(Slide deck from last night’s meeting – see it here as a PDF)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Why DOES Seattle Public Schools put its levies on a “special election” ballot in February, instead of November when everything else is out to be voted on?
That was one of the questions asked – and answered – as the district led an informational meeting at West Seattle High School last night about the two levies it plans to put before you on February 9th, 2016, known as Operations and BTA IV (background info here).
This was the third in the district’s second series of five citywide meetings, deputy superintendent Flip Herndon said, and by far the best turnout, by multiple accounts – about three dozen people, around half there to show support for a project that’s not on the levy’s draft project list, the West Seattle Indoor Tennis proposal – yet.
The BTA levies, of which this is the fourth (therefore the IV), run for six years; the full name is the Buildings, Technology, and Athletics/Academics Capital Levy. The Operations Levy is for three years, and it also is on the February 9th ballot. What it’ll cost you depends on the assessed value of your home and the total assessed value of all Seattle property. Herndon said much of the increasing price tag of the levies is attributable to the district adding 8,000 students since bottoming out around 45,000 in 2007 (less than half its historic high in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Herndon noted).
ABOUT THE OPERATIONS LEVY
*25 percent of district’s annual operating costs (among other sources, 55 percent comes from state, 8.5% from federal)
*That covers “day to day educational programs/services not fully funded by the state,” including teachers, textbooks, special ed, building security, activities such as arts & athletics
*Amount is “calculated based on prior years’ state and federal revenue plus “per-pupil inflator” x “authority” percentage = maximum amount that can be collected. The estimated amounts of what it’ll bring in over the next three years:
$229.4 million – 2017
$250.3 million – 2018
$278.6 million – 2019
ABOUT THE BTA IV LEVY
The one approved by voters in 2010 was for $270 million, while this one is for $475 million, 43 cents estimated per $1,000 assessed property value.
That bottomed out at 45,000 in 2007 while last year almost 53,000. (In the late ’50s/early ’60s, Seattle had 100,000 students.)
Key points of what its money is to go toward:
Buildings – $335.4 million
-Adding 2,050 student seats (including reopening EC Hughes Elementary), $87.8 million
-Property acquisition, $15 million
$114.8 million building systems
$12.4 million district-wide spport projects
$18 million in major preventive maintenance
$11 million in project management
$72.8 million in “project levy escalation/program contingency” (e.g. inflation, overruns)
$3.6 million capital-eligible projects
With the passage of this levy, the maintenance backlog, once $500 million, will drop to $250 million, the district says.
There wasn’t much said about the renovation/expansion/reopening of EC Hughes Elementary (7740 34th SW in Sunrise Heights), now empty after five years as the interim home of Westside School (WSB sponsor), which in turn followed more than 20 years as an interim/emergency site for various SPS schools/programs – only that the district hopes it will be ready to open for ~550 students in fall 2018.
This part of the BTA IV levy was discussed in the prism of “technology vision” by the district’s chief information officer Carmen Rahm, who presided over a meeting at WSHS back in March, the “tech town hall” (covered here). Sixty percent of current funding for the Department of Technology Services comes from levies, he said. There was a $92 million tech request for BEX IV three years ago, but it was almost halved. 11,000 devices in the school that are “beyond support,” he said.
Technology is seeking $104.7 million, $29 million of that for “student learning” – classroom equipment, labs, etc. $27 million would go to “instructional support / delivery.” Then physical safety and security, information/data security & privacy, various support, to $30 million.
Rahm said the current state of technology in the district is nowhere near what it should be; he put up a slide with lots of red squares marking deficiencies, green ones for the few successes, and said, “I want to be all green.” Up to 20,000 new devices will be “in the hands of students over the first three years of this levy,” he declared. And he said the district would like to upgrade processes to get into the 21st century – have admission to athletic events payable cash-free on site, for example.
The levy’s $35.2 million was broken down as:
$3.5 million for test (“assessment”) system licenses
$4.8 million for special-ed program modifications
$5 million for lab space to get middle and high schools more STEM learning
$8.3 million for program placement – modify a space when they start a new program somewhere
$13.6 million replace turf sports fields where needed, provide field lighting as needed to improve cost efficiencies
Almost everything was presented as a district-wide topline, rather than broken down into which schools are in line for what.
This began with the West Seattle Indoor Tennis supporters waving their rackets en masse with a declaration that they hope their project will be included in the levy. (Nominations were sought in April; a sheet listing nominees was circulated last night, and this one had a notation that it might be more suitable for the next BEX levy.) We wrote about the proposal in July, but community members have been working on it for two years:
(Rendering by Ryan Applegate)
In short, they’re working toward an indoor-tennis facility where the newer outdoor Denny/Sealth courts are, just west of Southwest Pool, on part of the old Denny International Middle School site (downhill from the main clearing still held in reserve for a potential new school someday).
Herndon explained the process of getting projects into the levy and the fact that many don’t make it on the first, second, even third try. He wasn’t too familiar with the proposal, but supporters explained the $24,400 grant they’ve just received from the city to conduct a feasibility study – which is just getting going right now (with a solicitation posted online today, looking for someone to do the study).
Whether they make the levy or not, supporters declared, they’ll continue working with the district and “you’ll continue to hear from us.” Organizers tell us they will have three community meetings about WS Indoor Tennis before year’s end – no dates yet, but we’ll publish announcements and you can also track ongoing developments via the group’s Facebook page.
There was a question about funding for community-based organizations operating from schools; the district officials didn’t think they were quite in the scope.
Then the question: Why not put levies like this on the November ballot? an attendee asked.
The answer touched on several points:
*November is “typically a very heavy legislative election, we don’t want to get buried” beneath other issues
*Schools are only allowed to put levies on the ballot in four months – besides November, the months are February, April, and August
*August is typically low turnout, and undesirable as a result, so that leaves February or April, and “research shows” February is best
After an hour, the group meeting adjourned and those on hand were offered the chance to talk with district officials one on one. Conversations were still going when we left about 10 minutes later.
Two more meetings are planned – the first one is tonight at Roosevelt High School in North Seattle, at 6:30 pm. The School Board will have to finalize the levies’ language before officially sending them to the February ballot.