(UPDATED TUESDAY AFTERNOON with the completed text summary)
(WSB video of tonight’s meeting in its entirety, unedited)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In West Seattle tonight, parents with a school that’s not mentioned in the BEX IV levy plan gave district officials almost as much of an earful as parents with a school that is.
Parents from the new K-5 STEM at Boren option elementary wanted to know what the plan is for their permanent home – district answer, in short: there still isn’t one – and also took the occasion to voice complaints about a lack of supplies and incomplete facilities, saying it will be difficult to believe promises the district makes for the future, if they are breaking other ones now.
But the biggest contingent was from Arbor Heights Elementary, most dressed in yellow, some holding signs, recounting health, safety, and climate-control challenges on the campus, and pleading for the promised rebuild to be moved up.
Right now, it’s not scheduled to be completed until fall 2019 – toward the end of the levy’s lifespan.
Before getting to Q/A and attendee comments, district managers went through multiple levels of background explanation, including why BEX IV is a levy and not a bond measure. (All the explanatory documents are linked here.) Unlike previous BEX IV-related meetings, this time they added information about the ballot measure that will also be on the February ballot.
District communications manager Tom Redman emceed the meeting; the presentation was led by assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy, with district capital projects/planning director Lucy Morello also participating, and brief appearances later by interim assistant superintendent Bob Boesche and executive director of school operations Phil Brockman. Also pointed out, though they did not speak, were School Board members Marty McLaren (who represents West Seattle) and Sherry Carr, and this area’s executive director of schools Carmela Dellino (whose former school Roxhill Elementary was not mentioned at all, though it is in relatively bad shape).
The feedback from this meeting and two others around the city will be taken into account for one more draft of the levy, to be presented at a school-board work session next month. We have much more to add to the story of what happened tonight (check back by midmorning Tuesday) – but are publishing this short version first, along with video of the entire meeting (above).
ADDED 12:53 PM: The rest of the story, ahead:
The background presentation took more than half an hour – the ground rules, almost 10 of that. So we can cut to the chase, you can see the background materials here – including the district recapping that it grew by 1,000 students this year, now 49,500, and expects at least 7,000 more over the next decade.
As McEvoy described it, the BEX IV draft currently in circulation is “the third iteration,” and the district is now “trying to reach consensus.”
We’ve covered its key West Seattle points before (the summary page is here):
*New school for Schmitz Park Elementary, to be built on the grounds of the current Genesee Hill and open in 2015
*8-room addition and other upgrades for Fairmount Park Elementary, to reopen in fall 2014
*New school for Arbor Heights Elementary, on its current campus, to open in fall 2019 (a year later than the previous BEX IV draft)
The priorities for the levy, according to the district, are:
-Capacity (more room for more students)
-Accessibility and flexibility for programs and services
As noted in our previous coverage, the district no longer is proposing to take back the former Hughes Elementary – currently leased by Westside School (WSB sponsor). While this was not specifically discussed during last night’s presentation, district staff said at the recent work session that this is no longer needed because the Fairmount Park addition will make room for more students.
The other areas were not discussed, since it was clear this was a hometown crowd – McEvoy asked for a show of hands for who was from which part of the district, and only a scattered view raised their hands for areas outside West Seattle. She did briefly mention what’s been a sore spot for people around the city, the “interim downtown school” that is still part of the levy, though advocates have questioned the need for it – to address possible future downtown families – when so many other trouble spots exist now.
Morello said 40 schools are in line for seismic work, though she stressed it is not urgent; she said structural engineers have checked schools and did not find any “significant structural problems.”
Boesche then took the microphone and talked about the other levy that will be on the ballot, and what it pays for – basics that, despite decades of lawsuits, the state still isn’t fully funding, he said, from textbooks to school buses to student activities, comprising more than a quarter of the district’s budget. One slide suggested that Seattle’s “total education levy rates” were lower than many other major districts in the region.
Q&A was broken into two sections – first, read from cards filled out by attendees; then, the “live mike” time.
The very first question was the issue of the night: The Arbor Heights timeline. McEvoy cited “cash flow” as a major analysis – since the levy only provides a certain amount of money each year that it’s in effect.
Second, what’s the plan for Fairmount Park, when it reopens – will it be K-5 STEM’s permanent home?
Brockman’s answer was no more detailed than when we asked him about K-5 STEM at the work session; they don’t know yet.
Then – what about the immediate challenges of overcrowding at Schmitz Park? Morello said the district is working with its principal regarding “adding core facilities,” like restrooms.
McEvoy added that the issue of how to handle problems in the years before BEX projects kick in will be taken up at the FAC-MAC committee meeting next week, and beyond.
After that, Boesche took on the question of why it wasn’t so easy to say “well, let’s just build it all now” – the district would have gotten more money faster with a bond measure, but he said it would have cost voters more, to cover the interest, among other challenges.
The open-mike segment carried the most plaintive pleas about Arbor Heights – which could be summed up in one of the first speakers, an AH teacher, saying, “This school is falling apart – please help us.”
Another speaker suggested a guided meditation which included envisioning a week of 55-degree air in the classroom, and glimpses of rodent waste.
The word “deplorable” came up more than once. So did the mention of rats. Someone else mentioned ants. District managers were asked if health inspectors had been to the school; McEvoy said yes.
Then there was another summary line: “The worst facility in the district is at the back of the line.”
The open-mike comments also yielded the concerns about conditions at K-5 STEM at Boren. The families all came to the new school from other schools on a leap of faith, one parent said, but feel promises aren’t being kept. She mentioned a lack of supplies – no notebooks, no scissors, staples; she even went to a store and bought boxes of staples to bring back. “This is not the way a school should be functioning.”
Others pointed out that two science labs aren’t up and running yet, and reiterated the lack of supplies. And the school’s playground hasn’t been set up, either – the district is still waiting for portables to be moved off the designated area south of the main school building.
Several other schools were brought up during the live-mike Q/A, including Schmitz Park’s overcrowding.
STILL TIME TO COMMENT: The district is asking for comments by September 30th – this Sunday – at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TIMETABLE: The next board work session, at which a revised version of the levy is expected to be presented, will be on October 10th. (Those are open to the public, by the way – no public comment is taken, but you are welcome to sit in and listen/watch.) A week after that, on October 17th, the all-but-final proposal will be presented to the School Board, with a final vote on November 7th, and the election in February. (Also, the third and final version of the BEX IV presentation/Q&A is set for 6:30-8 p.m., Thursday at McClure Middle School, 1915 1st Ave. W.)
ADDED TUESDAY NIGHT: Arbor Heights put together a slide deck showing conditions at the building. It’s been shared with us tonight to add to this story; we likely will write a separate followup about it, but for now, if you’re just reading this – you can see it here, as a PDF.