WEST SEATTLE SCHOOLS: Toplines from board’s BEX V levy-planning session

March 29, 2018 2:01 pm
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We sat in last night on the School Board‘s three-hour-plus work session looking ahead to next year’s BEX V levy, to listen for more hints on which West Seattle schools might make the list for rebuilds, expansions, and/or renovations. Decisions are still months away, but with a community meeting coming up next week, here are the toplines of what we heard:

SPECIFIC SCHOOLS: No additions/deletions from West Seattle since our preview the other day. Schools under consideration for major projects remain broken out into two lists – capacity (more space needed) and condition (how dilapidated are they?). Alki, Lafayette, and Roxhill are on both lists. The capacity list also includes Madison Middle School, where portables are planned, and the condition list also includes Boren STEM K-8 and Schmitz Park.

The condition list got very little discussion because the information has been the same since a districtwide report in 2014. As for the capacity list – first, district official Ashley Davies went over the enrollment-projection numbers.

Enrollment growth wasn’t always correlated with housing growth, and Davies says our area – “southwest” as the district labels it – is not seeing student growth correlating to housing growth. “That seems extraordinarily counterintuitive to me,” said board president and West Seattle/South Park rep Leslie Harris, pointing out that eastern West Seattle neighborhoods are affordable and in her area of Highland Park, “there is a baby boom!”

In discussing other related issues, Harris asked what percentage of the market SPS has lost to private schools: “Do we track that data?” Not really. The state tracks private schools that have enrolled within their boundaries, but homeschooling is not tracked, she was told. The loss has been 10 to 20 percent in recent years, a staffer says: “When the economy went south, we picked up a lot more students, because people were not able to pay for tuition.”

The city is now working with the district in sharing data and coordinating planning. One note: HALA upzoning is expected to bring an additional 1,200 students to the district in the years ahead. (At another point in the meeting, Harris reminded city reps that the district was not brought into HALA MHA planning discussions.)

When they got to specific schools and capacity, the student/teacher ratio was a major topic, with mandates for lower class sizes potentially requiring more space, and therefore costing the district more, as space needs to be built. So with Roxhill moving this fall into EC Hughes, which the district is reopening, how did this area wind up with a projected space shortage? asked board member Eden Mack. Because of the class-size reduction, said a district staffer. Changing the ratios creates a capacity problem.

As for what happens with the Roxhill building after this fall’s move: “We haven’t decided which path is the best going forward” for Roxhill, said a district official, but reopening it would be an obvious solution. The building is “beyond awful,” Harris noted, adding that she is very concerned about Roxhill, post-move, becoming an eyesore. She raises equity issues dating back 20-some-odd years. “We need to be darn creative and respectful to the community.”

There could be a capacity issue coming for Denny International Middle School, staff added.

In north West Seattle, Madison could be a candidate for an addition, since it’s already facing capacity issues, which is why four portables are proposed for the site. Harris wondered about Pathfinder K-8 maybe getting an addition to help as a solution. Assistant superintendent Dr. Flip Herndon says option schools do help with capacity but they traditionally haven’t built additions to them.

No high school issues in our area at this point.

They’ll keep “refin(ing) and evaluat(ing)” the analysis. Mack wondered if they should be seeking other funding sources for K-3 class-size reduction – maybe do an analysis with the costs included and not included.

At another point in the meeting, related to capacity, school-board member Rick Burke wondered if reducing portable use could be a goal. Another member, Zachary DeWolf, thought it would be OK to say that they are interested in reducing them. The district has more than 300 currently in use, staff said when asked. How many school buildings would that equal? wondered Mack. “Eight to twelve.”

That issue came up in a discussion of the levy’s “guiding principles.” Some suggestions included equity, building safety/security, building conditions. Are we done with seismic work? asked board member Jill Geary. Staff said basically, yes – once all the BEX IV projects are done.

Also discussed: The plan to include technology needs in the levy, because the BTA IV levy will be expiring as BEX V money starts arriving. That led to Harris voicing concern about levy fatigue and levy confusion. “If we start framing this as BTA and BEX being the equivalent, I think we are asking for trouble, and it scares me to death.” Staff said they have to be clear to voters that technology “is an operational cost.”

Speaking of cost … that of course is the big question, how large will the levy be? Staff presented a variety of stats showing that because of higher valuations, the current levy rate is far lower than originally expected. (Someone finally pointed out, though, that doesn’t mean it’s costing a property owner less.) Right now BEX IV is costing property owners 54 cents per $1,000 valuation, and that’ll go down below 50 cents next year. “Almost any district would love to have this low of a rate,” Herndon said. Might BEX V end up seeking $900 million? Could be the largest school levy ever. “We want to be very clear about where taxpayer dollars are going … but we also are trying to clearly articulate what our needs are.”

NEXT STEPS: The community meeting at Madison next Tuesday (April 3rd), 6:30 pm, is your next chance to comment on what the levy should include. The rest of the decisionmaking timeline after that:

• April 2018: Community Meetings Discuss Capacity & Assessment Criteria/Board Guiding Principles
• May 2018: Community Input/Feedback Summary to Board/Planning Team
• June 2018: Home Language Focus Groups Meetings
• June 2018: Community Input/Feedback Summary to Board/Planning Team
• Sept. 2018: Community Meetings to Present Recommended Levies Scope
• Oct. 2018: Community Input/Feedback Summary to Board/Planning Team
• Oct./Nov. 2018: Levies 2019 Public Hearing between Board Intro and Action
• Oct./Nov. 2018: News release on School Board Action
• Dec. 2018: “A Report to the Community” Brochure Distributed to Community
• Jan. 2019: “Levies Information 2019” Brochure Distributed/Posted
• Feb. 2019: News Release on Election Outcome

Though Election Day was mentioned as February 5th during the meeting, the state website says it’s actually February 12th.

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