(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.