|Superintendent Chip Kimball|
To the Editor:
Last week Matt Gregory wrote a letter to the editor regarding Lake Washington School District plans to place a capital projects levy on the February ballot, and specifically criticized intentions related to Juanita High School. Unfortunately his letter failed to address the overcrowding problem in the district, did not accurately reflect the community feedback solicited by the board, and failed to mention the significant investment Lake Washington has made, and continues to make, in Kirkland schools.
Lake Washington serves over 24,000 students across 50 schools in 4 municipalities. The school board and district leadership work very hard to ensure that EVERY part of the LWSD community receives a high quality education with up to date facilities. At any given time some facilities are older than others. But over time, all parts of the district are served, and all parts of the community are needed to support that service.
Lake Washington has in place a long term plan to modernize every school in the district by 2030. All schools have been evaluated and were placed into one of four phases based on their condition. Out of the 22 schools either modernized in the first phase (1998-2006) or in the process of being modernized in the second phase (2006-2014), sixteen (16) were in Kirkland or the annexation area. These decisions were made by an objective evaluation of facility condition. Almost three quarters of the over $600 million in construction projects since 1998 are in Kirkland. Turn our back on Kirkland….Not a chance!
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Juanita High School is scheduled for modernization in Phase III of the LWSD modernization plan (2014-2022). Last year we decided to ask our voters to consider the acceleration of that schedule due to a favorable construction environment, and because a bond measure was necessary to address overcrowding in other parts of the district. Our voters said no, not now. And we listened. Juanita High is back on its original schedule as part of the Phase III plan.
But the overcrowding remains. 625 new students this year, and at least 400 more per year for the next 5 years. We need space, and we need it now. Through a series of public meetings and online input, our community made it clear to us that we should address the overcrowding with permanent building space at the secondary level. This would avoid some tough consequences at the high school level like possible double-shifting. The modernization of Juanita High, and additional elementary schools needed in the mid-term would need to wait. This was confirmed by a random sample of our voters, those with and without children. Our community has told us that we should be fiscally conservative, but not at the expense of our students. A pared down proposal, $65.4 million as compared to $236 million last year was developed.
The preferred solution by our voters and community is build space where it is needed, which is currently on the east side of the district. Bussing students up to an hour each way to a school on the west side of the district is disruptive for families and does not align with one of our core values…..neighborhood schools. We have also heard from our community that our families want choices, available to all students.
Lake Washington has 12 choice schools available to ALL district students. Most of those choice programs are currently housed on the west side of the district. Our parents have asked for more choices, and building a choice school helps address the overcrowding issue on the east side of the district. We are then faced with a decision, make our high schools even larger, or build a choice school that is available to all students. Our community weighed in, and we have elected to build a choice school that will focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This does not mean that STEM is not fully available to students in their current school. STEM is a focus for ALL LWSD schools, and this will continue to be the case. A STEM choice school simply provides a greater degree of focus similar to the environmental, international, and arts themes at other LWSD choice schools. All choice schools are available to ALL LWSD students.
The Lake Washington School District’s Board of Directors and leadership is committed to ensuring that all students in the district have an appropriate place to learn. Not every measure will address every part of the district’s 75 square miles but over time, every student will benefit. And it will take the support of all parts of the district for that to happen.
Dr. Chip Kimball, Superintendent
Dr. Kimball's Letter was submitted to the "Kirkland Reporter" not the "Kirkland Courier".