Friday, May 23, 2014

OPINION: Students Are Sitting in Portables and Overcrowded Classrooms While LWSD Sits on $55,500,000 in Unspent Construction Funds

By Susan Wilkins

It makes me very upset to know that the district has been sitting on over $50 million and won't spend it on our students, but they think it's ok to give away $10,000,000 to Kirkland to build a new swimming pool.  How can we have any confidence in this school district when they flippantly ignore $50,000,000 that's available when Rockwell, Mann, Rosa Parks, RMS, and all the Sammamish elementary schools are packed with students?  What was even more appalling was that the school board members didn't seem too upset by the news that there was money available and unspent.  What is going through their minds? 

The topic at the May 5, 2014 LWSD Work Session was "Enrollment and Facility Planning."  At this meeting, the district had already conceded that the April 22 bond measure for $404,000,000 was not going to pass.  All five school board members were present at the meeting and expressed frustration and anger at voters and at the opposition committee that had campaigned against the ballot measure. 

The school board members appeared to have no idea what should be done to address overcrowding so they looked to Superintendent Traci Pierce and she looked to Janene Fogard and Forrest Miller.  Janene Fogard is the Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Forrest Miller is Director of Support Services.  Janene and Forrest appeared to be making all the decisions on facilities planning.  Read More>>

The Work Session included a 32-page PowerPoint slideshow titled "Enrollment and Facilities Planning Presentation" that showed tables of school capacities with overcrowding illustrated with red ink.  (May 5th Work Session PowerPoint Presentation on Facilities Planning.)  There was little data on individual schools that would help to determine which were under-capacity and which were filled to extreme overcapacity. They outlined a short-term plan to address immediate overcrowding by adding portables, redrawing boundaries and limiting all-day kindergarten.  Board members asked if the district could rent space or build additions instead of portables and Forrest Miller said that these options were not feasible because they would be too expensive.

The most astounding tidbit from the meeting was that the district is sitting on an amazing amount of unspent construction funding including:

$12,000,000 - Unspent 2006 construction bond funds

$13,000,000 - Unsold 2006 bonds

$28,000,000 - State construction assistance (still waiting on $8 million from State)

$2,500,000 - Impact Fees

Total: $55,500,000

The district could have built two new elementary schools with this money - one at Redmond Ridge and the other at North Redmond - and those schools would be ready now! They could have built additions at Redmond Middle School or Rosa Parks to address acute overcrowding at these schools or at other overcrowded schools.  They could have done so much to relieve overcrowding with a fraction of the money but all they did was add portables.

The plan appears to be to rerun the bond that recently failed in February 2015 with the exact same construction proposal including the tear-down/rebuild of Juanita High School.  Listening to the discussion at the May 5th LWSD Work Session, I got the impression that the real plan is make sure that overcrowding remains a problem across the district so that all students suffer and voters will be compelled to vote for the next bond measure.  

A facilities department that can't figure out how to effectively utilize $55,500,000 needs to be replaced by our superintendent and if she is too timid to do this, the school board should replace her with a strong leader who will reorganize the LWSD Facilities Department and relieve these administrators of their facilities planning duties. 

Our children are being poorly served in our overcrowded schools - not because of a shortage of funds, but because of a shortage of competent planning.  It appears that the school board intends to adjourn for the summer with an interim plan that will temporarily address overcrowding with portables and some redrawn boundaries.  We should expect better for our children than this weak, inadequate plan.  There are 100+ days before the 2014-2015 school year begins.  The school district could do so much - but it appears they will do so little.  Maybe they need to be replaced too.
May 5th Work Session PowerPoint Presentation on Facilities Planning


Paige Norman said...

Add that to the fact that they've only built 3 new schools in the past 10 years and re-built all the "modernized" schools at same capacity but double the size and it's mis-management of funds.

Although I would love to be charitable and think that it was just a huge $55million mistake, my real feelings is that we should oust the entire board and Dr. Pierce and start over with some parents who aren't in the pocket of the unions and the government.

Anonymous said...

The good news is that there is money available to build a few new much needed elementary schools without the necessity of another bond. I understand there will have to be a public comment period and vote on the spending of those monies.

The disappointing news is that the District has sent out two parent surveys and there was not a single question asking why parents either did not vote or voted "no" on both ballot measures. Most parents could not in good conscience vote to rebuild Juanita High and add a new STEM school to Kirkland when the Redmond and Sammamish students are currently being treated like second class-citizens. It is time to begin the planning and immediate spending on these kids.

Take the Juanita rebuild and the new Kirkland STEM school off the next bond, add 5 new elementary, a middle and even consider a high school on the east side of the district for all the kids who are going to be coming through the pipeline–then parents will stand behind the district and vote YES!

Bob Yoder said...

I forwarded this opinion piece to the school board and Kathryn Reith, LWSD Comm. Dir. They need all the feedback they can get.