Sunday, March 17, 2013

LETTER: LWSD needs to plan sensibly and carefully when they ask voters for more money.

Susan Wilkins said...
What many people don’t realize is that when a developer applies for a permit to build new houses or a new apartment or condo complex in Redmond, the school district is automatically informed that new development will take place. For many years, the Lake Washington School District would have its attorney send a letter to the city and the developer demanding the payment of school impact fees for each house/condo/apartment that would be built. The letter was signed by the school superintendent and the developer could not continue with the permitting process until an agreement to pay was signed and registered with the county. A few years ago (~2008), the City of Redmond changed the policy and automatically required the developer to agree to the impact fees and then collected the fees and forwarded them to the school district as part of the planning process. In the past decade, the school district has received millions of dollars in impact fees and has been informed about every unit of housing that has been built.

All along the school district has known about the new apartments and condos that are being built in downtown Redmond. They knew about the thousands of houses being built in North Redmond and out at Redmond Ridge East. They knew that hundreds of new students would soon be enrolling at the schools. Instead of systematically tearing down and rebuilding all the school on their 1998 and 2006 “modernization” lists (with most of those rebuilt schools located on the west side of the district where little growth was occurring), the school district should have reallocated money and built or expanded schools on the east side of the district for all the new students who were moving into the new houses, condos and apartments.

The school district is once again sounding the alarm that classrooms are overcrowded and schools are running out of space. They want taxpayers to fund another round of tear-down/rebuild “modernization” and they also want to add two new elementary schools for $80,000,000, one at Redmond Ridge and the other in north Redmond at the corner of NE 122nd Street & 172nd Avenue NE. The trouble is that the school district is $500,000,000 in debt for the past 15 years of construction (plus another $240,000,000 in interest). There are limits to how much debt the school district can take on, and with the district’s current rate of construction spending, it will soon reach that limit. ***If taxes for bond payments rise too high, lower priority bonds for libraries and parks will be suspended.***

The construction spending spree that the district has been on for the past 15 years needs to end and the district needs to plan sensibly and carefully if/when it asks voters for more money. They need to take an inventory of facilities and classroom space that they already have and reallocate it more efficiently and effectively.


Susan Wilkins said...

Susan Wilkins said...
The Lake Washington School District’s Form 196 (Annual Financial Statements) for 2011-2012 is available at Page 19 of 76 of Form 196 lists the districts bond obligations on 8/31/2012:

Total Voted Bonds: $469,185,000
Total Non-voted Bonds: $31,195,000
Total bonds: $505,380,000

When the district sold bonds in July 2012 to pay for the additions at Redmond High School and Eastlake High School, they provided a financial statement for bond holders that can be found on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s website. The Official statement for the bonds can be accessed at and on page 20 of 122 shows that outstanding bonds will cost taxpayers $241,987,986 in interest. (Plus another $7,365,400 in interest for the UTGO general bonds & LGO high school bonds being issued in July 2012.)

Also in the Official Statement for the bonds, starting on page 18 of 122 there are tables of overlapping debt and debt capacities for the school district. In July 2012, the district had $1,178,571,103 available. It seems like a lot of money, but the district’s aggressive Phase 3 modernization plan could use up 70% of that capacity. Plus whatever is borrowed, taxpayers have to pay back.

(To see the Lake Washington School District’s list of issued bonds, go to and enter Lake Washington 414 in the Quick Search field.)

Paige Norman said...

Another excellent piece of information, Susan! I have said this all along -- based on my past work with builders and development projects.

The District is negligent in holding aside those funds they've collected from all the new housing developments; negligent in upgrading/remodeling/expanding existing schools and planning ahead for future development -- all the while holding the taxpayers and parents hostage with their constant pleas for more money!

Bob Yoder said...

It's hard to believe the huge debt and interest payments outstanding but you've documented it well, Susan. Thanks for tracking down the numbers and looking out for us. I hope the school board is listening and planning sensibly!

Anonymous said...

Susan - Can you quantify the rough fee $ that a developer pays for a 1 bedroom apartment unit to the school district?

Anonymous said...

I think it would be interesting to hear from someone from the West side of the district where those schools were rebuilt. I have sat in many meetings where the West side schools want to know why new schools are being built on the East side and their schools are being left to deteriorate. Juanita High School parents were not happy when the bond failed that would have pushed up time line to update their school. Because our district is so large in area and covers many cities, it becomes a battle of East vs. West rather than doing what is best for all students. We live in Redmond off Avondale. I would not want to send my kids to an elementary school that is is Kirkland just because they have room and the closer schools are overcrowded. I want my kids going to school close to home so they can enjoy all the opportunities at the school without having long bus rides. I suspect most parents would agree with me.

I'd like to see this same passion being used to put pressure on our state government. If they were properly funding public eduacation then the district would not have to ask the taxpayers for so much money.

Bob Yoder said...

Anony - What's your definition of a long bus ride? Some of those empty classrooms may not be so far away.

Anonymous said...

Considering Wilder, Rosa Parks, Dickinson, Einstein, Horace Mann, Rockwell and Redmond will all be at or above capacity next year, the closest school in Kirkland is Muir or Twain. It could easily be an hour+ bus ride after making the rounds. My kids' bus ride to their area school is 30 minutes in the morning and it is only 3 miles away. Our middle school is a 50 minute bus ride in the morning.

Melissa R. said...

Am I missing something? You have so many well researched figures in this piece but nowhere does it say how much the district received in impact fees. All I see is "millions of dollars". Do we know for certain that the fees sufficient to cover the cost of a new school? It seems like that is what you are implying, that the district should set the fee revenue aside to cover the cost of the new school.

If an average elementary school is 500 students and if we assume that each of those 500 students live in a brand new home (which is not the case because there will be siblings and kids from existing homes in the area but we will use a best case scenario for your argument) then an $80,000,000 school would require the developer to pay a fee of $160,000 for every new home to cover the cost of the new school. As I said, that is a best case scenario.

Melissa R said...

Correction to my previous post. I see it is two schools for $80,000,000. So $80,000 per new unit built would be required (best case).

Melissa R said...

If we relied upon only federal and state funds, school would have ended yesterday. Local levies keep kids in school through the rest of the year. We ALL benefit from having such an excellent local school system. Because of the age of my children the excellence of the local school was the #1 factor in determining where I bought my house 6 years ago. Excellent local schools attract residents and businesses to the area and in that way CONTRIBUTE to the local tax base.

Susan Wilkins said...

Current school impact fees in the City of Redmond and King County (Redmond Ridge) are:
Single family residence: $7,005.00
Multi-family residence (1 apt/condo): $197.00

Impact fees have gone up over the past 10 years. They are not intended to cover the full cost of a brand new school, but can be used for adding portables or for building additions (which would add classrooms and bathrooms to an existing building.) Redmond Ridge East will have about 800 houses (or about $5.6 million in impact fees.) My point in mentioning impact fees was mostly to point out that the school district knew that the students would be arriving long before the houses were built.

School impact fees in the City of Redmond can be found in the Redmond Municipal Code section 3.10.080 D. The Redmond Municipal Code can be accessed at by clicking on [Government] then [Document Library] then [Municipal Code] or by going to /

Bob Yoder said...

Thank you, Susan for being so responsive with your proof sources.

Melissa R said...

Every elementary school I know off, including Rosa Parks on Redmond Ridge, has MULTIPLE portables so I don't know that the district didn't use those fees to expand existing schools. Those impact fees are only 14% of what it takes to build a new school. Also, the district has an obligation to all its schools and many of those that were rebuilt or mondernized were badly in need.

When I moved here from Boston 6 years ago I was on an internet discussion board with thousands of moms from all over the country. I posted that I was moving to the Seattle area and wondered where the good places to live where. Over and over again I heard the same thing, that I MUST live in the Lake Washington School District. I think you are underestimating the return on investment you are getting from having such strong schools here. Even when I was a property owner without children I understood the value of a good school district and appreciated it even more when I sold that home for a nice profit.

Susan Wilkins said...

My suggestion that school construction on the west side of the district should have instead occurred on the east side re-ignited the debate about east versus west in the district. I didn't mean to imply that the east side is more deserving of construction. I believe we should carefully focus our construction money where it's needed most and in proportion to what is actually needed.

What I am dismayed at is that so many schools in the district have been torn down and completely rebuilt - and most of those schools happened to be on the west side of the district and were still in fairly good condition. When we voted we were told that these schools would be "modernized" and I thought that meant updated or remodeled. To me, modernization means replacement of aging plumbing, electrical, lighting, doors, windows, carpeting/flooring, etc. But the school district figured out that they could justify tearing down and replacing the buildings if they added enough new features and space requirements that it would cost as much to remodel as it would to rebuild. What started out as a sensible district-wide remodeling schedule has morphed into a total teardown mentality with plans to replace every school in the district. The school district routinely spends an outrageous $35,000,000 tearing down and rebuilding elementary schools and insists on calling it modernization! Bell, Keller, Juanita and Thoreau Elementaries each have about 300 students and are only partially full. These schools are all brand new and were rebuilt even as schools elsewhere in the district were flooded with students who ended up in villages of portables.

At the same time, it is very clear that Juanita High School has a multitude of maintenance issues that have been neglected for years. Lighting, heating, ventilation and electrical systems are all in need of updating and basic maintenance. Has Juanita High School not had any maintenance because the school district just assumes it will tear the school down? Can Juanita High School be updated without tearing the building down or is it so inherently flawed that it is beyond repair?

Long-term, central planning (or lack of it) seems to be at the root of the school district's problems. The district has built 19 brand new school buildings in the past 15 years, but they have never figured out how to match student populations with space availability. (Should I remind everyone that Wilder was left half empty while Rosa Parks overflowed with students!) Transportation planning and facilities planning are both managed by the same department and bussing is a mess. Short (2-3 mile) bus rides can take 45 minutes and bus stops are often far from students' homes. (Although the district manages to provide a bus that takes students from Redmond Ridge across to ICS in Kirkland in just 25 minutes.) The school district has the names, addresses and grade levels of all the students in the school district and they could use planning software to balance student populations AND to transport students efficiently and quickly to their schools. (The district must coordinate transportation planning and facilities management to make it work.) The school district tells us that moving school boundaries is "tricky". Well, it is tricky, but with computers and well-designed software (try ESRI's ArcGIS series), it is very possible. Big companies like Microsoft have facilities planners to manage their many employees in many buildings. FedEx, UPS and the Post Office have delivery route planners. Maybe LWSD should call up these companies and ask for some planning advice.

Melissa R said...

Juanita High School's building is 42 years old. That's not like a 42 year old house. That is 42 years of heavy duty wear and tear by high schoolers. In addition, the area served by Juanita High School needs additional space at the high school level. There are projections for 321 students more than permanent building capacity, 142 if space in portable classrooms is counted. Given those circumstances I can well imagine that replacing the current building with something larger and more current to meet modern needs would make a lot of sense.