School Board hears again from West Seattle advocates as almost-finalized BEX levy is officially introduced

(Photo courtesy Jen Boyer)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Though Wednesday night’s Seattle School Board meeting brought the official “introduction” of something close to the final draft of the BEX IV levy that’ll be sent to voters early next year, it was almost anticlimactic.

After months of advocacy for an ASAP rebuild, Arbor Heights Elementary brought another yellow-shirted contingent and rallied outside before the meeting, and had speakers during public-comment time, too.

One board member, Sharon Peaslee, asked the big question: “What would it take to move Arbor Heights forward on the levy?” referring to the fact the dilapidated school (see our tour report from this morning) is still toward the back of the pack on the timeline, now back to opening a new building in 2018, when not even its current kindergarteners will still be there.

But before we jump ahead to the details – a touching moment, with one participant wanting to say thanks. The list of public commenters is drawn up in the days before the meeting; they have 20 spots (extended tonight to 25) and you have to call or e-mail to get a spot. Priority is given to people who want to talk about something the board is voting on – so the people who wanted to speak about the board’s resolution to oppose charter-schools Initiative 1240 got many of the slots.

Second from last on the waiting list – which was as long as the guaranteed list – was Robin Graham, co-president of the K-5 STEM at Boren PTSA. Zero chance she would get to speak about their big issue – the fact no permanent home is designated for their school, which the district has taken to describing as a “program.”

During the public-comment period, “something just amazing happened,” as she put it in e-mail to us after the meeting – something for which Graham wanted to share this public thank-you:

Dear Arbor Heights Community,

I wanted to thank you for giving the STEM community the opportunity to speak at the Oct 17th School Board Meeting. The fact that you so gracefully ceded your spot to another parent so we could speak to the board speaks volumes about the amazing people you are. We were so disappointed to only have spots on the wait list, so this was truly a gift you gave our community.

We are so hopeful that your communities zealous advocacy on behalf of your children and families will pay off.

With hope, respect, and big props,
Robin Graham
Co-President K-5 STEM

We happened to be recording handheld video from the front row in the auditorium, as a scheduled AH speaker yielded to Graham, who voiced support for AH as well as advocating for STEM:

Earlier in the day, during our tour of Arbor Heights with 2 parents, principal Christy Collins, and school board president Michael DeBell, Arbor Heights community members made impassioned pleas too, as they did during the meeting. We will add the full official video once it’s archived online.

Otherwise, since no vote was taken Wednesday night – there was nothing for BEX-watchers to do but try to read between the lines of the questions that were asked and comments that were made.

After assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy ran through the latest version of the PowerPoint – which was supplemented in district documents by this project list with dates – came the moment when board member Peaslee asked, “What would it take to move Arbor Heights forward on the levy?”

McEvoy’s answer did not address whether Arbor Heights could officially move up in the levy timeline, but reiterated what we had heard from DeBell at the school earlier in the day – that there are alternative financing methods that could be used but couldn’t be chosen until the levy had passed.

Duggan Harmon, assistant superintendent for business and finance, cited “internal borrowing” from the “community schools reserve,” or maybe “short-term borrowing,” which “looks good now,” but, he cautioned, could change. What will be done with Schmitz Park once the school moves to Genesee Hill? Peaslee then asks. McEvoy says nothing’s been decided yet, “to be determined,” but says it’ll be discussed with the community among others.

Shortly thereafter, West Seattle’s school-board member Marty McLaren said she has spoken to the Schmitz family – which donated the land – and their main concern is that it stay open as Schmitz Park Elementary School.

Regarding Arbor Heights, McLaren referred back to a non-West Seattleite’s suggestion in public comments that Thornton Creek (a north-end project) and Arbor Heights be switched. McLaren asked McEvoy whether that could work. McEvoy’s reply: That “it is one of the things we did look at. … What we found is that we were going to have to roll up into interim sites to make that work.” Those interim sites have limited capacity, McEvoy elaborated.

Board member Betty Patu asked, so what are we doing NOW for Arbor Heights about kids having to wear coats in the classroom and other problems? “We’ve been working with the maintenance department to be sure we’re on top of any safety issues and concerns … (including) the heating system,” Lucy Morello replied. She said she thought they had already addressed those concerns, and “as far as I know everything has been addressed.” McEvoy then said they weren’t going to replace the boiler because the building will (eventually) be razed. But, she added, “if we need to escalate and move them into (Boren) in order to present them a learning environment.” She said that she understood the community would rather stay at Arbor Heights for now.

Concluding the review and remarks, DeBell said he thought the overall BEX IV plan was strong. Superintendent José Banda used that word too.

The other mentions of the BEX projects/schools came early in the meeting – before the action and introduction meetings – there is always a “board comment” section. During that, McLaren said she again wanted to offer kudos to the community because “parents from a multitude of West Seattle communities have come together to brainstorm and support (each other)” in seeking solutions to the district’s problems in WS. “I think that you all are modeling a way of community engagement that all of us in the city can learn from and be inspired by – putting aside your differences and coming together in support of our children.”

She also noted that her next community-conversation meeting is October 30th 9:45-11:15 am at Concord International Elementary School in South Park.

Board member Kay Smith-Blum pointed out that the teaching and learning staff is accountable for deciding which programs go to which buildings (though she did not mention STEM specifically), not the capital projects staff that decided on the levy list.

Sherry Carr (who also had visited Arbor Heights) warned that the choices would be tough and a lot of deserving projects/schools are out there.

DeBell lauded AH as “a real community” and thanked them for their hospitality this morning. “Trying to connect with those communities that are affected is an important part of good governance.” He then said he agreed with Carr that tough decisions are ahead and they have a responsibility to the entire city and not everyone will get everything they want, and that’s just the way it goes “in an era of scarce resources.”

WHAT’S NEXT RE: BEX: The October 24th public-comment meeting (next Wednesday) will run for an hour, 4-5 pm, which means at least 20 speakers at two minutes each. Then the November 7th School Board meeting, at which the final list will be voted on, will have the traditional public-comment period of at least 20.

Other meeting notes of West Seattle interest:

BOARD OPPOSES CHARTER SCHOOLS INITIATIVE 1240: Much of tonight’s public comment focused on the board’s resolution opposing charter-schools I-1240. Only one of the speakers voiced support for it.

TEACH FOR AMERICA CORPS MEMBER FOR SEALTH? Michelle Mark, a Teach for America corps member, was seeking conditional certification so she can become a science teacher at Chief Sealth International High School. Several people spoke in her support during the public-comment period, and she also spoke, talking about her work at the UW. Board member Sharon Peaslee asked the assistant superintendent for HR, Paul Apostle, why a teacher is being hired so late in the year. She asked what experience Mark had with special education and English language learners. Apostle said that Mark worked with students with “a variety of needs and challenges” in a summer-school program in Chicago. Board member Harium Martin-Morris said he is familiar with the program through which Mark went and that it’s rigorous. West Seattle’s board rep Marty McLaren said she talked to Sealth principal Chris Kinsey and that he is confident Mark is a highly qualified applicant.

CITY YEAR: Toward the start of the meeting, the board heard a presentation by CityYear – whose red-jacketed young corps members (17 to 24 years old) half-filled the auditorium. A student from Roxhill Elementary – “scholar” as principal Sahnica Washington and her staff call them – spoke briefly. And principals from CityYear schools, including those in West Seattle, were in the audience. School-board member Betty Patu says she is glad to see “young people turning their life to help others.” CityYear is funded by donations, by AmeriCorps, and by “schoolhouse budgets” including some levy dollars. Roxhill is one of three CityYear schools in West Seattle; the other two are Highland Park Elementary and Denny International Middle School. Their executive director told the board, when asked, that their 67 corps members in Seattle schools each costs about $40,000 a year. Know someone who might want to join CityYear? Find info here.

The board usually meets the first and third Wednesdays, 4:15 pm at district HQ in SODO, with routine items first, public comment at 5 pm sharp, then back to the agenda with action/introduction items. If you want to speak at a board meeting, you need to call/e-mail starting first thing the preceding Monday morning to get a spot.

33 Replies to "School Board hears again from West Seattle advocates as almost-finalized BEX levy is officially introduced"

  • Westseattleperson October 18, 2012 (6:41 am)

    Way to go West Seattleites!

    I’m finding the whole school funding issue quite depressing now that I have kids in school and am more aware.

    The state of many schools in the area is downright embarrassing (AH is really bad, but even Schmitz Park and lafayette which the district deems in good shape are not much better appearance and use-wise. Part of the problem is unfortunate architecture from the post-war era, but the lack of maintenance is obvious.

    I would love to read an article about how our schools are funded, especially compared to other areas. It doesn’t seem like the levy approach is all that common in other parts of the country, but from comparisons to a few friends who live elsewhere, our property taxes aren’t that high either. How much does the state give? Do lottery proceeds provide? Taxes? Levys? Etc.

    And the very real real concern of just how much the district spends on “special programs” like the ones in last year’s financial scandal. Honestly, if I didn’t have kids, no way would I vote yes for a levy based on that alone.

    Anyway, is there a good, simple source anyone knows of for getting this info?

  • kayo October 18, 2012 (7:20 am)

    So proud of Robin, the Arbor Heights and STEM communities for joining together and speaking out. Great job. I hope the school board heard you and does the right thing for both of your communities and all of West Seattle.

  • A October 18, 2012 (7:39 am)

    Don’t trust them them with money and still voting NO on BEX. Yes on 1240 Charter schools.

  • Jessica Pierce October 18, 2012 (7:57 am)

    Thanks again WSB for thorough coverage of our issues at AH and WS schools! For more information also see the Seattle Times article online this a.m. about AH and BEX. Good stuff! For our advocates and community members, please feel free to drop board members an email stating your support of this most worthy cause! Their emails are all available online at the School District Website.

  • Euripides October 18, 2012 (8:18 am)

    I don’t trust them with my money either – likely voting No on BEX.

    But anyone who think Charter schools is a fix is fooling themselves. Right now when we have issues with schools, at least we have some accountability in the form of school board officials whom we can fire. Charter schools will have no public accountability at all – I’m not giving my tax dollars where there is absolutely no control over how it is spent.

    And every credible study shows that charter schools do no better (and sometimes worse) than regular schools.

    Being fed up with SPS does not mean you need to vote yes on 1240 – it simply makes a bad situation worse.

  • Bonnie October 18, 2012 (8:35 am)

    Link to the Seattle Times article:

  • Joe October 18, 2012 (8:36 am)

    All of this is another reason to vote against Eyman’s 1185 2/3s nonsense.

    A vote for that initiative is a vote against trivially raising required funding for our children.

  • N.A. Neighbor October 18, 2012 (8:38 am)

    I am absolutely inspired and moved by the work that AH and STEM have done to support each other, and the rest of the folks who have come together. Robin and her PTA team and the team from Arbor Heights deserve the respect and admiration of all of us who work hard on behalf of our kids and schools. This is what it’s all about. THIS story deserves 131 comments.

  • Anne October 18, 2012 (8:43 am)

    Disagree strongly Euripides.. I am voting no on BEX & yes on Charter Schools. You say that right now if we have issues with SPS we have some accountability , really??? Every year we demand better from them & every year there is some new scandal involving money & management.. ..accountability means nothing to SPS & doing nothing is a poor option. I am ready to try something new.

  • Trying! October 18, 2012 (9:14 am)

    Where the money will go; Genesee Hill School to replace Schmitz Park. This will be very costly due to the steep drop-off and confirguration of the property. It will have to be a tear-down and next, the difficult task of fitting a 650 student school on a small footprint (the land is split in half by a steep drop-off). Meanwhile, the more suitable Schmitz Park property will be abandoned despite the wishes of the Schmitz family.
    ‘Shortly thereafter, West Seattle’s school-board member Marty McLaren said she has spoken to the Schmitz family – which donated the land – and their main concern is that it stay open as Schmitz Park Elementary School.’

  • WSratsinacage October 18, 2012 (9:21 am)

    I am happy Arbor Heights is advocating strongly, however, as westseattleperson pointed out, many schools in West Seattle are sub par and over crowded. I hope Schmitz and Lafayette get the help they need. Just don’t want AH to overshadow the general need in WS. Voting yes on BEX!
    My dream is that someone like Paul Allen with billions of dollars would come along and fix this mess vs building a stadium. What does is say about a community when they would rather pay attention to sports vs children/education/our future? I mean, I agree people can do whatever they want with their money, it just seems like society has it’s priorities out of whack.
    If you don’t have kids in SPS, think about those that do when you vote. A lot of us are hurting now and we need help. And I agree SPS has a lot to make up for in the credibility department.

  • Cid October 18, 2012 (9:31 am)

    Anne do you have children in public school? Voting yes on Charter Schools is NOT the answer. You may not agree with Euripides…but the facts do show that Charter schools often do worse, with less accountability.

  • No on I-1240 October 18, 2012 (9:58 am)

    Fifteen percent of charters fail due to financial mismanagement. That means 6 of the 40 charters allowed under 1240 will shut their doors and further burden our public schools. They’re managed by appointees who could care less what you think. They can take over public school buildings (like one of our newest at Southshore) at below market value, then collect rents through a front company.

    Yeah, it’s AAALLL good!

  • JD October 18, 2012 (10:04 am)

    Another No vote to the Levy and Yes to charters here. If I had kids no way I would send them to a SPS

  • Euripides October 18, 2012 (10:54 am)

    Anne & JD,

    Your comments make me sad, but more, they make me worry for the future. The “anything is better than what we’ve got” philosophy isn’t always best. No question SPS is bad and doing nothing is a poor option – agreed. But have you considered that charter schools might be worse?

    If we (as citizens and voters) want accountability, WE need to demand it, not hope the school board will. That means going to School Board meetings, writing School board officials, writing SPS administrators. I don’t consider myself highly involved politically, but I care about my (and others’) kids, and over the past five years I’ve been to five school board meetings (delivering public testimony twice) and written over a dozen letters. Simply turning over our schools to people who have absolutely no reason to even listen to me is not going to solve our problems – parents getting in SPS’ face could.

    Charter schools are simply a shortcut, pushed by a bunch of rich people with little experience of public schools (Bill Gates, the Wal-Mart family anyone?). But they’re no substitute for the hard work of actually turning schools around. My kids go to Sealth right now – when we moved to Seattle Sealth seemed like a war zone, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of letting my kids with 500 yards of it. Things can change – not always easily and quickly, but they do. Charter schools is just trying to wash our hands of the problem with a simple-sounding solution, and I wish people wouldn’t be fooled into thinking they are a magic cure.

  • ladyblue October 18, 2012 (11:03 am)

    AMEN Euripides! I was at the school board meeting last night and I can tell you that the majority of people there either work at SPS, are families/staff from AH and the CityYear folk. Where are all the people who simply complain here? If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

    Where do people suppose students go if BEX IV does not pass, more buildings crumble and there are no added seats for the influx of students?
    It can be said we all agree there is huge disappointment with how things have been managed, but simply saying “we’re quitting SPS children” isn’t the answer (nor will it ‘stick it’ to the district peeps at whom your complaints are directed at).

    Those who do not have students in SPS schools should talk to those who do. Form an educated opinion.

    P.S. Come visit Arbor Heights or overcrowded schools and then see how you feel.

  • AH Parent October 18, 2012 (11:04 am)

    So now I am wondering if the district will just redo the boundaries and not have an ‘arbor heights’ school at all… filter all of WS students to the north end buildings when those are rebuilt first and larger. Paying to bus kids is probably cheaper than building a new school in a neighborhood where the demographics may not show enough student growth down the road to warrant a school. I say all this because they have NOT promised us (AH school) anything. There are too many variables in voting this Nov and Feb next Spring.

  • Val Vashon October 18, 2012 (11:49 am)

    From the voters guide in The Stranger:

    “A widely cited Stanford study finds that 17 percent of charter schools do substantially better, while 37 percent do substantially worse. Maybe it’s our public school education, but we don’t like those odds.”

    Charter schools are about profit making for private corporations. Why do you think that Alice Walton, the Bezos family, Paul Allen and Bill Gates support these schools? Because most of them can make money directly from the education programs presented in the charter schools, Bill Gates especially. Charter schools typically pay top administrators well and teachers peanuts, thus reinforcing the private profit at public expense theory.

    What’s next- charter fire stations? charter roads (we’re almost there)? charter police stations?

  • AH Parent October 18, 2012 (12:34 pm)

    I also wonder if some of our parents wanting a new school but agreeing to STAY in an old unhealthy building is sending a mixed message to the district. Yes, it’s easy to have a neighborhood school, but if Boren is so much cleaner – isn’t in an obvious choice to move? I would agree to be relocated.

  • Trying! October 18, 2012 (12:35 pm)

    THis doesn’t mean much unless we know how the students were doing before the Charter school was established? A Charter school’s students in a troubled area could be below other schools but still be superior to what was available before the new school. 46 States have Charter schools.
    “A widely cited Stanford study finds that 17 percent of charter schools do substantially better, while 37 percent do substantially worse. Maybe it’s our public school education, but we don’t like those odds.”

  • Anne October 18, 2012 (12:55 pm)

    NOT saying “anything is better than nothing”–saying Charter Schools can be a valid option for parents-how many times do we trust SPS to do the right thing-how many years –5-10-? do we demand accountability-and never see it? How many chances do we give them-how much money do we give-only to have again & again some scam come to light. This isn’t a decision that comes lightly-or quickly for me. But I no longer trust SPS to do the right thing & their claims/promises of accountability are hollow. Our kids Do deserve better-I happen to think Charter Schools can BE that change.

  • Ann October 18, 2012 (1:01 pm)


    I don’t think we need to worry about AHE overshadowing the rest of the school needs in WS. Our school has spent probably most of the past 64 years being over shadowed. In case you have not been paying attention the Levy priorities, we are practically last and have been on the past two Levys and the funds went dry before they could get to AHE. I encourage you to visit and tour our school and then think about how much AH “over shadows” the other schools.

    I have been a parent there for seven years now and during that time our school has been considered for closure twice and it may possibly be up a third time if some serious renovations are not made.

    To be honest I am getting burned out with it all, as I am sure many other parents and staff are.

  • Trying! October 18, 2012 (1:04 pm)

    Val Vashon, here is the entire quote that The Stranger is using in the article you are referring to in your statement:
    “….and students in the remaining 46 percent of charter schools did not perform significantly better or worse than if they had attended their neighborhood traditional public school. However, research also shows that students in charter high schools score higher on college entrance exams (e.g., the SAT or ACT) and are more likely to graduate high school and attend college than similar students in traditional public schools.” Data F1rst, Jim Hull, Center for Public Education

  • Kelly October 18, 2012 (1:10 pm)

    We are not even giving public schools a chance since we are not adequately funding them. It is egregious that we think so little of our teachers and other educators that we are on the verge of being bought out by a handful of uber-rich non-educators who see dollar signs when they think about charter schools.

    Charter schools are not a magic bullet. They have mixed results while weeding out special needs kids, behavior issues, and English Language learners. These are the kids that generally require the most resources to educate. Public schools cannot and will not turn any child away. But charters consistently find a way to do this. And then we compare their “results,” their test scores to public schools and find they are doing about the same, worse in some areas and a little better in others. But we are not comparing apples to apples, with the charters skimming students.

    Please do your homework on the charter schools initiative. It is true that is funded to the tune of $8.2 MILLION dollars by the Waltons, Bezos family, and the Gates family, among a few others. There is no groundswell of parents or teachers backing this initiative. Yes on 1240 is going to have lots of TV and radio spots in the next few weeks. Why? Because $8.2 million can buy a lot of commercials.

    And I don’t understand the argument about voting down BEX but voting yes on charters. Where exactly do you think the money for charters will come from? They will have to share the already woefully inadequate pot from which public schools try to operate.

    I know of no profession whose professional opinion is more disregarded than that of teachers. If we truly want to fix our education system, let’s start listening to the people who practice teaching for a living. Let’s fully fund our existing schools. When we have allow teachers to exercise professional discretion and we give our schools the resources they need, we will have good and lasting change.

    I urge you to look at all the facts and vote no on 1240. Thank you.

  • Bonnie October 18, 2012 (1:29 pm)

    wsratsinacage, I have to agree with Ann. Arbor Heights has been ignored for so long that how could they possibly over-shadow Schmitz Park or Lafayette. I’m offended you even said that. Over shadowing? Really? All schools should be equal so why should we have such a bad building?

  • WSMama3 October 18, 2012 (1:43 pm)

    WSratsinacage – if you listen to my testimony linked above I make mention of the fact that capacity is a huge issue for West Seattle (and ask the Board to to SP@G and leave Old SP open). Families are not saying we don’t want capacity dealt with.

    This is the crux of the issue – we don’t need to prove who has it worse. West Seattle is in desperate need of BEX funding. Capacity and old buildings are both equally awful problems and need to both be addressed with long term plans NOW.

    We as a community are done arguing with each other – schools know what support they need and the entire community should rally behind schools that cry “help!”!

    Before I had kids I would have voted no for BEX funding. I can’t describe the effect that not passing the levy would have on our community. Does SPS operate as an ineffective government agency? Yes. But, voting no to the levy and yes to charter schools will directly impact our communities children in profoundly negative ways. Please research these topics very carefully (with special attention to the studies quoted since many studies are not scientific) and make your decision based on fact.

    Thanks again to Arbor Heights – seriously. Super classy, amazing, neighborhood-ly move that STEM will not forget.

    Robin Graham

  • Bonnie October 18, 2012 (2:25 pm)

    WSMama3, I agree. Let’s advocate for all West Seattle children. Not just certain ones. It shouldn’t be only kids from certain schools.

    Last May I volunteered for the West Seattle 5K. I volunteered for it instead of running it because I ran a 15K the day before and wanted to rest. So anyways, I bring my 8 year old daughter and one of the teachers at West Seattle said to my daughter ‘Are you going to be a future West Seattle student?’ My daughter says ‘No, I’m going to go to Sealth.’ This English teacher got all bent out of shape and asked me ‘Why, as a future Sealth parent, would you volunteer for West Seattle?’ I replied ‘Because we are all West Seattle, aren’t we?’

    And that is true. We are ALL West Seattle. The kids who go to Arbor Heights, Roxhill, Highland Park, Sanislo, West Seattle, Lafayette, Schmitz Park, Gatewood, Alki, Pathfinder, STEM and even Concord (goes to Denny/Sealth)are all West Seattle. (did I miss anybody??)

  • sam-c October 18, 2012 (3:14 pm)

    WSMama3- “Before I had kids I would have voted no for BEX funding”


    I’ve voted for all but 1 levy since I moved to Seattle BEX levies, transportation levies. whether I had kids or not, when I owned a house or did not. voted for car tabs, etc. the funding for all these things in our state is so bad without an income tax in the state.

    maybe it’s thinking like that “I don’t have kids so i won’t vote for this levy” that got us where we are now,.. poor bus service, crappy roadways, rundown schools.

  • Euripides October 18, 2012 (3:23 pm)

    I have to say, I am strongly tempted to vote no on BEX (as well as voting no on charters). Perhaps this is a moment for accountability: if SPS doesn’t see that AH needs to be higher on its list, then they can’t have my money.

    My guess (my hope?) is that if the levy is voted down, they’ll go off and make changes to BEX and bring it back to voters. I certainly don’t want to see our kids harmed, but it’s pretty clear that AH kids are suffering daily harm in a way that kids in other schools slated for earlier work are not. I’d be curious to hear from AH parents – if your building stays at 2018 on the list, is that worth voting yes on?

  • Bonnie October 18, 2012 (4:05 pm)

    I’m tempted to vote no if AH isn’t moved up. But I really don’t trust that the work will ever be done if AH isn’t moved up because they are probably still free to change things around and still do what they want. I will probably still vote yes though because I care about all kids in WS.

  • WSMama3 October 18, 2012 (4:14 pm)

    Sam-c. I didn’t vote for levy’s pre kids because I didn’t live here – should have been clearer above. That said – I now see the impact it would have on me, my kids, and my community in a way I would have had no idea about before having kids in the system.

  • Jen Boyer October 18, 2012 (5:09 pm)

    Euripides, YES, even if we’re 2018, we’re voting yes as AH parents. Because once this levy is approved, there are potential options to get our school moved up a bit if conditions are right to get to others ahead of us simultaneously, as well as some other financing options that are available with such low interest rates. That can ONLY happen if BEX is passed.

  • evergreen October 18, 2012 (5:52 pm)

    Another SPS parent here for charters. Absolutely, 100%, without reservations. I’ve heard the opposing arguments, but think they are flawed. We don’t have accountability from SPS, and parents don’t have a voice. At all. Despite the letter writing campaigns and protests and public statements at school board meetings.

Sorry, comment time is over.