Monday, November 9, 2015

Finding more classroom space to cope with overcrowding in LWSD schools

UPDATED OPINION: There's been a lot of chatter in the community about "classroom space issues" in LWSD schools.  The school district actually has a lot of space at its schools across the district. Some residents just don't think the District uses the space efficiently.  Redmond's schools are painfully overcrowded - but many of the brand new schools in Kirkland have an amazing amount of unused space.  It appears that many in the community never got to discussing this during the Long Term Facilities Planning Task Force meetings or by communication with the School Board. 

The district prefers "year-round multi-track" if we don't pass the bond; but do they have the resources to implement it?  Or the district could have morning and afternoon sessions for high school students.  (There's some support for having 6AM-12:30PM and11AM-5:30PM scheduling at the high schools.) But first, the district could remodel its elementary and middle schools to more efficiently use the interior pods that are wasted space. Second, they could move the preschools to rented space at churches or office buildings - freeing up at least 20 classrooms for elementary students. The District needs to make a more concerted effort to finding greater space efficiencies in our schools. 

Opinion by Bob Yoder



16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Questions about your proposed double shift at the high school:
1. It looks like you are proposing overlapping shifts - doesn't that mean there has to be enough room for all the students during the overlap? If so, how does that help?

2. Have you read any of the research on school start times? Many districts around the country are considering ways to shift high school start times later to improve student learning. Wouldn't having half our students starting at 6 am be detrimental to their education?

Steve Hitch said...

Bob, you may want to read the Long Range Task Force recommendations or visit the online open house. There is a lot of information there about the recommendations being made by the Task Force to the District. You can learn more about what the Task Force discussed, what the community had to say about the various options being discussed and how the Task Force came to its conclusions. I don't believe that the report reflects the "district's preference", but reflects the hard work of gathering information from district staff, vetting that information, sharing it with the community, identifying priorities, and making recommendations.

First, you recommend remodeling schools to give students less space. That, of course, takes capital investment. It also is comparable to increasing class size. (More kids in a class equates to less space for a student.) Our community is pushing back on the notion of squeezing our kids more. The Task Force did discuss space utilization across the district. There are some recommendations in that regard, but that isn't enough to meet the need.

Second, you recommend using preschool space for general education classrooms. That is also one of the recommendations from the Task Force. Unfortunately, much of the preschool space is not suitable for general ed space.

Third, your recommendation of having two sessions at high school is interesting, but I'm not sure how you pull off having the two sessions overlap by an hour and a half. In fact, to make transportation work, they can't overlap at all. If all the students are at school at the same time, you have to find a place to put them all. There is discussion of double-shifting in the recommendations, focussed on Choice schools.

Fourth, you wonder how the district could run multi-track. Year-round multi-track is the only way the district can move forward if there is zero capital investment. That is pretty clear. There are additional operational costs and challenges of such a program, but if there isn't space for students, that is the way to increase capacity by using the existing space for more hours of the year.

I think the Task Force has done a great job of looking for space inefficiencies. I look forward to seeing how the District moves forward with their recommendations.

Bob Yoder said...

Good points anonymous. I've heard about the benefits of later start times. And yes, the overlap sounds challenging.

Anonymous said...

One of the most frequently cited reasons for not starting high schools later is that sports would suffer... so let the students who want to participate in afterschool sports start at 6AM and finish at 12:30PM. During the overlapping time (11AM-12:30PM) when all students attend, they can have lunch,or have multi-student classes like PE, drama, orchestra or band in the large gyms, auditoriums and music rooms. They could also have online learning rooms where 100+ students use computers/laptops to take courses while getting their required in-school time.

The suggestion that multi-track would require zero capital investment is unrealistic. Schools on multitrack have to be modified to store student and teaching materials. The cost to setup and manage multiple students and their coursework and grades is quite expensive costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

If the district were to go to year-round multitrack, it would lose a significant number of students - which would in itself solve the overcrowding problem.

Teachers in the Seattle School District went on strike in September. When the strike was settled after only a week or two, they discovered that many students had left the district permanently - and then the district had too many teachers so some had to be laid off. The Lake Washington School District should be very careful when it threatens to go to multi-track. The backlash may be worse than anyone could imagine.

Susan Wilkins said...

Steve, I don't believe you attended the Task Force's tours of Juanita Elementary or Keller Elementary. Both of these schools have 4 regular classrooms that are being used as preschools. Across the district, there are at least 15 classrooms that were converted to preschool classrooms that could revert to regular classroom space. See the classroom allocation table at http://www.lwsd.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/News/Long-Term-Facilities-Planning-Task-Force/2015.05.13/Calculations-of-Capacities.pdf This table also lists 56 "resource rooms" that are regular classrooms used for non-classroom activities. We don't know what these rooms are being used for because the district refused to do a space audit even though the task force requested it multiple times.

Also, the "shared learning spaces" or pods that the new schools have could all be better utilized. The district produced a video of a 2nd grade pod at Bell Elementary being used by multiple students, tutors and teachers that was impressive. However, when I visited Bell a few weeks after that video was made, I found 3 additional pods in the school that were unused and vacant. Similar wasted pod space was observed at Horace Mann, Carson and Einstein Elementaries as well as at Redmond MS and Rose Hill MS.

There are also multiple "small-group" rooms at the 20 schools that were recently rebuilt in the district that could be used for ELL, tutoring, special needs, etc. instead of dedicating a full-size regular classroom for these programs.

It was apparent almost immediately that the district has a problem keeping track of its space and therefore, space isn't being used logically or efficiently.

Anonymous said...

Steve, could you elaborate on how current preschool space is not suitable for general ed. space as it seems like any space would be better than the multi track year or a 6am high school start time.

Secondly, why is the district holding so firm on THEIR idea of remodeling (tearing down to build new) and so many requirements that makes just modernizing an older school more expensive? What districts outside the greater Seattle area has LWSD analyzed for cost savings? Surly there are districts around the country that build excellent elementary schools for significantly less than the$34 million LWSD proposes.

Bob Yoder said...

I think these comments are good and hope others keep sending them in. In response to the above COMMENTS I recently emailed the School Board, Kathyrn Reith, the PTSA and Eric L.the following:

Dear School Board:

I hope when the Bond measure comes up next year that the Levy Committee will implement "the bare minimum" (as Mr. Tepper said in the Candidate Forum) by flooding our streets with Pro-Bond signs. Dr. Carlson promoted his candidacy with hundreds of signs and look at his margin of victory. It was the primary reason I voted for him because I think he "gets the point" and will influence the Levy Committee accordingly. The Board has more influence with the Bond passage than you give yourselves credit for.

Mr Tepper brought up another good point in the Candidate Forum about about the lack of transparency in the District about "who manages the District's money". For a budget the size of our District the public deserves to know who is our "Finance Director". Finally, did you notice Eric L advertisements in the Redmond Reporter? They were effective...don't know why the Levy Committee couldn't spend some money there.

I recently wrote an opinion about how the district is addressing limited classroom space to cope with overcrowding. You can find it here: http://redmondcity.blogspot.com/2015/11/finding-more-classroom-space-to-cope.html. The COMMENTS below the post are more illuminating than the Opinion itself. (Opposing opinions are welcome).

Thanks for all the time and hard work you put in as Directors.

Best wishes,
Bob Yoder

CC: Eric L.
LW PTSA

TVN said...

I was a member of the Long Term Facilities Task Force. I encourage each of you to read the report when it comes out today. Susan was also a member of the Task Force and it's clear she has her own opinions. But as a 63 member whole, the Task Force does not believe, contrary to Susan's statements, that the District has been operating inefficiently. Moving preschool is a way to improve efficiency by freeing up classrooms for full time rather than part time use. But this is not without its own costs and the District still legally has to offer that program and secure suitable space. The City not using Old Red School House would also be a community loss.
The Task Force identified ways to improve the design process to reduce costs. This includes a full assessment of remodel versus rebuild. Many schools are quite old and no longer meet the educational specifications. Remodeling comes with its own issues and it can cost less to simply start over. The District assesses both options.
Here are the two single biggest takeaways on what I have learned over the course of the last year. One, this is a complex issue. Anybody who says, why don't they just do x, y or z is not being honest with you or has not studied the issue. There are legal issues, special needs issues, educational specifications, safety issues, byzantine city/county/developer issues, not to mention the crisis of state funding as noted by the McCleary decision. While the Task Force did come up with ways to improve the process and nibble around the edges of the capacity issue, there simply is no silver bullet.
This leads to second big takeaway...the sheer scale of this problem. As the District recently announced, LWSD is now the 4th largest district in the state - having jumped two places in one year. It grew by 1114 students in one year. By 2021, there will be more than 5000 students than current capacity. To illustrate, that's an additional 4 elementary schools (500 each), a middle school (1000) and a high school (2000) worth of students just within the next 5 years. These are houses that are already planned/built or children already born.
LWSD has known about this problem which is why there have been 3 proposed bonds. Short of year round multi-tracking or double shifting, this is not a problem that can be solved by more efficient use of space. And those options don’t address aging facilities. As an exercise, the Task Force said, let's say we double shift at the HS and do all these other things we really don't want to do at MS and elementary (e.g., increase class size, eliminate music, remove all teacher planning space, etc.)....will that be enough to solve the capacity problem? The answer is no. So that's why the recommendation includes year round multi-tracking. It is the only feasible solution if voters will not approve (60% threshold) more money for schools.
I have heard, "The District can't be trusted....look at how the redmodeled schools were overfull the day they opened!" Keep in mind that the District never intended there to be 800 students at an elementary school...the plan was always to build additional schools. Or when Susan Wilkins tells you that the District overpaid for a particular piece of land, please note the value of your home and decide if you think that's really true or not. Or if you think that LWSD should really be in the business of land speculation rather than educating kids.
I appreciate the reluctance to trust bureaucracies, but LWSD is an award winning school district producing consistently admirable results. After a year of digging into this issue, the Task Force has largely validated the District's approach. One might suggest that it could build elementary schools for $32M rather than $34M, or that a school has an extra closet they can use, but that does not change the fact that we simply need to build more schools to support very real growth.
We live in an amazing community with an amazing school district. I, for one, am willing to pay a little more in taxes to keep it that way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you TVN for your comments - much truth there.

However, the fact still remains: LWSD is more concerned about building architectural masterpieces than functioning school buildings. The city I grew up in had ugly-as-sin unpainted concrete schools (some of which are still being successfully used, 65 years after they were built) that us students received an excellent education within. Now I'm not suggesting that is our answer, but . . .

There ARE solutions to this problem that are not even being considered. Why, for example, are virtually none of our local schools two-story buildings? The elementary school nearest me in Redmond was completely rebuilt as a single-story building, and now has even less space inside than it did before. That is just plain stupid, especially when considering how many millions of dollars were spent on it. How are we any better off after spending all of that money? Immediately after construction we now have to put ugly portables outside of it!

And the old school building, where I used to go vote, was still in very good condition in my opinion.

Why wasn't a two-story building built there instead with twice as many classrooms? These additional rooms could be used as storage, resource rooms, teacher lounges, and so on, when not needed for classroom space. As a percentage of the total project cost, it doesn't cost that much more to go up a floor.

With all of that said, I do agree with most of what you wrote - this is a very complex issue, but I still maintain that there are viable solutions that are not being considered.

The district has known about this coming growth in enrollment for YEARS and still hasn't been able to deal with it - more money is not the silver bullet solution when the district has failed to use their existing money wisely, choosing aesthetics over functionality.

TVN said...

Two things to respond to Anonymous. 1) the recommendations do indeed call for two story buildings as it is an more efficient use of resources. 2) Keep in mind it has been the goal of LWSD to keep the elementary schools smaller. And the bond measures that were previously approved were for specific schools and did not call for 800 student schools. In general, this community has supported the idea that smaller elementary schools provide a better learning environment. The portables were not a plan; they were a necessary response to there not being any more money available for additional schools. The District assumed this money would be there because there had never been a case before where LWSD voters had turned down a bond. Now the voters have rejected three. The District owns a property near 116th where it has had plans for five years to build a much needed elementary school.

Please believe that 63 very motivated and intelligent people worked together for the better part of a year exploring LOTS of options. One of the task force members is a prominent developer, Eric Campbell, who provided much expertise in the construction area. We also put together a list of "innovative" ideas for the District to explore. Smaller footprints for urban schools, partnering with local organizations/municipalities, choice schools that could be double shifted or incorporating online learning. But these would need to be flushed out and once again, do not fully address the scope of the problem.

Susan Wilkins said...

There were 63 members of the full task force that had 5 scheduled meetings between December 2014 and June 2015. There was also a working subcommittee with 26 members who had 8 additional meetings. The task force met during the summer on short notice and many members were not available. At many of the meetings, there were between 8 and 20 members. Many members did not show up after the first meeting. To imply that all 63 members were in agreement on the final recommendation is simply not true. To imply that I was the sole dissenter is also not true.

I especially oppose building schools outside the Urban Growth Boundary, but we never talked about it in depth. For all the residents who live along NE 116th Street in North Redmond (including TVN), I hope you all realize that when the new middle school is built at Redmond Ridge, YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE SENT OUT THERE OR TO EVERGREEN MIDDLE SCHOOL for grades 6-8 so get used to the 45 minute bus ride each way.

When the new elementary school at Redmond Ridge East is built, Wilder Elementary will be nearly empty so many of the kids along NE 116th Street will be sent out to Wilder Elementary for K-5. (No, they won't get to go to the new elementary in North Redmond - that will be reserved for kids who live to the west. Too bad we didn't talk about this before the task force made its recommendation.)

Steve Hitch said...

Susan,

I agree with your comments that some preschool classes could be relocated from gen ed classrooms spaces they are using now, in less crowded schools. Those federally funded preschool programs that serve students in poverty or with other special needs don't have the same requirements as general education classrooms, which is why they could possibly be moved to ORSCC or to other lower quality spaces. My comment above said that "much of the preschool space is not suitable for gen ed space". My point being that kicking out the preschool classes is not the magic bullet for the district's space problems that Bob had implied. It is just a tool (albeit a valuable tool) in trying to squeeze more capacity from what we have now. That is, of course, why the task force recommendations look to move these students out to other spaces in the future as demand rises for those classrooms.

Your comments about the space audit imply incompetence. Many of us don't see it that way. Your comment that "We don't know what these [resource] rooms are being used for" disregards the conversations we had about how those rooms are used. (Special education, english language learners, Safety Net -- I think these vulnerable populations should have adequate space as determined by the directors of those programs who understand their needs the best, and space that reflects federal requirements for those programs.)

In any case, as you know, the recommendation for space audits to increase efficiency of used space is one of the recommendations of the Task Force. The Task Force also included revising how resource room space is allocated. Your comments seem to suggest a belief that auditing the space will find room for our kids and solve the space problem. The Task Force didn't agree with your assessment. While improving efficiency is a tool toward meeting the capacity need, it isn't the panacea to the problem. I think that the Task Force's acknowledgment that there may be room for improvement does not imply "space isn't being used logically or efficiently". I appreciate the district's willingness to listen to ideas from us lay people and seek room for improvement.

Steve Hitch said...

Anonymous - RE: Preschool space: Some preschool space is not suitable for gen ed space. State funding of schools comes with a lot of strings. One of the strings is that when you build a new school, you must tear down the old one. In some cases, the district doesn't tear down the old school, but instead finds a new use for it. That is allowed if the new use is not for general education.

One example is the Old Redmond Schoolhouse. When Redmond Elementary was built, it replaced the Old Redmond Schoolhouse. The district turned it into a community center. It could be used for preschool classes, but if the district tries to use it for general education classes, then the district violates state law and there are penalties related to future funding.

Another example is Dickinson. The preschool that serves the Redmond Learning Community is housed in Dickinson's old building that was similarly replaced. Moving those preschool classes out does not create gen ed classrooms because legal restrictions (or penalties) prevent that use.

The point of my comment above was just that kicking out the preschools from the spaces they are using isn't going to solve all of the space problems.

Anonymous said...

How about we STOP allowing developers to build more and more new homes in our area without requiring that they fund (via taxation) building new schools to concurrently? Am I missing something?

Steve Hitch said...

Anonymous - RE: Modernization.

You asked why LWSD does modernization. I agree they could use better terminology, but they describe it here: http://www.lwsd.org/For-Community/School-Construction/Modernization/Pages/Modernization-Program-Basics.aspx.

The FAQ, here: http://www.lwsd.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/News/Long-Term-Facilities-Planning-Task-Force/Task-Force-FAQ-final.pdf, does a nice job of explaining new-in-lieu.

In the task force meetings, we discussed comparable costs of construction. I don't have that information at my fingertips now. A lot of things go into determining construction cost. One important factor is life cycle cost. In construction you can make a decision that may reduce capital cost at the expense of a higher operating cost (for example you may choose a more efficient heating system that costs more to build but less to operate.) You really need to be wary of comparing one school cost to another to be sure you are making a valid comparison. Just like shopping for a home where an appraiser provides comparable costs, you need to make valid comparisons. Comparable schools serve the same number of students, are located in communities with similar land costs, are located on land with similar development challenges, are located in areas with comparable environmental regulations, have similar state education requirements, etc. It costs a lot to build here as the prime land has already been taken and projects these days must contend with steep slopes, wetlands, and other challenges.

Susan Wilkins said...

I have a 2010-2011 student directory from Horace Mann Elementary that lists 19 teachers in 19 classrooms in the school. But look at the LWSD 6-Year Capital Facilities Plan and it says that Horace Mann has 17 classrooms. Which is it? 17 classrooms or 19 classrooms? I brought up this discrepancy with Janene Fogard who is the acting facilities planner for the district. I was told that I needed to meet with Barbara Posthumous who is the Director of Finance because she was in charge of classroom counts for the district. (I actually don't know why she is in charge of this.)

I went to Barbara's office and she took out a photocopy of Horace Mann's floor plan and proceeded to number the rooms at Horace Mann with a pen. She numbered the classrooms from 1 to 19, then she looked at another sheet and said that two rooms were "resource rooms" so that Horace Mann had 17 rooms. Which rooms were 'resource rooms' and what were the resource rooms used for? She did not know. I pointed out that my directory said that Horace Mann had 19 classrooms that were clearly used as classrooms. We argued whether Horace Mann had 19 or 17 rooms for another 30 minutes until she needed to get to another meeting. Two rooms is not a lot; however, the district has 56 'resource rooms' in its elementary schools - enough classroom space for 3 additional schools.

I found the whole experience to be unreal. Was the district really keeping track of millions of dollars of classroom space using a pen and paper? The district says that they have 56 'resource rooms.' What are they all used for? Many members of the task force asked for a space audit and a classroom inventory to find out what the classrooms were being used for. From January through June, Janene Fogard refused to authorize a space audit until school was out and then stated that the district would do a space inventory in the future.

The district isn't sure how all of its classroom space is being used, or if it's being used efficiently, but they've declared a space shortage because of surging enrollment and they want taxpayers to fund a bond to build more space. I cannot endorse such an irresponsible proposal.