Upcoming school levy decision

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    sleegilman
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    As part of Seattle Public Schools’ current master planning for the upcoming Building Excellence 5 (BEX-V) levy, the district is beginning to determine what schools will be improved, replaced, or created. SPS is projecting an increase in the high school student population of approximately 8% over the next 7 years. This works out to 1,600 students or the equivalent of one additional high school. Studies are currently being undertaken for this new high school to be located on and adjacent to the Memorial Stadium property next to Seattle Center, an area that will soon be served by three updated high schools in north-central Seattle (Ballard, Lincoln, Roosevelt – this will be the fourth). While this is where growth is expected to occur, it will not meet the needs of communities that are currently underserved. Students in these communities need a different approach; for many, the current system is not flexible, personal, or relevant. Graduation rates need improvement. The current situation supports the school-to-prison pipeline. Meanwhile, taxpayers are faced with skyrocketing property-based taxes. Change is needed.

    Unofficial estimates put the cost of this new high school at over $150 million. It is being presented at some school board meetings as a fait accompli, although as some School Board Directors have noted, a decision on whether a new high school is actually needed has not yet been considered or made. There are alternatives that do not appear to have been given consideration, study, or public discussion. For example, our existing school buildings are not used to their full effectiveness. High schools are normally used for less than 1/3 of daylight hours; simply put, they are underutilized. Meanwhile, schools of all kinds suffer from lack of funding for repairs, expansion, staffing, etc. The following approaches seek to address those while providing improved learning experiences, flexible work environments for teachers, greater learning opportunities, flexible locations, and increased sustainability:

    Classroom utilization: Classrooms typically remain vacant for one out of every 6 periods each day when they are used by teachers as an oversized office for planning. By providing teacher work or collaboration spaces outside of an empty classroom, general classroom utilization/capacity can be increased by up 20% (10% may be more realistic). This will have little to no impact on students’ experiences.
    Class Periods: By extending class periods beyond 1 hour, transition time is reduced which both significantly increases the quality and time of classroom instruction/learning, it eliminates unnecessary non-instructional time. For every discontinued transition time, and ignoring the increased effectiveness of instructional time, the time saved for each is 3%. If classroom time is increased by this amount, a week of schooling is saved. If the school day is shortened, more time is available for evening classes. Increase utilization/capacity by 3-12%.
    Evening Classes: Holding classes in the evenings offers students greater chances for worksharing (during regular business hours), increased mentorship opportunities (outside of regular business hours), alignment of hours with parents who work outside of the standard 9-5 day, and also for students who need or choose to work to support themselves and their families. For a not-insignificant percentage of our students, this would be of real benefit in many ways. It would also increase utilization/capacity by 16-80%.
    Saturday Classes: Benefits are similar to Evening Classes. Increase utilization/capacity by 20%.
    Summer Classes: Benefits are similar to Evening Classes. Increase utilization/capacity by up to 39%.
    Total potential increased utilization/capacity: 159%
    Total capacity needed: 8%

    The above approaches suggest ways to increase capacity by over 150%; fortunately we only need a small fraction of that. Some or all of these approaches can be implemented to more than meet all anticipated growth while offering choice and real benefits to students, teachers, and families. Further, the monies saved by not spending $150+ million on a new high school can be saved or spent elsewhere to address capacity and maintenance issues in middle and elementary schools. By simply providing teachers with the space to work and prepare outside of a classroom that remains empty for one out of every six periods each day, capacity needs could be more than met. This approach alone could be implemented in the existing high schools over a single summer, and in total cost less than 1/200th of a new high school. The new high school is neither necessary nor does it align with the district’s goals of sustainability, flexibility, equity, or fiscal responsibility. Why are we to consider an expensive new school that will – yet again – remain unused for over 2/3 of the time?

    Perhaps most importantly, providing increased flexibility and improved learning experiences and environments have great potential to improve both retention and graduation rates. This increased flexibility in both location and application can provide real benefits where they are most needed – in our underserved communities.
    People “do not take kindly to a heavy handed top down approach” by our governing agencies. However, we look to our elected leaders to bring forward ideas and concepts for public discussion and analysis. At the end of the day we look to you to make decisions, either directly or through a public vote on a levy, bond, or initiative. I encourage you to bring some or all of these forward for departmental analysis, board consideration, and public discussion. Students, teachers, and families require options and choices. Please give these (any others) careful, thoughtful consideration before the decision is made to put an expensive and unnecessary new high school on the upcoming ballot to taxpayers already facing dramatically increasing tax bills.

    Sincerely,

    S Lee Gilman

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