Sunday, May 25, 2014

Opinion: What are solutions to the LWSD bond measure failure?

By Paige Norman (excerpted from Paige's Prattle Blog)

The April 22nd Bond measure doesn’t look like it will make the 60% approval it needs to pass.  Yes, I’m pleased, but instead of cheering “We Win!” or moaning “We Lose!” let’s come up with solutions to the problem instead of name calling or blaming the other side.

Using the assumption that the District still has access to the unused $10 million from the 2011 Bond for $65.4 million I have a few recommendations to offer.  Read More >>

Overcrowding in existing schools

To resolve the issue of overcrowding at Rockwell Elementary, I propose that the district replace the portables with building structures similar to the addition at RHS.  Rockwell is expecting enrollment of 723 students by the 2015-2016 school year with a capacity of 460 students in “regular” (non-portable) classrooms.  There are 5 portables on site (appendix A) with a total capacity of 115 students (that calculates to 23 student per portable capacity; although there can be as many as 30).

The “brick building” classroom addition at Redmond High School was built at approximately $800,000 (rounded up for simplification).  That building contained 14 classrooms in a two story building that could provide space for roughly 420 students. The cost of building a portable is roughly $400,000 (rounded up). A portable contains two classrooms and provides space for between 45 to 60 students.
For the cost of two portables, Rockwell could build one brick building similar to the RHS structure and have 14 classrooms ready for students.  Even if the neighborhood had height restrictions or capacity regulations (I’m not clear on these); the District could build a single story building with 5-7 classrooms and still financially be below the cost of 5 portables while using the same amount of space currently being used.  The District could then remove the additional portables from the site.
Cost to replace two portables with one 14 classroom building: $1 to $1.5 million (my estimation; includes permitting, etc.)  Using the 30 student/classroom calculation, this could increase the capacity of Rockwell from 460 to between 670 (7 classrooms) and 880 (14 classrooms).
This leaves approximately $8.5 million left to use for other building projects.  I recommend that the District use the above method to replace all portables with actual buildings in at minimum 5 schools that are overcrowded or in danger of overcrowding creating more permanent classrooms and removing the need for portables.


It is true that Juanita, Rockwell and other older buildings are in need of “modernization”; we also need to look to the future and build additional buildings for incoming growth.   So, to that end, I recommend the District begin looking at each project individually and not as a block.  Taxpayers have voted with their checkbooks and decided against writing the District a “blank check” for use over several projects that are undefined, unplanned and vague.

Plans and property information should be provided BEFORE the bond funds are requested so that taxpayers can see what the money is going for directly. The District should provide plans with each project for each school that outlines number of classrooms, capacity limits, building layout and plans for over capacity during the 30-40 year building life.  If the project is acceptable, the bond measure would most likely be approved by the voters.

Planning ahead

Although schools should be safe, environmentally friendly and efficiently structured, it is also the District’s duty to use funds wisely and with long term plans in view.  The District has added two NEW buildings in twelve years – Rosa Parks and Rachel Carson Elementary schools, modernized many others and has seen an increase in 1,400 students in that same time period.  Plans for two more elementary schools were not begun until the 2010 bond request (which was rejected by voters).  Many of the ‘modernized’ buildings have been completed with the same number of classrooms as the original buildings, yet increased building square-footage.
The District has had the same information as the taxpayers from City councils regarding growth patterns, housing market and residency numbers.  They boast award-winning schools that are both impressive and environmentally friendly; take pride in above-standard test scores yet seem oblivious that more families would move here to take advantage of those award-winning schools.
District representatives have claimed that ‘generous’ variances are the reason for the wild fluctuations in school crowding; I recommend that variances be discontinued and that boundaries be tightened or widened depending on population/capacity needs.  

Representatives also stress that the change to four year high schools brought on the problems; then the District should have been more aggressive in planning in advance for the increased capacity needs of buildings, rather than holding the taxpayer hostage for more funds for undetermined projects or shoving “temporary classrooms” (portables) on existing sites.  Lake Washington High School modernization began in 2009; the District announced plans for the class restructuring in 2010.  Lake Washington High School opened in fall of 2011.  There was adequate time in that two year period to adjust construction to prepare for the increase in students that has now become a crisis.  This pattern of inattention has carried through in many of the building projects that were in process or have been completed since 2010.
The District repeats that the goal for our students is to make them “future ready”, yet spends hundreds of thousands on landscaping, esthetically pleasing buildings and futuristic designs.  Those stunning buildings and manicured grounds are not are not built to last for the 30 years of expansion and use they claim they are intended for.

Will any of these issues resolve the current overcrowding?  Are they realistic?  I am only offering a few solutions to a problem that seems to be on-going and far-reaching.

What solutions can you come up with?


Anonymous said...

An obvious solution is to house the additional elementary schools and middle school in the Redmond High building. The existing Redmond High enrollment can be accommodated by running a second shift at Eastlake. Transportation cost will be lower for the younger students, since RHS is centrally located, and for the older students, a lot drive themselves to school.

Kathryn Reith said...

Paige, I appreciate your trying to think of solutions to the district's overcrowding problem. However, I would really appreciate it if you would check your facts first. Here are a few errors of fact in your article:

The classroom addition at Redmond High School cost $15.3 million, not $800,000. Your estimation of $1.5 million to add 14 classrooms to an elementary school is wishful thinking. If only it were true!

The reference to variances only applied to Redmond High School, where variances to students from the Eastlake area have increased the Redmond High population for many years. We have already reduced the number of variances allowed but it will take a couple of years for the students who already had variances to graduate.

I'm not sure where you got the impression that the change to four-year high schools brought on the overcrowing problem: we have been clear all along in our communications that this change actually relieved some of the problem. Had we not moved sixth grade out of the elementary schools, we would need four more elementary schools right now, in addition to the three we asked for in the last bond measure. The change to four-year high schools actually allowed a much more efficient use of the space we have in our buildings.

You claim the district could have adjusted construction of Lake Washington High School to accommodate the extra class. Funds for the school were procured in 2006 for a three-year high school. Construction began in 2008 for a three-year high school. At that point all plans and permitting were complete. When the district first announced plans to move to a four-year high school system over a year later, there was simply no way to increase the project's size by one third with no additional money.

You also claim that new district buildings are not built to last for 30 years. That's true but not in the way you state: they are built to last for at least 50 to 75 years.

I really do appreciate how much you care about the district and want to solve these issues. Please feel free any time to contact me to ask about any facts. I will be happy to verify any information you need.

Kathryn Reith
Communications Director, Lake Washington School District

Paige Norman said...

Kathryn, thanks for your response to my post in the Redmond Neighborhood Blog. I originally posted this on my blog (URL below) and Mr. Yoder was kind enough to re-post to a wider audience.

You say that I need to check my facts, but if you remember, we had conversations via email regarding the cost of the portables and the classroom addition at RHS (excluding the gym). You gave me the numbers that I used. Here is the link to the blog where I originally posted the cost of the portables and new classroom structure at RHS. Your 15 million figure was for the entire project at RHS which was not the point of my solution for Rockwell. The point is that instead of putting up portables like little weed sprouts, the district could have spent just a bit more and built a brick and mortar building which would house many, many more students for a longer term.

My purpose for my posts is to get people to think about the money that’s being spent and HOW it’s being spent. And, in light of the fact that there’s more money that’s been *found* (not used, not accessed, available – whatever wording is appropriate), I think the taxpayers of the District feel a bit misled. As I said, it’s just one thought of a possible solution to the overcrowding issue.

We all want the same thing: a good education for our children. However as the District has only built 3 new schools in 10 years and re-built/modernized several others schools without adding classroom spaces or looking to the future of 30-40 years, it’s hard for me to see how our money is being well-spent towards learning spaces.

I appreciate our working relationship and hope to continue working with you in the process of keeping people informed.

Thank you,

Paige Norman