming back with any public funding. I would also note that Roxhill has been completely ignored. Where are the Roxhill reps?

  • MJ January 24, 2013 (3:48 pm)

    If a 2016 open date happens, that means you could have two major construction projects happening within a couple of blocks of each other. New AH elementary and new Westside just down the hill.

  • kayo January 24, 2013 (3:52 pm)

    “No on Bex.” Your logic makes no sense. The reason they can’t make ANY definite promises right now is because the levy has to pass BEFORE that can happen. This whole knee jerk NO attitude really bothers me. I am not a fan of the lack of foresight that has occurred with the district, but I also sympathize with the reality of how our schools are funded. Their hands are tied with regard to funding and planning. How can they make promises when they have no idea if the levy will be successful? Is your mission to punish the school district for their lack of foresight in the past and so a no vote will send some kind of message? Do you really think that will improve things? Will you continue to complain and bemoan our crappy schools when teachers start getting laid off and our buildings fall into an even worse state of disrepair? Will you then decide that you will vote yes when things are even worse? It makes no sense to me. School funding is such a stupid system. Makes me crazy that such an important basic right to an education is funded in this way and at the mercy of illogical arguments such as that of “no on Bex.”

  • 2 Things I Need January 24, 2013 (4:11 pm)

    There really isn’t a better way to get under MY skin than complaining about the return of the Sonics while discussing Arbor Heights Elementary. We can’t wait until we can take our AH student to a Sonics game. Fingers crossed the AH and arena build happen quickly.

  • am January 24, 2013 (4:27 pm)

    Kayo is 100% correct! There is absolutely no plan B if the levy doesn’t pass. Without the levy passing, we will only have more overcrowding, teachers laid off, horrible classroom conditions, etc. Our community, unfortunately, doesn’t have a choice! Please do your research and vote YES to help our kids and save our schools!

  • Bonnie January 24, 2013 (4:33 pm)

    Amen Kayo!

  • WS rats in a cage January 24, 2013 (4:57 pm)

    I second the amen kayo:
    So true, Joe. Meanwhile sports arenas get rammed down our throats even when we vote against public financing for them. It is really messed up. Educating our children has a much greater financial and societal long term benefit. At any rate, happy to see AH getting moved up a bit. I hope if the levy passes that the district will actually follow through on this.

    I wish like minded people were around for support in the past when I got my ass chewed on here for saying education was more important than an arena. It’s amazing, I suggested that money could be better spent on feeding the homeless, for example, and someone who is homeless disagreed with me, if you can believe it. Sports have that strong of a hold over people. I understand how sports add to the city but the bottom line is our priorities are really askew. Which reminds me, I tried to say our priorities were lacking when a woman was raped and murdered in WS a few years ago and someone told me on this blog that it was I that had my priorities out of whack.

  • WSTroll January 24, 2013 (5:10 pm)

    This levy does nothing for the schools that my children attend and won’t alleviate any of the overcrowding so I voted no.

    • WSB January 24, 2013 (5:21 pm)

      This is not a pro-levy statement – we take no editorial position. However, if your children attend any public school – EVERY public school in the district is involved in the two levies on the ballot – the operations levy, as noted today, represents 25 percent of schools’ operating budget. And BEX IV is not just the big projects; it includes district-wide projects such as wireless Internet access. There also is a long list of schools up for seismic-safety work. And more – but I can’t stop down to look it up right now – TR

  • WSMama3 January 24, 2013 (5:29 pm)

    YES – WSB is 100% right. Learn how this will affect every kid in West Seattle public schools. Don’t think it effects you – wait till they start re-drawing boundaries. :)

  • School Master January 24, 2013 (6:06 pm)

    My family received the ballots today. Already voted ‘yes’ on both the operations and capital spending. In the mail, tomorrow.

  • kayo January 24, 2013 (6:17 pm)

    If you think the levy does nothing for you or this community than you are extremely short sighted. Improving our schools benefits all of us. Kids get a better education (hello, future productive citizens who will be supporting all of us as we age). Families put down roots and decide to stay put (part of the current population boom problem). From a purely economic perspective, property values improve (just ask anyone trying to buy an affordable house in Schmitz Park or Lafayette reference areas – good luck with that). When you think of the crap our government wastes our tax dollars on every day…really…is adding a relatively small amount onto your property taxes to support our LOCAL schools really so bad? REALLY? This is not some utopian idealism. This is reality. Vote YES on BEX!

  • Trying! January 24, 2013 (6:25 pm)

    Saying, NO, does not stop the process, or deprive our children! It simply means they will have to go back to the table and rethink and listen to what we are saying and what our questions are about this levy, and then they can resubmit. This has been done before.

  • WSTroll January 24, 2013 (6:52 pm)

    Our PTA is already providing funds for WiFi. We don’t need the BEX levy. I understand why some people want to vote yes but if it doesn’t help my school at all then I am not going to vote for it. I have no faith in the Seattle School District and I wish West Seattle could secede and form its own district.

  • Don't get it January 24, 2013 (7:25 pm)

    If you have questions about this levy, why don’t you go to one of the meetings and ask them? If the Levy does not pass this does deprive the students at schools of getting larger better facilities in 2 years, otherwise it will be at least three years or more.

  • Nemobean January 24, 2013 (7:57 pm)

    Just vote NO on more taxes!

  • Ann January 24, 2013 (8:53 pm)

    WStroll – What school do your children attend? My child will be entering kindergarten next year. We have recently moved to the Gatewood area so most likely that will be our school.

  • Trying! January 24, 2013 (8:57 pm)

    ‘Don’t get it’, do you go to the meetings? I go to every meeting and ask my questions.

  • Don't get it January 24, 2013 (9:15 pm)

    Yes “Trying” I do go to meetings – lots of them. Why don’t you get involved in one of the committees where you can make a difference. Make change.

  • No vote from me also January 24, 2013 (11:00 pm)

    I put my ballots with NO VOTE in the mail today.
    I don’t trust SPS with any more money.

  • FYI January 25, 2013 (7:57 am)

    The levies are renewals of previously passed levies.
    Seattle home owners pay far less toward education than other Puget Sound districts.

    Such a no-brained. Voting no might sock it to the district but it’s definitely also socking it to these innocent kids who deserve better from their district and their community.

    Voting no because you think it won’t help YOUR kid…

  • FYI January 25, 2013 (7:59 am)

    No- brainer. Autocorrect :(

  • N.A. Neighbor January 25, 2013 (8:14 am)

    The mere fact that SPS is working to get the AH rebuild pushed up might, just maybe, possibly, be a glimmer of hope that they ARE listening? Of course, it took the community at volume 10 to get the point across, but I, personally, will choose to see hope here.

  • Amanda January 25, 2013 (10:08 am)

    I am appalled that there are no clear plans for the BEX money! I don’t buy the “we will have to wait and see if it passes before we can determine what to do with the money”. I want a clear layout from the SPS before I vote yes. It’s all well and good that AH “might” get moved up, but that’s a bait and switch tactic. Look, I am planning on sending my child to Roxhill – but I will be damned if he has to go to a school that is freezing cold, suffering from vermin and full to capacity. Maybe I should send him to the new stadium for his education?

    • WSB January 25, 2013 (10:15 am)

      Amanda – There are “clear plans.” We have been reporting on them all along the way (through the various iterations). Moving up AH is something they hope to be able to do and have already turned the rudder that way, but the way the money comes in from the levy, they said they could not commit to it sooner. Here is what I believe to have been the final version of the SPS presentation showing, if you go through the pages, ALL the projects that are in the levy, from replacement schools to seismic upgrades and more:

  • Amanda January 25, 2013 (10:54 am)

    Thanks Tracy. That is clear :)

  • vote yes on BEX January 25, 2013 (11:06 am)

    I have been incredibly involved in the capacity discussion since the NSAP was voted on and know unfailingly that every school will be impacted by the BEX levy, specifically having room inside a safe building, space for services like Special Ed and ELL to be accessible in each neighborhood, to earthquake retrofits. To those that say we don’t need more room, do you ever wonder how you would secure a portable to keep those children and their teacher safe?

    We can not afford to let this levy go down. ‘Trying’ says they should resubmit the levy with a rework, how expensive in time and money do you think that would be?

    There is a clear plan laid out in the report WSB links to, this is the current working document. It alleviates overcrowding in West Seattle and provides a new school for Arbor Heights. If you delay this by voting no on BEX, you will see a lot of children, and their teachers, in deplorable buildings and portables for more years than I can imagine. For a community like West Seattle to reject an opportunity to pay only a few more dollars a year and get great school buildings is unacceptable.

    I will vote YES, and if you are a parent that supports and understands this position be proactive on Facebook, etc, and let your Seattle friends know that.

  • Ann January 25, 2013 (1:12 pm)

    I have been a parent at a school for the past seven years and experienced the school being on a closing list twice and the building is decaying badly, thanks in no part to lack of proper maintenance by the district. Our school has also been at the end of the line on past levies and funds ran out before the school could benefit.

    I understand why someone would want to vote No to send a message, as I too am upset with the funds mismanagement by the district and the inequities among the WS schools,etc… but I have voted YES. It is true that every school, student and school staff will be affected adversely if the LEVY does not pass.

    I am putting my faith that the district will be more transparent on the levy process and prioritize the projects appropriatley. The district officials and board members have gotten the message that they are going to be held accountable are being watched very closely by the SPS families.

    Our city does pay significantly lower education taxes compared to the other districts in our state.

    Re: Roxhill. I agree that they should be on the list, but I do know that maintenance and upgrade work has been done to alleviated some of the facility issues. However, as the RH community has voiced, they do need a change of location off of Roxbury. Please correct me if I have wrong information here.

  • Struggling January 25, 2013 (7:30 pm)

    I remember the last time the levy came around…. The same things were said, “if you vote NO, then the buildings will not get what they need, they will continue to go downhill, etc, etc…..” well, guess what?…. Our building STILL has not gotten what it needed…. It received no money from the previous construction (BEX) levy, and this new BEX levy also leaves our school behind….. I also struggle, because the district prooved to me that money isnt really a concern for them when they removed a repeatedly failing principal, and instead of firing her, they placed her in a south end school with a co-principal…. 2 principal salaries for one small school…. How does THAT show financial responsibility? So it really is difficult to hear, yet again, that they want us to renew the finances they continually mismanage…… Other than voting “NO”, how do tax payers bring about change?….. The school board doesnt listen (or they censor comments…) public meetings are poorly run, and do not carry the weight they should, the leadership changes throughout the organization (at a head spinning pace) so NOTHING takes hold, and the district is doing nothing to bridge or strengthen relationships with the public or staff….
    I really am struggling with this….. The pro levy folks keep saying how not passing the BEX levy will only hurt the kids….. I feel like that is kind of like holding our kids hostage, or blackmail or something…… Sure it will hurt the kids!…. But mismanaging the funds, poor decsions, and lack of consistency has also hurt the kids….. How do we get Seattle Schools to change?!… Perhaps voting “NO” is the only way to get them to understand that they really have not done a good job….. If this thing does not pass, it is the fault of Seattle Public Schools.

  • Public School Advocate January 26, 2013 (6:37 am)

    YES on both levies! While I don’t like every single project/timeline for the BEX (Prop 2) it puts the entire Seattle community in a much better position. The Ops (Prop 1) is imperative — it’s ~28% of the yearly operations budget.
    Let’s focus as a community on what we are for, not what we are against. Let’s find common ground; key things that we can ALL agree are important and necessary in our community and schools. Let’s come together to create a collection vision and focus on what is good for the whole. What would you include?

  • diane January 31, 2013 (5:45 pm)

    If you are frustrated with the school district and it’s decisions and they won’t listen at the school board meetings can’t people write to their city and county councils or write editorial pieces in the press rather than voting against every child and school opportunity? It seems an awful waste of time and resources to vote no and start over.

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