West Seattle meeting on upcoming school levies: Much more ‘why’ than ‘what’

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.

18 Replies to "West Seattle meeting on upcoming school levies: Much more 'why' than 'what'"

  • Jethro Marx September 14, 2018 (9:45 pm)

    Last I heard Louisa Boren K-8 was also a contender for BEX V monies; are they, still? I don’t know about capacity but they have facility/infrastructure issues, water supply lines from the sixties, notably. The building looks like it was built around the same time as Lafayette.

    • WSB September 14, 2018 (9:57 pm)

      Not in the “rebuild/expand” category. But certainly as mentioned in our earlier story (linked above) there are some other projects.

  • 1994 September 14, 2018 (10:37 pm)

    Keep the levy lid please. Property taxes have gone up to a point where low and low middle income earners are spending 10% and higher of their incomes on the prop taxes. Ouch! I pay 12.5% of my net income in prop taxes! Double ouch!

    • Mike September 15, 2018 (7:33 am)

      Ya, it’s pretty nuts.  Our property tax jumped 54% in 2017 year and King County assessment for 2018 is up $81k from last year when our tax jumped 54%.  I’m voting down every tax increase and voting against any candidates that want to add taxes.  Time for government to be more effective and more efficient, enough is enough.

  • Abcgirl September 15, 2018 (1:45 am)

    Would it be WSB to consolidate all the ballot measures and the proposed increases for the average west seattle home owner , over what period of timeim getting confused as  are many on all the different requests and the financial implications

  • anonyme September 15, 2018 (6:47 am)

    The elephant in the room, as well as the question that no one – including Jenny Durkan will answer, is how much charter schools are contributing to the shortfall by draining funds from established public schools.  There needs to be a clear delineation between the two.

  • Homeowner September 15, 2018 (8:30 am)

    Our house – which is nothing to write home about – had its appraisal go up by 140k, and they jacked the taxes up by 17%. 60% of our taxes go to schools. SPS is building all sorts of Taj Mahals. They’re just building to build. We’ve given them a sound financial and infrastructure in the last ten years, now they need to concentrate on education. I’m done with school tax levies. 

  • Alex September 15, 2018 (9:34 am)

    The taxpayers were repeatedly told that McCleary was needed to properly fund the schools.  I sucked up my $2,000 increase in property taxes.  The size of this proposed levy is breathtaking and just astounding.   I won’t be voting for it and hope the rest of Seattle is of the same mind. 

    • GOP in WS September 15, 2018 (5:54 pm)

      I’m voting against the levy. The McCleary decision is my contribution to education. 

  • Gina September 15, 2018 (10:19 am)

    Many at the meeting were parents from Kimball elementary over on Beacon Hill.  SE Seattle has traditionally been skipped over with building upgrades, they don’t even have fire alarms in all the classrooms.Lafayette could potentially be “landmarked”. The 1950 medical clinic design is a West Seattle neighborhood feature?

  • Keegan September 15, 2018 (10:59 am)

    Seattle Schools has a track record of mismanaging and misspending levy money. The district is very dysfunctional in every sense. I am a public school teacher, and even I vote against all education levies. I refuse to work in Seattle Schools. I would vote against any request for tax increases for levies until the school district provides a comprehensive breakdown and record of how they spend all their money: state AND local. 

  • Rick September 15, 2018 (11:30 am)

    The headline begins with “Much more”.  That always seems to be the answer when taking our money.

  • flimflam September 15, 2018 (12:28 pm)

    so much for the mccleary “fix”, huh?property taxes are nuts as it is – they have gone up at a very unreasonable rate and it can’t continue.i will vote against any and every property tax, probably for the next several years.

    • Jort September 15, 2018 (5:07 pm)

      It’s important for you to understand that the McCleary “Fix” was Republicans choosing to take the property tax dollars paid by Puget Sound taxpayers and redistribute them over to eastern Washington.        The citizens of Asotin and Ritzville and Metalline Falls and Cashmere will vote down every school levy measure that’s put before them but, thanks to Republicans and turncoat, traitor Democrats, those same citizens will gladly go on a Puget Sound cash grab.        Your property taxes are paying for schools your children will never attend.

      • flimflam September 15, 2018 (8:17 pm)

        as i am childless, ALL the taxes are for schools that have nothing to do with me. that isn’t really the point of my post though – there are many, many households that can’t afford more property taxes, for any reason, any levy.all the talk about “affordability” never seems to get around to talking about property tax….

      • Mike September 15, 2018 (8:42 pm)

        JORT, that’s not how this works.  As much as I’m against this levy and raising property tax to pay for schools over and over with NO results, what you posted is completely inaccurate and false.

      • Jethro Marx September 15, 2018 (9:58 pm)

        Your attempts to divide the state into givers and takers are ridiculous and insulting. They would be so even if you weren’t spouting nonsense, but, as your key claim is, in fact, both false and pretty easy to fact-check, the result is that I’m left thinking you’re kind of a jerk and also cannot be trusted. I guess you’d probably find it harder to slight residents of Cashmere and Metaline Falls if you visited with them. Cashmeris could tell you about how twice as many of them vote yes on school levies as no; people in Metaline Falls could direct you to some lovely bike routes, and tell you how to spell their town’s name.

  • TJ September 15, 2018 (12:46 pm)

    A billion plus? I too am paying $2000 more because of McCleary, and now the city wants to ask for over a billion? I know these are existing levies, so not a billion new. I can understand the capital levy some. Schools need upgrades. But a operations levy should be going down. I used to think it was one hand not knowing what the other is doing between the state, county, and city and taxes. Well it is obvious it is actually the hands don’t care what the other is doing. All 3, along with Sound Transit, have inundated us with taxes, with more planned. I am tired of other people continually thinking of ways to spend my money while thinking they know how to spend it better. I promise you I know how to spend my money better. Our taxes are unsustainable here

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