March 22nd School Board Meeting Recap – Snoqualmie Residents Voice Public Outcry At SMS Annexation Decision

Thursday’s SVSD School Board Meeting was crowded with concerned parents, many from Snoqualmie voicing their public outcry at the 2013 closure of Snoqualmie Middle School.

Some went before the board during public comment time.  One resident shared a 7th grade student’s letter titled “No Freshman Learning Center,” signed by 95 Snoqualmie Middle School students.  Another resident voiced concern over the lack of details about programming on the 9th grade campus.  She said we need to know more before giving it the “a-okay.”  Former Valley Voters For Education president, Cliff Brown, made a powerful statement, telling the board he thought it was irresponsible to run a bond for a replacement middle school in February 2013. He told the board their recent decision to annex SMS before a replacement is built deeply divided the community.  He said this division will certainly make the bond fail.  He then finished with, “But I think you [board] already know that.”

At the beginning the meeting, a time when consent agenda items are usually approved fairly quickly, School Board Member Carolyn Simpson requested that one consent item be changed to a discussion item.  That item was a 220 page Survey and Study Report which documents the district’s facilities to help the state gauge when schools will need modernization and possibly qualify for state matching funds to offset those costs.  The complicated report also details district enrollment so the state knows when district buildings may need expansion.  The report is issued every few years.

Simpson requested the report become a discussion item because it contained a letter from the Washington State OSPI Office stating SVSD has been granted a waiver reduce to a 20 year time period (instead of 30 years) to qualify for state matching funds for MSHS modernization.  That waiver makes MSHS eligible for those funds in 2014 – not in 2024 as the committee thought when deciding whether to remodel/expand MSHS or annex SMS to solve the high school capacity issues two years ago.  The OSPI letter was dated August 2010.  Simpson said she considered this pertinent information to her vote two weeks prior to run a SMS replace bond – and wanted to know why this information was not shared with past committees and the public prior to last year’s bond.  She said she had a responsibility to tax payers if a bond with state matching funds included was an option.

District administration responded that the state match would most likely have only been $3 million (of a $35 million project cost) and could only be used for certain parts of the project.  The $3 million is the minimum the project could qualify for – it could go higher.  Simpson  asked why this possible pertinent information was never shared with the public.  She said until she looked at the OPSI letter, she thought MSHS was not eligible for state match modernization funds until 2024, saying that was what the committee stated as part of their reasoning for chosing annexation over a MSHS remodel/expansion to solve high school capacity problems.

Snoqualmie resident, Laurie Gibbs, asked the board whether they considered the OSPI letter pertinent information – and if so why wasn’t it shared?  One board member explained that the potential minimum $3 million state match funds wouldn’t have changed his mind about annexation.  Scott Hodgins reminded the audience that state match funds are never guaranteed, that capital bonds still have to be run for the full amount; and if SVSD does receive the state funds, they can be used for any capital projects.

Ms. Gibbs was then asked to sit down while the board discussed her question, to which she said she preferred to stand until someone answered her actual question.  Members of the audience joined in, calling out for an answer.  In the end, the question of why the document was not shared publicly 18 months ago remained unanswered.  One audience member called out, “That $3 million dollars might have been what passed the bond.”

Geoff Doy brought the discussion to a close.  He said he thought the information might have been pertinent to past committees, and possibly for himself, but he wasn’t on the committees.  He was unsure if it was enough to revisit the decision that was already made regarding the Freshman Learning Center.

Other important topics were covered once the early board room excitement died down.  Twin Falls Middle School officials gave a great presentation on its school – kind of Twin Falls State of the Union Address.

Two important resolutions were approved which will finally allow Snoqualmie and North Bend to collect the district’s increased impact fee.  Snoqualmie City Councilman, Bob Jeans, stated that the district agreed to all of the city’s requested liability language.  The City of Snoqualmie had requested this full indemnification language for the past year.  Had the district accepted the city’s liability language request last year, an impact fee of $8100 instead of $2700 would probably have been collected in 2011.

Budget was a big discussion topic again as legislators in Olympia struggle to compromise on a state budget. Until that compromise is reached, SVSD will not know the extend of its budget cuts.  Because the 2011 two-year teacher’s union contact did not include the state mandated 1.9% teacher salary reduction, SVSD does know it will need to cut at least $800,000 from its new budget.

Geoff Doy and Carolyn Simpson presented on their work to create a school board strategic plan. There was also discussion on refunding (refinancing) the 2005 school bond.  Historically low interest rates present Snoqualmie Valley School District residents a money savings opportunity.

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