Sunday, February 2, 2014

Opinion: LWSD Bond Measure Inadequate, By Susan Wilkins

LWSD Bond Measure Inadequate - Elementary Classroom Space Shortage & Overcrowding Reaching Crisis Levels in District
Let me say that I have had children at Mann, Rockwell and Einstein so I know these schools and the surrounding neighborhoods well. I reviewed and/or commented on plans for most of the new developments that have been built over the past decade or that are in the process of being built.  I often wondered, "How will all the children who will move into these houses fit into our already overcrowded schools?"  Read More >>
I can tell you that the overcrowding that we're now seeing has been in the planning (or lack of it) for years.  All of these new developments were signed off on by the school district as a condition for their approval, some as long ago as 2007.  And I can also tell you that when a new school is built in North Redmond, it will be full the day it opens, and that there won't be enough classrooms for all the new students who will be moving into all the houses that are still planned. The massive Greystone residential development north of the new roundabout at NE 116th Street and 162nd Ave NE will have 184 homes. There are also hundreds of additional houses being built or recently sold. 
Rockwell Elementary is at least 200 students over capacity and is packed beyond belief. They converted old, windowless storage rooms and meeting spaces into classrooms. Temporary storage closets line the walls of the outdoor hallways and five portables are used as regular classrooms. Einstein Elementary is nearly 100 students over capacity. Even Wilder Elementary on Union Hill has 100 students bussed over 3 miles from new developments in North Redmond.  (I'm not sure why the district claims that Einstein can't add more portables - they have all that space next to A-wing and their lunchroom and library can handle more students than Mann's can.)  The new school the district plans to open in 2016 will have space for 550 students.  It will be full the day it opens, probably with its own village of portables.  For Rockwell students and parents who think that opening one new school in North Redmond will cure their overcrowding problems, well, there are just too many houses planned. 
The district's decision to send new students who move into houses along NE 116th Street to Mann Elementary is a shallow, inadequate solution to a festering space shortage that has been years in the making. Horace Mann will be destabilized by the influx of new students from the north. Soon it will have its own "village of portables" and eventually there will be 600-700 students sharing common spaces (gym, lunchroom, library, bathrooms, playgrounds) that were designed for 400 students.  Sound familiar?  The portables at Mann (and Rockwell) will continue to be used to house all the overflow students for years to come.
The district has bragged to us that since 2000 they've been historically accurate in predicting future enrollments to within +/-2% or within 100 students.  Chip Kimball frequently made this statement and now Traci Pierce is saying it.  So why didn't they see this overcrowding crisis coming years ago and plan for it?
The failure of the school district's planning department to foresee the impending and predictable overcrowding is to blame. While they tore down and rebuilt 14 elementary schools across the district, all the new schools had only 20-21 classrooms. The rebuilt schools almost always had fewer classrooms than the schools that were torn down - even as the population density surrounding the schools increased year by year.  Only two new elementary schools, Carson and Rosa Parks, were built in the past 15 years.  We now have 90 portables at our elementary schools and all but 3 schools are full or overcapacity.  Even the brand new elementary schools that were built in the last decade are all full.  Even after nearly 2000 sixth-graders were moved to middle school to make more room for K-5 students, almost all the elementary schools are overcrowded. What is wrong with this picture?  How will voting for the bond measure fix it?  (Hint: it won't!)
What's most insulting is that we, the voters, are being blamed for the current problem because we didn't approve the 2010 bond measure that would have built two new elementary schools, one in North Redmond and the other in Redmond Ridge, that would be ready now.  Four years earlier, in 2006, voters had approved $436 Million for bonds to fund Phase II modernization.  With less than half that money spent, the district wanted another $234 million for more construction and voters said NO.
Instead of telling us that it's our fault that we don't have school capacity in Redmond (or Sammamish or Kirkland) for all the elementary students, why doesn't the school district ask its facilities managers and planners what went wrong? 
Ask the following questions:
When the 2010 bond that would have built new schools in North Redmond and Redmond Ridge failed, and the district was sitting on more than $200,000,000 from the 2006 bonds that hadn't yet been spent, why didn't the district scale back plans for rebuilding ICS, Rose Hill Junior High, Rush and Bell Elementary Schools so that there would be adequate money to build those four schools and the two elementary schools in North Redmond and Redmond Ridge?  
When the district proposed the $65.4 million construction levy in 2011 (that passed), why didn't they include money for new elementary schools at Redmond Ridge or North Redmond?
How is it that with all the new schools from the 2006 bond measure completed, that the district is still sitting on $10-12 million - when that money could have been used to build a new school either at Redmond Ridge East or North Redmond?
Why does a new elementary school now cost $35 million when Horace Mann only cost
$10 million in 2003?  How did the district's spending practices get so out of control?
How is it that a school district that has 24 brand new schools with over 1.4 million square feet of newly constructed space has such an acute classroom space shortage? 


Bob Yoder said...

Thank you for making us think about the planning process at LWSD, Susan. It is clear the process is far from perfect and you've raised good questions as to whether this 3/4 Billion Bond can pull us out of the tailspin.

Anonymous said...

I too agree with much that the OP had to say. However, I got my hackles up when she mentioned scaling back on Rose Hill Middle School, Ben Rush, and A.G. Bell. These schools were built in the 60s and 1970 and there were many physical challenges with two of the sites - one sat on a pipeline and another was on a site with three distinct levels. I think the fault lies equally with the school district and the City of Redmond for not communicating about future developments and the impact on the schools.

Paige Norman said...

Excellent information and questions, Susan!

Lack of planning on their part should never constitute an emergency on my part.

Paul Hall said...

It's pretty clear that this 3/4 billion dollar bond issue is not intended to solve the housing problem, Bob. Only 238 million is earmarked to address growth with 6 new schools and small additions to 2 others. The district's Six Year Facilities Plan relies on portables to handle the thousands of remaining unhoused students for years to come.

The other 517 million is to tear down and rebuild 6 more relatively new schools (leaving 12 more substandard for years more) and build two more small boutique schools. Almost 160 million (2/3 as much as the total amount planned for growth) is budgeted just for a new Juanita HS. The district's planning policies are obviously still skewed toward replacing schools rather than providing permanent housing and modernized facilities for all our kids and teachers.

By piggybacking the growth and replacement issues, the district's using the overcrowded housing conditions to force voters who want to address this problem to also approve the continued replacement (rather than modernizing) of a part of our relatively new remaining building inventory. We should reject Proposition 3 and give them a chance to come up with a more rational facilities plan or resubmit this as two separate issues.

Susan Wilkins said...

I would like to respond to Anonymous Feb 3 @ 7:36 AM:

The school district has shown so little creativity and problem-solving when faced with difficult sites. Rose Hill Middle School has two gas pipelines carrying millions of gallons of fuel. Both Rose Hill and Rush have environmental/water issues that made building the new school on-site before the old school was torn down a challenge.

Rose Hill Middle School should NEVER have been rebuilt at its current site. The school district should have chosen an alternate site - and considering that it built a brand new school, the construction cost would have been the same.

How often have we seen big developers buy up 6 or 7 adjacent parcels and put in a 10 or 20-acre residential development. And yet the Lake Washington School District routinely says that there are no big parcels available where they could build a new school! The district used this argument to justify rebuilding Rose Hill on its current site - even though neighbors protested that the site was dangerous because of the pipelines. If developers can find big parcels to build on, then so can the district. They just don't bother to try.

Rush Elementary was such a challenge because of the wetland. Because the district insists that new schools have to be built before the old school is torn down, the new construction had to be put on the upper terrace which was an expensive workaround. Rush should have been torn down and then rebuilt - or downsized for fewer students - or even relocated. The most economical solution - to simply remodel and update the existing building - was never even considered.

No consideration was even given to alternate options or locations for Rush or Rose Hill. No creativity, no problem solving, no compromise to reduce costs or improve efficiency.

Rose Hill cost $55 million and Rush cost $32 million. So much money and very little new classroom space was created. No wonder we have a classroom space shortage.

The issue now is whether we should continue to tear-down/rebuild and spend millions on yet another bond measure that won't build needed classroom space.

Anonymous said...

So where exactly in the grass lawn park area would you have relocated Ben Rush without completely redrawing schools' boundaries?

Are you suggesting the district should have bought out about 10 acres of land at about $1M per acre FMV to relocate Rush?

And tell me again how you remodel a 40 year old school made of wood and brick and bring it up to code?

As for redmind ridge and the overcrowding there, you probably know that the developer up there was supposed to build another school - but they didn't. That lawsuit is not something the district has standing to file - you need the city or state to try to get that done.

Jackie said...

I would like to respond to some of Susan Wilkins statements and remind the readers that she is the lone naysayer of the final recommendation from the district task force. While she has every right to oppose this bond, her statements are not entirely accurate. I would encourage you to do some research on your own. And while some students live in "rural" Kind County, they are LWSD students and need a place for their education.

While growth is in fact occurring in many parts of the district, Ms. Wilkins conclusion that “The serious overcrowding at Evergreen Middle School is the result of excessive growth INSIDE Redmond and Sammamish” is inaccurate. Of the over 1000 students who currently attend Evergreen Middle School, Wilkins identifies 475 of them come from Redmond Ridge. The remaining students come from the attendance areas of Wilder, Alcott and Dickinson elementary schools all which are located in rural King County not INSIDE the City of Redmond or Sammamish. Ms. Wilkins belief that 1000 students from Redmond and Sammamish will be moved to Evergreen is completely erroneous.

As Ms. Wilkins points out, growth is occurring in Kirkland. In fact, that is why the Long-Term Facilities Planning Task Force included in their recommendations expanding Juanita High School and Kirk Elementary. Their recommendations also included a new elementary school in Kirkland, an addition at Lake Washington High School and a new choice high school to serve more students in that area. All of these projects are part of the district long-term funding plan to finance the task force recommendations without increasing the tax rate.

As for Ms. Wilkins contention about school taxes, she has her facts wrong. Wilkins analysis fails to accurately reflect the impact of new properties or the fact that if assessed values go up more than the districts conservative projections, the tax rate will actually be less than the 2015 rate. That is because the district can only collect the amount that voters approve, which means additional increases in assessed values will actually lower the tax rate.

For the real facts about the bond measure go to