Thursday, October 29, 2015

LETTER: Lake Washington School District Director gives the Facts on the District's facility planning process

While Susan Wilkins is entitled to her opinions concerning the Lake Washington School District’s facilities planning, I would like to provide corrections to a number of misstatements in her various letters and comments posted here.

Fact: There is no district proposal concerning Evergreen Middle School at this time, as Ms. Wilkins states. The Long-Term Facilities Planning Task Force is recommending a set of projects, including one that would modernize Evergreen Middle School. These recommendations would meet the district’s needs through the 2029-30 school year, or the next 14 years. Specific funding measures and final project lists are still to be determined.

Fact: The Long Term Facilities Planning Task Force proposes an addition to Redmond High School OR a small Choice High School to serve the Redmond and Eastlake Learning Communities at a site to be determined. An addition to Redmond High is not the only proposal, as Ms. Wilkins states.

Fact: Janene Fogard is the Deputy Superintendent for Operational Services for the district, not the Director of Facilities. The Director of Facilities is Forrest Miller. Mr. Miller has 35 years of experience in facility management. He holds certifications including REFP (Recognized Educational Facility Planner) through CEFPI (Council of Educational Facility Planners International) & EFM (Educational Facilities Master) through WAMOA (Washington Association of Maintenance & Operations Administrators). He is an Advisory Board member and past instructor for the University of Washington Extension Program in facility management.

Fact: The district follows a standard process including community input to determine boundaries when a new school is built. No new school has been funded or built on Redmond Ridge and no boundary process has taken place.

Fact: The district had an appraisal done of the Redmond Ridge property before purchasing it. The appraisal for the property put the market value at $14,500,000. The property was purchased for $13,843,127.

Fact: State construction match is not dependent on a 20-acre site for a middle school. Smaller sites may be acceptable if the site meets some basic requirements.

Fact: The PowerPoint slide referenced by Ms. Wilkins, with a list of school building projects, is entitled: Long-Term Facility Planning Task Force Draft Project Recommendations Through 2030. These are projects that are recommended over the next 14 years. A preliminary cost estimate was $775-900 million cost estimate for all of those recommended projects. Keep in mind that Bellevue School District’s last successful bond measure for $545 million funded space for 3000 new students by rebuilding five elementary schools, one middle school and constructing two new elementary schools. By 2029-30, LWSD will have 6000 more students than current permanent capacity.

Fact: The WAC that Ms. Wilkins cites (WAC 392-343-120) concerning state construction assistance lists the costs that cannot be included for reimbursement in state funding assistance. The district applied for state assistance for projects that qualify for such assistance. To apply, the district had to fully fund the projects up front. The state reimbursed the district for a portion of its costs, freeing up funds to be used for other purposes.

Fact: $13 million is not sufficient to design, permit, build and equip an elementary school, as Ms. Wilkins suggests. Based on past LWSD projects as well as current projects in other Puget Sound area districts, estimates of $30 million plus for the total project cost are more accurate.

Fact: The September 8, 2014, board study session reviewed the funds Ms. Wilkins cites. That study session provided an opportunity to learn about and discuss options for a short term plan to house the district’s growing enrollment over the next three years. The board at that time was informed of $42.5 million in funds available from 2006 bonds already sold, state construction funding assistance and impact fees. Ms. Wilkins counts an additional $12 million in bonds from the 2006 measure that remain unsold and would not be available unless they were sold. (The projects slated for the 2006 bonds have been completed under budget.)

About half of the $42.5 million dollars was already committed. Fifteen million dollars were reserved for land acquisition costs and $6 million dollars were committed toward project pre-design and portable purchase/installation to address 2014-15 enrollment needs.

That left a total of $21.5 million available at that time for short-term facility projects. The short term plan for facilities, adding the equivalent of 69 classrooms at a cost of $20 million, was announced on September 25, 2014, through a news release distributed through a number of different channels and posted on the district’s website. It includes portable classrooms, adding teacher planning spaces and constructing a permanent addition to Redmond Elementary School. That plan is now being carried out. The plan ensures that space needs throughout the district’s entire 75 square miles and at all three levels are met for the next three years. Using those funds to build an elementary school in Redmond, as Ms. Wilkins suggests, would have left students in middle and high school and in other areas of the district without classrooms.

Kathryn Reith
Director of Communications, LWSD 


Bob Yoder said...

In the second paragraph Ms. Reith states: "modernize Evergreen Middle School". I hate it when the District uses the term "modernize". For most people - the lay public - modernize means remodel. But for the District "modernize" means tear down a school and build a replacement.

Anonymous said...

If voters had passed one of the three recent bond measures, the school district and the families in Redmond wouldn't be in this pickle. It's the unintended consequences for voting no.

Anonymous said...

I agree Bob. LWSD tends to misuse the common idea of what modernize means. I hope Ms. Reith will clarify if Evergreen will be torn down (new in lieu) or renovated.

Also, there are rumors that LWSD has been talking about building a temporary middle school in EMS's parking lot, tearing down the old building, building new-in-lieu (completely new school) and then tearing down the temporary building. Perhaps Ms. Reith can respond if the district has been considering such a plan.

Bob Yoder said...

Sue Wilken's brought up a couple of good points about Janine Folgard to get the following reaction (fact) from Ms. Reith:

In the 4th paragraph, Ms.Reith states: "Janene Fogard is the Deputy Superintendent for Operational Services for the district, not the Director of Facilities. The Director of Facilities is Forrest Miller." Ms. Reith also states: "Forest Miller was a member of the Task Force." Reith never said Forest moderated or ran the meetings. I just don't understand why the Director of Facilities Planning, with all his credentials would not be running the Task Force on Facilities Planning meetings. Something is wrong here.

So this brings up another point that addresses a transparency problem the District has with the public understanding "who does what" and who to communicate with if a citizen has a question. For example, what is the scope of "Superintendent of Operational Services" duties? Does she run the finances (CFO)? Does Staff report to her--including Forest Green? What makes her qualified to run the Facilities Planning Task Force meetings? I can see why Ms. Wilkins appeared confused but believe "her misunderstanding" lies from the District's fractured communication not Ms. Wilkins.

When I attended the Candidate Forum earlier this month a citizen asked "who was running the finances of the District?" "Shouldn't the District have a CFO?" The incumbant, Chris Carlson laughed it off and didn't answer the question. His challenger took this citizen seriously and concluded the District has a transparency problem and agreed the District's "Finance Director" should be identified. After following LWSD governence for over 8 years I still don't know who's running the finances. Janene Folgard? Barbara Posthoumous, a District accountant? A contractor? For a government the size of this District, the public should know.

Susan Wilkins said...

The Long-Term Facilities Task Force has been meeting since December 2014. At their October meeting, the Task Force recommended that the district build a new middle school for Redmond students. They also recommended that the school district tear down and rebuild Evergreen Middle School.* Although it wasn’t specifically stated at the meeting, the new middle school would be at Redmond Ridge on land that the district had bought in January 2015. Both of these are RECOMMENDATIONS by the Long-Term Facilities Task Force. They are not PROPOSALS by the Lake Washington School District as Kathryn Reith has pointed out in her fact sheet. I apologize for the confusion.

We need to discuss how these two middle school construction projects would affect the entire community before these RECOMMENDATIONS become PROPOSALS and end up on the ballot in February 2016.

The District spent nearly $14,000,000 on land at Redmond Ridge and even had the county change the zoning on the parcel to allow a middle school. A new middle school at Redmond Ridge would cost about $64,000,000. Tearing down and rebuilding Evergreen Middle School would cost about $72,000,000. (These figures are drawn from the district’s estimated construction costs submitted for the 2014 bond measure.)

The new middle school would have about 500 students from Redmond Ridge and Redmond Ridge East. About 300 middle school students living in rural King County would also attend the new Redmond Ridge middle school. (Source: LWSD) Evergreen Middle School would become Redmond’s second middle school attended almost entirely by students who live inside the Redmond city limits. (Redmond’s main middle school is Redmond Middle School at the top of Education Hill and has an enrollment of 1000 students – nearly 300 over its intended capacity of 700 students.)

As a member of the Long Term Facilities Task Force, I stated that we needed to study the district’s policy of sending urban (in-city) students out to rural schools. I asked that the issue be put on the agenda multiple times. It was never considered even after I wrote a memo in June 2015 specifically addressing the long-term costs and consequences of using rural facilities for urban students.

Many years ago, the district ran out of classroom space inside Redmond. Elementary and middle school students are routinely sent to rural schools – because that is where the district still has classroom space and where the district has villages of portables. High school students who live on the perimeter of the city are sent either to Lake Washington High School or Eastlake High School. Many Redmond students spend 45 minutes on the bus getting to their schools far outside of Redmond!

Adding additional schools inside Redmond should be a priority, but it’s not. The Task Force never considered the issue and therefore never recommended that new schools should be built inside the city where we live. It is too bad that the school district doesn’t feel that it is important for Redmond to have local schools for its students to attend.

The legacy of the past decade of district planning for school facilities for the Redmond community has been to add all school capacity in rural King County. The Long Term Facilities Task Force never discussed this although this is a critical long-term issue for the community.

The district wants us to vote for their next bond measure to address critical classroom space shortages in the district. Redmond residents will be put in the difficult position of voting to send their children to far-away rural schools or rejecting the bond. This will be a no-win situation.

*The Task Force’s actual recommendation was to “remodel or rebuild Evergreen Middle School” but the district has always required so many complex upgrades during remodeling that it is less expensive to rebuild than to remodel. So reading between the lines, when the district says “remodel or rebuild,” it means that the school will be torn down and rebuilt.

Steve Hitch said...

Susan -

You raise a lot of issues here and I appreciate your considered opinions. I know you have been studying this idea of rural vs. urban for many years, and I appreciate your willingness to bring your ideas to the community.

I heard your concerns during Task Force deliberations, but wasn't swayed by them. I don't see this issue of rural vs. urban to be the great problem that you define here. The loss of rural areas to King County’s urban planned developments was unfortunate, but now we have students living out there who need to be served.

As can be expected, since most of the district is urban, most of our schools are in the urban areas. To say that all school capacity is being placed in rural King County seems like a stretch to me. (And if a new school is placed just over the line, outside of an "urban area" but near the students it serves, that seems like a good practical decision, to me.) To say that the District doesn't want Redmond to have local schools seems like a stretch, too. Looking at a map of the district we can see elementary schools scattered everywhere, middle schools spread out fairly evenly, and high schools all located in cities. I think the district has worked hard to locate schools as near to students as they can.

You’re concerned that students might spend 45 minutes riding a bus out to a rural school. My son rides the bus for 42 minutes to get from Marymoor Park to Redmond High School. Collecting all those students and getting to school in the most cost effective manner takes time. I think the idea of "far-away rural schools" is not something to fear. And construction of a new Redmond Ridge school should help students from that area reduce their travel times, I would think.

I am hopeful that a new middle school is built on the east side of the district, to better serve those students. I hope that the aging Evergreen Middle School and its host of portables can be replaced with a new school. That new school will better serve the rural students lucky enough to live close to it and any urban students who ride the bus there. I would love to see King County upgrade its transportation corridors to better serve the population it is encouraging to grow between Redmond and Sammamish, and at the same time ease congestion around our schools.

I think that the question on a future bond measure will be more about meeting the dramatic growth of the district, than this rural vs urban concern that you point out. As more than 1000 students joined our district this year (two elementary schools!), we need to find ways to house them. Taking Redmond Ridge off the table as a location for a new school doesn't seem wise to me.

As we do the math, as you have done here, I agree with your conclusion that many students from within Redmond City limits may end up at a new Evergreen Middle School, once all the dust settles. That school would be placed on an existing school site already owned by the district. As the district tries so hard to convince voters to address the rapid growth of the district by supporting new school construction, I think most voters would prefer to see the district use existing land than purchasing more expensive land within the city limits. It becomes a matter of priorities and how the money is most wisely spent. It appears that your priority is to keep the urban kids out of the rural schools, so urban kids aren't on buses so long and so rural areas don't have schools serving urban kids. Or perhaps the rural area around a school isn't impacted by that school's traffic. Is that going to be the priority of voters in a new bond measure, or will they be seeking the most efficient use of their taxes?

Steve Hitch

Anonymous said...

I think this is a tough situation without an easy solution. I do appreciate all of the work that the task force did.
I live in the "rural" area. There is terrible traffic already around Evergreen Middle School at drop off and pick up times. I cannot imagine any more students going there.
Parents brought this issue up to the school board in January 2015 and to the King County Sherriff when we found out even more kids would be brought to Evergreen due to the reboundary.
It is hard to watch Redmond's growth, directly feel all of the impacts at our schools (filled with Redmond students) and not be able to vote or have a say in Redmond City Planning.