Op-ed: District, Board so Focused on Passing School Bond, Willing to Ignore Needs of Half of Students

Eleven years. That’s how long it’s been since voters in the Snoqualmie Valley School District approved a capital construction school bond to build needed facilities.

11 years is a really long time in the world of a student.  My now 6th grader was just a 1-year old when we passed that bond in 2003.  I was hopeful then. Honestly, I don’t feel that same hope today.

Five failed school bonds since 2007. Three of which would’ve produced a long-term facilities solution spanning 10-15 years into the future. Then two failed schools bonds with a threat even attached.  That threat? Pass this bond or we’ll close your middle school. Sorry. Maybe a nicer way to phrase it is a ‘compromise’ – even if voters perceived it as a threat.

So here we sit. Down to two middle schools when voters approved three with the 2003 bond passage that built Twin Falls. And the high school (built in 1951 and expanded over the years) was last partially remodeled in 1991 (and still  floods by the way) and students bused all over the Valley to schools where space exists or space has been created for them with portables.

The district is gearing up for its next bond.  The school board publicly stated in March 2012 that it would run another bond to increase middle school space. They’ve spent two years examining ways to get that space – and more importantly, determining the needs of all students across the district looking out 10 years.

Just this month, the board stated SVSD needs another elementary school by 2016-17.  They stated we will run out of middle school space by 2018. They also said the high school is in need of improvements for both safety and the delivery of modern education.

Yet, there is a push to just run an elementary only school bond.

Huh? Wait. They said SVSD needs elementary AND middle school space within a tight two-year time span. Both should be addressed with the next bond. Are they planning to run back to back bonds then?  Each bond costs roughly a teacher’s salary to put on the ballot.

An elementary only school bond is motivated by fear.  Fear of voters.  A desire to FINALLY pass a school bond.  In the education world, bond passages are, in part, what defines successful superintendents and school boards – and ours can’t seem to capitalize in the red zone.

So they’re talking compromise. Looking for a magic bond that will pass.  It was this desire for compromise that led to the 2011 bond, a middle school only bond.  Newsflash.  It didn’t pass either.  It got to the one yard line on the first bond attempt.  So we went for it on 4th down and got pushed back to the 5-yard line with the second attempt.

What is the magic bond?  I don’t think one exists.  I don’t think there’s an easy solution.  I think it’s going to take widespread voter education regarding long-term needs.  I wish I had the answer, but in terms of 10-year student needs in this school district – just an elementary school doesn’t address them.

Sure young parents, that compromised bond might get you an elementary school. Heck, I got one in 2003.  Now 11 years later my children’s middle school is gone. They now attend middle school on the eastern edges of North Bend.  A great school, albeit inconvenient.

11 years later, the high school still floods, but has a nice portable pod in the parking lot.  There’s no water pressure in some bathrooms; the roof leaks; the auditorium and band rooms are too small; at time when we say STEM is the future, three students often use science lab space designed for two; the halls are narrow; there’s little natural light topped off by low ceilings.  Heck, the nicest bathroom on campus is at the stadium because 2003 bond money upgraded the athletic facilities.

In the end, you may get your elementary school, but it could come with great future compromise, including running subsequent bonds and hoping voters have an appetite to approve more than one in a short time period.  If there is no appetite, like the last 11 years have shown, my kids’ current middle and high school experience IS your future.

Fear.  Compromise.  Or a long-term plan with education.   You decide.  It’s too late for my kids.

2006 flood. Flood waters from this event and a 2009 flood, entered MSHS.

2006 flood. Flood waters from this event and a 2009 flood, entered MSHS.

 

Comments

  1. Janelle C. says

    I can sense your frustration. Its understandable. Even so, its not too late for your kids. Public, 5-days a week, at-the-building schools are not your only option. There is the district PPP program, there’s charter schools, there is virtual schools (Columbia Virtual Academy – completely free to you!), and my favorite, homeschooling (independent of any school district). I believe our district has been very irresponsible with money – that big old stadium is one example (would you build a big man room off of your house if your roof was leaking and your appliances were unreliable?). In this valley, you are still getting a large base of no voters – the root of this community is working class. Yes, it is changing to more of a suburban population but we aren’t there yet (nor in all honesty do I want it to be). My point is, don’t limit your own child’s education based on this school district’s current offerings. There is always another way.

    • Janelle, I have to agree… the district has proven time and time again that they can waste my tax dollars, We have a 43 million dollar football stadium to prove that. I refuse to give them more than M/O money… until they can prove to me that a basic building will work and the Taj Mahal is not needed. There is a need, but they ask too much. Why not start with a basic building it does not have to be fancy as long as there are classrooms to teach in and room for the kids. This district is trying to tax us out of our homes.

  2. I don’t get it, I’ve always voted for school bonds, even before I had kids because I can’t imagine money better spent towards society. Maybe part of the problem is we’ve had such an influx over those years of people from other districts and maybe they just can’t believe that we’re as bad off up here as we are? I know when talking to some of my family from other districts they talk about how much money their district’s waste because they either have to spend it all or lose it and so they buy some ridiculous things to use up all their budget. I try to point out to them that not all school districts are that way but they can’t seem to grasp anything outside of their own experience. The other issue is most likely a complete and utter lack of faith in any of the decisions this school board has made. There was no reason to go down to two middle schools. It didn’t solve any of our problems and created a whole host of new ones. I vote for the bonds because I know we have to have that money, but if I could have I would have stipulated that we need a new board to make the decisions on how to spend it.

  3. Chris Lodahl says

    Why avoid the problem – fix it – isn’t that what Microsoft’s Board would do………
    The District lacks the leadership needed to move forward for the children. The current superintendent has been here since 2005 and has not been able to pass any meaningful facility project/building. The efforts to organize building bonds are last minute and a hap hazard approach which only leads to more confusion instead of consensus. The school board is locked into those who support/protect the current superintendent and those who see the problem but are afraid to act. But the balance of power on the Board has changed. In the last two elections there has been a change of three board members – voted in by the voters — it is time they hire their superintendent to plan and lead a vision forward. The Board twelve years ago had their chance and failed. The issues and facts speak for themselves; we either continue down the same failed path or reorganize and search for a district leader who has the skills and ability to lead in the community.
    If you are not persuaded by the above, think about this. The current superintendent desires to move on as indicated by his job search at other school districts. But the move is hedged with a “golden parachute” or buy out from the board on a “rolling” three year contract of $510,000 – which would be money well spent at this point in time in my opinion.

  4. Stephen Kangas says

    K Brown, I’m not only passionate about the value of education (as I see you are, too), but have been also fortunate in having a lot of time to speak with many residents across our school district over the past many years, which in turn has rewarded me with what I feel is a clear picture of why our voters have voted as they have. In addition, regularly attending school board meetings over the past 15 years has provided me with a clear view of the directors and their hired administration. Here’s how I’d describe it: it’s not that our community voters don’t see the value in funding public education, or are largely unwilling to do so, and I see the vast majority do; instead its a recognition that (1) it’s what takes place inside the classroom that provides kids with a good education, not he classroom/building itself, (2) our district has not been well managed in planning and operating itself. SVSD has made notable progress on both of those fronts recently, but still has work to do there.
    There is a finite amount of money that is a smaller percentage of enrollment today than 5/10/20 years ago, which demands better planning that incorporates prioritizing what that money gets spent on. Altho ,as of this month, there is a board approved strategic plan, it doesn’t specify priorities, thus we’ll likely continue to see skepticism among the public on spending their taxes in a student-centered manner that leads to higher graduation rates, broader engagement of more kids into excited learning, and more. I believe when our voters see visible action, perhaps even results, in that direction they’ll feel a lot better about voting to spend their tax dollars on pretty new buildings and “modernization”.

    With that said, I and many others understand that even though effective teachers, and enough of them to reduce class sizes to manageable levels, are the most important factors in student learning, additional classrooms are inevitably needed as enrollment increases significantly beyond building capacity. I want to see more classrooms at all grade levels constructed, and am personally among those who are willing to spend my taxes on that. But, there are not enough of us to make up the super-majority of voters needed to pass a huge bond proposal of the size being vetted (Option A) at this point in time. It will likely take at least another 12-18 mos of “voter education” to increase those voter numbers to a level that stands a better chance of passage.

    SO…what to do in the meantime? When everyone, school board, superintendent/administration, and most of the voters I am in contact with clearly recognize that we badly need another elementary school built asap, ie it’s the most important need. And, where nearly everyone is still shell-shocked by the reduction of 3 to 2 middle schools, shortly after they were asked to approve a bond to construct a third middle school, leading to a very noticeable middle school crowding problem, much more so than in the high school. Those are the factors that are affecting public views of the Option A proposal being vetted right now. Sadly, I predict we’ll continue to see the capacity problems and voter negativity worsen as this situation continues to drag along. Dana’s frustration is a typical example of that, but the next step(s) to reverse the political stalemate are at the heart of present disagreement.

    Regarding your point about new residents and how they view our school district: yes, I believe that you have correctly detected one reason why some newbies are skeptical of new school taxes, but I submit that the larger issue among the newbies is that many are moving from a better school district to here (particularly those I’ve spoken to that moved here from out of state). Much as many here want to believe we have the best schools in WA, we don’t. We have a ways to go to reverse our position as lowest graduation rate of demographically similar Eastside districts, the discovery that we graduate students that are at a disadvantage competing for “good” university entry against other WA districts, and comparative failures in addressing the needs of so many hi-IQ students who don’t fit our district’s “mold” of instruction. Much as some others here want to believe we have the best school district in the nation, we regularly place near the bottom, just ahead of LA/MS in school funding, and significantly below the mid-point in academic outcomes nationally. Much as some others here want to believe that we have better schools compared to foreign countries, the USA dropped yet another notch to #32 last year in the PISA study rankings of 99 countries based on student academic outcomes in key subject areas. Yet despite this need to by hyper-focused on putting our students in the center and improving their school experience, we have both some parents and certainly a school board that has for years been hyper-focused on diverting money away from improving teachers, curriculum, programs, student safety, and other factors more important to our kids, to fund classrooms first. We need it all, but compromise is in order to move forward, and demonstrable actions that are in line with articulated priority.

    We need the start of a winning feeling of progress to reverse the view of decline in school construction. Meanwhile, I’m encouraged that academic improvements will continue. Let’s build on that with a bond passage win addressing the most critical capacity need we have presently, a new elementary school, and a solution to the middle school debacle. The high school will follow. Believe me, I hate to wait, also, but I’m being realistic about what will propel progress in our district in the fastest manner possible, and sacrificing a teacher salary putting a bond measure on the ballot that will surely fail ain’t gonna get us there any faster.

    • Danna McCall says

      The high school modernization is proposed as a solution to the middle school “debacle” according to presentations and focus groups I participated in. As hard as it is has been to pass construction bonds in the Valley in the past decade, I am glad you are so optimistic that the Valley can pass two in the next 5 years. You say we need to start that “winning feeling” which is exactly what this op-ed points to… looking for the easiest way to win, anything to pass a bond for fear another will fail – even if that compromise jeopardizes other needed education components from passing in the future. ~ Danna

    • Jean Saimo says

      Stephen-If the elementary school only bond were it pass; how does anything else get fixed for the other students? How do you think SVSD will fix the needs at the middle school level once (if) the elementary only passes? Our community has voted twice against a middle school to be built in Snoqualmie Ridge. Twice. I’m not understanding why that isn’t being taken into account, when some in our community are saying “just fix the immediate need”. It is my strong personal opinion that two huge middle schools are not okay. In my opinion, it is not okay nor desired. The last bond that passed in 2003, addressed the needs of all students in all levels K-12. Similarly, Option A addresses all grades K-12. This one gets the middle school students back to a three school model without building a new one on Snoqualmie Ridge (the bond that failed twice). It also gets a much needed additional elementary school PLUS at the high school it addresses capacity and the 21st century programs our school system is starting to offer with the addition STEM related classes. Is a new elementary school more important than anything else; is it more important than our middle and high school students?

  5. Carolyn Simpson says

    As a school board member, I welcome your input on this important decision. The email accounts for all school board members are at http://www.svsd410.org/domain/57 . The bond and facilities discussion is on the board meeting agenda for tomorrow night, as it has been for most of the last two years. The board meeting is from 6:30 to 9:30 pm at Snoqualmie City Hall, and this topic is scheduled for near the end of the meeting. If you cannot attend the meetings, you can listen to the podcasts which are usually posted on the district website within a few days of the meeting. Please stay informed and provide us input.
    Thank you,
    Carolyn Simpson
    SVSD School Board Vice President

  6. Barbara Scott says

    I believe strongly that Option A IS the correct bond. It’s a LONG-TERM plan that addresses facility needs for ALL ages and ALL communities within the SVSD. And the cost of it is LESS than a piece-milled approach–elementary, middle, then high school–and will take less time. Option A keeps the concept of the FC on a main campus. As it is now, every programming decision made will forever be held hostage to the constraints of that off-site campus. I question its long-term success.
    Let’s get this ONE bond passed then never say the word again–for a long time anyway. I’m ready to move on past the divisivness of constant boundary changes and kid upheaval. I would much rather be focusing those educational issues you mention, Steve. Think how much productive time is wasted over this constant bond/capacity/FC debate. ONE AND DONE!

  7. This is all so well said. Prior to moving to Snoqualmie I always voted for education bonds also, typically without even knowing the details. Watching the divisive, crisis management style of reform of SVSD has changed all that. Running an elementary school only bond is not the answer. Comprehensive long term planning is the only way out this mess, painful and expensive as it will be.

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