In hopes of more context on where the BEX-IV levy plan stands, we went to the School Board work session at district HQ in SODO, following up on the new “draft” $734 million proposal spotlighted here this morning. It has just wrapped up after two hours (half an hour longer than it was scheduled to run) – here are the main points we found noteworthy:
The price tag is up $39 million from the last draft, said district manager Lucy Morello, because of more precise estimates received, including a lower cost for the new Schmitz Park and a higher cost for the new Arbor Heights, which might require pilings in the soil, as well as some other costs such as the price of making sure every classroom in the district has wireless-Internet access.
The higher overall cost was a source of some consternation, starting early on, when board member Harium Martin-Morris said he’s “nervous” about $734 million price tag and thinks it should be closer to $650 million, balancing the needs with what they think the community will approve. Assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy said staff is nervous too and aware they might result in “overbuilding.” (Toward meeting’s end, she stressed that what’s in the draft is “options,” not “recommendations,” and that this entire process constitutes “planning in public,” and that they hope to keep hearing input from both board members and community members.)
NEW ARBOR HEIGHTS – AND CURRENT REPAIRS TO THE CURRENT CAMPUS: Board member Betty Patu asked during a hasty rundown of the bullet points whether that still is not scheduled to open till 2018. Yes, it was confirmed, 2018 is what’s currently proposed. “I guess my point is,” she began, “we’ve heard a lot of parents talking about that, and … is that building really safe for kids going there right now, as dilapidated as that building is?” McEvoy said there was a tour a few weeks ago and they noted more “high-level water spots and mold” and have been trying to find the source of the leak but now have found it. “They’ve been doing the cleanup, replaced those particular pipes, so we hope we are addressing those particular concerns parents had. But – we could move them to an interim site before the 2018 opening. But as you see with our cash flow issues, our question is – how do we do this?” McLaren then said “other issues will arise in the interim, and that’s what parents, and staff, are talking about.” She sought to clarify that the matter of getting Schmitz Park students out of portables without bathrooms was what had pushed back the new Arbor Heights, and she asked if it would be possible to “make Schmitz Park more viable over the long term” by putting in “wet portables.” Morello said it was a question of whether seats were needed in Madison area first, or Denny area. “Sure we could do anything, we could put a portable out there with restrooms, it’s a point of whether you want half a school with a portable restroom versus Arbor Heights, or do you fix Arbor Heights to something that is suitable, address some of the issues they have, and do Genesee Hill first … I think we have t look at some of the issues and compare them.” She thought the construction window might be up to two years because of the pilings, and that could mean that the school goes into Boren in 2916. “I think we need to look at globally all the issues surrounding Schmitz Park and all the issues surrounding Arbor Heights …” What about Fairmount Park? McLaren asked, possibly meaning some capacity relief for the north West Seattle area.
DISTRICT TAKING BACK HUGHES: Even before they got to the West Seattle part of the presentation, Smith-Blum said during discussion of another taking-back-of-leased-building discussion that she is “deeply concerned about doing the right thing” for Westside. Moments later, it was described as a “fairly straightforward project … logistically” by a district manager. Hughes would be projected to open as a 304-seat elementary in 2016. But then, Hughes came up again in the context of the next paragraph:
SURPLUS OR SHORTFALL: If projections don’t change, and the BEX IV proposal doesn’t change, in 2020, West Seattle would have 688 surplus elementary seats and 98 surplus middle-school seats, district managers say. That could mean “maybe we don’t reopen Hughes … or maybe we reopen Hughes and Roxhill moves to Hughes” … Morello said – keep in mind, none of that is in the plan, and she was speaking speculatively. Some board members warned about reading anything into the slide with “surpluses” listed for many areas, at least until they get June enrollment figures. McLaren asked, “why are they going to be so reliable, compared to the figures we’ve gotten so far?” Dr. Tracy Libros, enrollment manager, was brought up to answer that one. She said the previous updates included just a “portion” of available information, and right now they are making a variety of adjustments that will be “the input for the new 5-year enrollment projections.”
ARE THE NUMBERS ACCURATE? That segued to Carr saying, “My gut tells me, a lot of what we are seeing is driven by the current housing market, a lot of families’ mortgages are under water, if the economy starts to tip a little bit, I have this gut-level fear that the tide’s going to turn and we’re going to have a bunch of buildings in progress, and leave us with a lot of extra capacity that’s really shameful.” McEvoy said they’re trying to find “multiple validations” of the trend.
NEW ELEMENTARY IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE? Earlier in the presentation, one controversial BEX possibility – mentioned a few times during last week’s West Seattle community meeting at Roxhill – came up. Board member Kay Smith-Blum said she thought the $32 million proposed for a new downtown elementary didn’t need to be spent in “this cycle.” Board member Carr questioned the demographic data suggesting there might be a future need, describing herself as “skeptical” given that it is coming from people hired by real-estate businesses and others who might use it as a tool to sell residences in that area.
A couple of West Seattle side notes:
MIDDLE COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL MOVING OUT OF SOUTH SEATTLE COMMUNITY COLLEGE: It’s a little-known fact that West Seattle has a third public high school – Middle College, at South Seattle Community College on West Seattle’s Puget Ridge. It’s related to an educational program that is headquartered elsewhere in the district, it was noted here today, and in response to a question from West Seattle board member Marty McLaren, McEvoy confirmed that they are looking for space to move the program and it will be leaving SSCC.
SANISLO LUNCHROOM: Though it hasn’t come up previously in the process one page of the district presentation mentions spending $17 million for “lunchrooms” and lists four schools, with Sanislo the only one in West Seattle; Morello described it as a “cafeteria addition.”
BOUNDARY CHANGES: Right now, those are envisioned districtwide for 2014-2015, according to this afternoon’s presentation.
HOW MUCH WILL BEX IV COST TAXPAYERS? The current level would raise what a taxpayer pays by about half – 70 cents per $1,000 assessed value right now, to $1.05 for a $750 million or so levy. Framed another way, if you have a $400,000 home, the current levy rate would cost you $280/year, while the proposed $750 million or so rate would cost $420/year.
WHAT’S NEXT: In June, the district is expecting new enrollment projections, as mentioned several times by McEvoy. If those projections vary dramatically from what they’re working with now, it could mean major changes for this plan. The district says it will have another round of community meetings in September, before finalizing the levy package in October and putting it before voters next February.