Seattle Public Schools has numerous schools “bursting at the seams,” attendees were told last night at the final West Seattle community meeting before the School Board finalizes the six-year BEX V levy that will be sent to voters next year, largely to raise money to build and expand schools around the city.
The meeting – with about 25 in attendance – scattered around the West Seattle High School Commons – also addressed the three-year Operations Levy that’ll be on the same ballot.
But the staff presentation was much more about trying to explain why the levies are needed, than what they would pay for. For West Seattle, for example, there are some big decisions to be made – which school(s) will be rebuilt/expanded?
And it was clear the district is desperate to clarify what West Seattle-residing board president Leslie Harris has described as “levy confusion” – right from the first slides presented by JoLynn Berge, assistant superintendent for Business and Finance (what’s embedded below is the entire slide deck from the series of community meetings):
Tough to explain the state vs. city education-levy situation in just a few slides, but it’s vital, given that many of the voters who will likely be looking at a billion-plus in levies in February are also already dealing with the Legislature-approved property-tax increases that they heard would “fix” education funding. Berge also hit on the Legislature-set levy cap, and a “remaining gap in state basic education funding” for special education.
Capital Projects planning director Richard Best then got down to BEX V basics. He mentioned West Seattle projects from the expiring BEX IV levy – new Arbor Heights (at capacity) and Genesee Hill (exceeding capacity) and expanded Fairmount Park elementaries. Besides the new or newly expanded schools, the district has added new classrooms through portables, repurposing space, etc.
But beyond that, there’s a lot of need, Best said – billions of dollars in all. That full list “will not be moving forward,” he said. The first local potential project he mentioned is Lafayette Elementary, saying that it might be designated a historic landmark and that would significantly affect what kind of project would be possible. Before going through a possible local list, he took questions. He also explained the principles the board is using for “scoring and relative ranking of proposed projects.”
On September 26th, the board will “begin refining this list,” Best said, pointing to the August 22nd board presentation with mounds of data on all this (as featured in our story here).
Then he got briefly to the potential project list – touching on other areas as well as ours. He sidetracked into a mention of seeking an “interim site” for the southeast area and a side mention that Schmitz Park is a potential interim site for our area.
More questions: Whatever happened to the possibility that Alki and Lafayette would be modernized at the same time? That won’t be happening, said Best. They’d be modernized one at a time because they couldn’t both be housed at Schmitz Park. They’re working on a plan for the “different scenarios,” he said.
What about projects that aren’t labeled Priority 1? asked a Sanislo Elementary parent who noted that several lower-priority projects were mentioned for that school. The board has yet to decide what’ll make the ballot measure, Best reiterated.
Asked how many of the BEX IV projects had been completed – 13 of 17, said Best, and all but 1 of the remaining four are under construction. In addition, they had a 3 percent budget contingency and have not exceeded it for any of the projects.
A West Seattleite wondered what would happen if Roxhill’s rebuild made the final list – while it’s on the potential-project list, it wasn’t on the map of potential projects displayed on an easel at the meeting:
If the Roxhill building was rebuilt, would the program move “back” to the new building? That’s the current presumption – but they would have to have a conversation with the school community, given the excitement over the move to a newly renovated EC Hughes building, Best said. He then went on to infer it’s mostly a moot point because if the district expanded West Seattle Elementary – also on the potential-project list for BEX V – they wouldn’t have to rebuild Roxhill to handle the needed south-end capacity “So it’s an either/or situation,” said Best.
John Krull, the tech exec for the district, also gave a presentation. His department’s needs are a long list too – upgrades, modernizing 625 classrooms at $15,000/classroom, etc. Is a district central business system part of this? asked an attendee, and if so, how do they avoid the trials and tribulations that have befallen other public agencies? Krull said they’d put in a lot of planning. What about take-home tech for students? he was asked. They’re not quite there but working on it in relation to equity, he said.
A parent of a “future Alki student” wondered about the ranking system used in the documents and how that would factor into decisionmaking. “That is a school board decision,” declared Best. Board member Eden Mack tried to explain how that would work, then asked “Does that make sense?”
“I guess so,” said the parent, going on to ask for clarification about what number of projects might be chosen, for example. She said they would be looking at levels of urgency. “We know we’re not going to be able to fix everything,” said Mack.
Board president Harris then noted that her next community conversation is 3-5 pm September 22nd at Southwest Library (9010 35th SW), followed by one on the third weekend of October. She added cheerily that she brings lasagna to one of every three meetings. But that aside, she said, it’s worth your time: “It’s rowdy, it’s thoughtful…” Harris described the BEX V potential-projects list as an extraordinarily long list of needs but said she’s proud of staff for all the work that’s gone into this, “the best process I’ve seen in 25 years.”
Feedback but couldn’t make the meeting? Get it in soon! The addresses and phone number you can use are on the right side of the district webpage about the current round of meetings (which continue in other areas of the city – this was the only one in West Seattle). The levy vote is next February.
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