Op-Ed: Tomorrow’s Schools Are Today’s Decisions

Ideas. Lots of ideas.  From the district and from parents.  Lots of opinions on what’s needed for future education in the Snoqualmie Valley – something termed “21st century education.” Opinions and ideas about the next school bond that will shape our education future.

When you have very young children, that future is simply elementary school.  It’s hard to think past those first six years of public education. Yet, to figure out the long-term future of schools in the Valley, those with very young kids today need to think about the tomorrow of middle school and high school; think beyond a new elementary school.  Yes, it’s hard, but it’s needed.  Why? Honestly, because simply stated, I don’t think you want to travel my kids’ SVSD school journey of five failed bonds, 5 boundary changes and attending all but two Snoqualmie Valley schools

In 2003 I was the mother of very young kids, that was when the last Snoqualmie Valley school construction bond passed. Back then I could only see that new elementary school, which we got (along with a third middle school) when the bond passed by 35 votes. My kids benefited from that new school, but since then? Nothing. Well, some portables at the high school, but we have yet to pass a construction bond that solves the long-term capacity needs at the high school level.

Cover of the 2004/05 SVSD School calendar. Photo was taken during the groundbreaking ceremony for Cascade View ES in June 2004. The school was built by the last SVSD construction bond to pass, 10 years ago.. In the bottom right hand corner are my then 2 and 5 year old children.
Cover of the 2004-2005 SVSD School calendar. Photo taken during the groundbreaking ceremony for Cascade View ES in June 2004. CVES was built by the last SVSD construction bond to pass, 10 years ago. In the bottom right hand corner are my then 2 and 5-year-old children.

After five failed construction bonds and as a measure of last resort, a middle school is closing in order to remove a whole class of students from the comprehensive high school because there is no longer room for them.  Yes, we are making the freshman campus all it can be, but is it the optimal solution?  In my opinion, no.  But for this place in time, was it the only solution?  Yes, so it seems.

If you have a 5-year old right now, TODAY, and a bond passes this year, one that finally solves the high school capacity problem, that needed space will be added just before your kids get there.  It will be built and ready to educate today’s 5-year olds.  The important decisions we make now are your solution for tomorrow’s schools.  And tomorrow comes faster than you think.  I know. We’ve lived it.

Since 2007 my thoughts have always been, “this will be fixed by the time my youngest is out of elementary school.”  Is it?  Nope.  Next year, my youngest child will attend middle school on the eastern edges of North Bend, at a school that’s being overcrowded by design because we are told there is no room for her 9th grade brother at the high school. Her middle school will close to become his 9th grade campus.

So I encourage all young parents to look beyond just elementary school and become involved in the decisions that also impact where your children will spend their middle and high school years. Decide what you want for your child’s education once the elementary school years fly by – because they do.  Long-term solutions take years to implement.  The fastest way to fix our high school capacity problem has a 6-7 year timeline. That’s a whole elementary school career.

I’ve heard a school board candidate say our district’s most pressing capacity need is at the elementary school level.  Really?  The past 6 years have been spent trying to solve capacity issues at the high school level. That need that still exists, but has been patch-worked by removing kids from the high school and overcrowding the middle schools.  Is this the final solution you want for your 5-year old when they are 11 and then 14?

If not, then it’s time for everyone to come together, not put the capacity needs of one set of students above the other.  The needs are equal.  It’s hard to look beyond those early education years, but I implore all young families to do so.

My children have attended three of five SVSD elementary schools, the third one because both Snoqualmie schools ran out of room.  Beginning next year, we’ll start at Twin Falls Middle School, which means we’ll have attended all of the district’s middle schools.  And we’ve been at the high school since 2009.

My oldest child, who is about to graduate from Mount Si, was a second grader the last time a school construction bond passed.  And my youngest, who is now 11-years old, was just starting to walk.  And here we are, with capacity issues (which do impact education) still waiting to be solved.

My family has made the best of it.  We’ve met great people at each school.  Was it what I envisioned when we moved to the Snoqualmie Valley 12 years ago?  No, I admit our school journey was not what I imagined… and I want a better, optimal solution for the next wave of young families.

It’s time to think long-term.  Solve the capacity issues of elementary, middle and high school equally, not weight one as more important, because the pressing needs exist across all levels of Snoqualmie Valley education.

If you have young children, this is your chance to solve the district-wide capacity issues for the long-term. And MOST importantly, have the solutions, the buildings, finished and ready for your child when they move beyond elementary school.

If you’d like to be a part of future bond focus groups visit the Snoqualmie Valley School District website.

Comments are closed.


  • Danna…very well said. I had the chance on Monday to be part of a focus group the district hosted to outline its proposed solutions. I have to say that the school board has finally delivered some much needed critical thinking and a set of plans that really take into account the needs of all of our kids. None of them is perfect because perfect is impossible and perfect is impossible because we have our own ideas of perfect. The next bond will address our needs at every level of education K-12. It is woefully late in coming and it will cause more pain than it needed to had previous bonds passed. But it is what it is. We can no longer kick the can down the road because the road has reached a dead end.

  • Danna, you missed mentioning that SVSD voters approved a rather large school construction bond of about $30M in 2005, for the construction of a much needed third middle school. This is the capital bond that built Twin Falls Middle School, and is the last bond that voters approved (ie, not the 2003 bond for Cascade View Elementary School). I have maintained that our district voters are willing to approve school construction bonds, as long as they’re based on credible info, are not extravagant, presented at the right time, and enough voters understand how they fit into “the big picture”. That 2005 middle school bond met enough of that criteria, so the required percentage of voters approved it.
    Unfortunately, the school construction bond proposals placed in front of voters since then did not, thus the outcome is what it is.
    The growth in elementary school enrollment has been pretty clear for many years, and the forecasted growth for those grades K-5 is credible still. We not only have kids spilled over already into portable classrooms (which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself), but we have run out of total classrooms and class sizes are growing due to the teacher lay-offs, ie lack of our teacher staff numbers being able to keep pace. Elementary school capacity is the most critical building issue we have presently, and our existing school board all agree that a new school is needed for K-5 kids. I hope to see such a bond proposal on the ballot asap.
    What I believe that many people are not witnessing is the lack of discussion by our past, and present, school board directors about capacity needs of elementary versus middle versus high school. The SVSD board discussion, reflected in the local papers as well as in their meetings, has been nearly entirely focused on the high school for several years now. This has served to distract many in the public from (1) the need for another elementary school and (2) the problem that the school board directors created for everyone by reducing our 3 middle school capacity down to 2 middle schools. so that they could annex Snoqualmie Middle School into the high school as a separate 9th grade-only campus…BEFORE getting an acceptable middle school construction bond proposal approved by voters. In other words, they were so focused on what they felt was a great idea that they could succeed at (despite where all previous WA freshman-only campuses failed) that they were willing to make the firm decision to first convert SMS into the FLC without knowing for sure that they would not have a middle school capacity problem or not. Well, we know how that worked out now: a whacky middle school bond proposed afterward, which went down twice in defeat, and now we are looking forward to 2 over-crowded middle schools in the coming school year. YET, the discussion by the board still continues to focus on the high school.
    There are simply too many voters right now who are aware of this self-inflicted situation to get a high school renovation or construction bond approved, particularly those voters who are the property tax payers that would foot that bill. IF such voters could see a credible plan to correct this situation that accounts first and foremost for what will be done about our middle, and elementary, school capacity needs, then a high school capital bond would be more likely for approval. Some of the focus groups have hi-lighted this point. Unfortunately, the present “options” of construction scenarios don’t adequately address that voter need, and need to be modified to do so.
    Like you, I’m looking forward to seeing our school building capacity and features improve. However, we also need to recognize that parents, students, and taxpayers know that teachers, their class sizes, and the learning support that our kids need is more important than empty classrooms, which is something that we have heard very little about from our school board, and which also affects likelihood of bond approvals.

    1. Stephen, the bond that built TFMS was on the same bond as Cascade View passed in May 2003 I believe. I am certain they were on the same bond, though. That bond also added the athletic fields at MSHS. -Danna

      1. Here’s the accounting: capital bond for construction of MSHS competitive athletic field & stadium issued 12/7/1997 in the amount of $32, 760,000; bond for construction of CVES issued 7/1/2003 in the amount of $40,000,000 ($500K paid down almost immediately after, which lowered it to $39,500,000); bond for construction of TFMS issued 3/1/2005 in the amount of $29,135,000 (some additional money borrowed by SVSD and left-over from 2003 bond paid needed to pay for total TFMS cost) . Since then, a couple instances of reissues to reflect improved bond market conditions to both lower taxpayer burden a little and gain additional capital funds occurred. As of the Sept 2010 spreadsheet I got these numbers from, the total taxpayer burden owed bond investors was $93,785.000. Interestingly, one of the unsolved problems in the current bond option discussions is how to come in under the maximum allowable tax cap, esp since the total costs of most of the options being discussed currently is $160-2200 million, which must be added to the existing bond burden on taxpayers. Ie, all the more reason to make sure that our future school construction is done in the right order (eg, elementary, middle, and high) so that facilities are there when we need them and can pay for them, which just might eliminate the ability of SVSD to “go for it” on a huge mondo bond on the ballot (I’m hoping that the idea of phasing these in over time continues to be the plan discussed by our school board…if not, we risk a repeat of the problem they created by not getting a replacement middle school bond approved first by voters before annexing SMS into the “Freshman Learning Center” (FLC), this time by getting a high school renovation bond approved (assuming it’s palatable to enough voters) and THEN finding there’s a legal barrier preventing bond passage of a new middle school and/or elementary school.

  • Stephen,
    From what I heard at the focus group, the work on the high school could accomplish/solve two things – high school and the middle school capacity needs. A larger, modernized, flood proofed high school means 9th graders could return to a traditional high school setting and the 9th grade campus returned to Snoqualmie Middle School – the proverbial
    two birds with one stone.” In the interim, we get to see how our 9th grade campus concept works, If it turns out to be an educational gem, can’t it be moved onto the main campus in its own space? Either way, 9th graders on the main campus expands programming and keeps 30 teachers from carving into their prep period by traveling between two campuses and the district expense of those teachers maintaining two classrooms. But, by building a 3rd middle school and leaving the separate freshman campus as the forever solution (which you mentioned above that 9th grade campuses have failed historically in WA state and I am not sure they have proven this scenario is best educationally either), well you are adding to the yearly operating budget of the district by probably $700,000-$1million – because you are running three middle schools, a 9th grade campus and a high school. Can we afford this – both financially or educationally? Issaquah School District decided it was too costly and converted their freshman campus to a middle school and returned 9th graders to their high schools. I also hear Skyline and Issaquah are thrilled to have their 9th graders back. As a school board candidate, where do you stand on where our 9th graders ultimately belong – separated or at Mount Si? It seems that would help shape your stance on what the next bond should contain, and the order in which facilities should be built. I believe there are equal, critical needs and we need to get to work on all as soon as possible.

  • I have had an interesting discussion with neighbors that brought up the question, how many kids in SVSD have parents that can’t vote because they are not US citizens? Just wondering… The tech industry has brought into the valley a lot of families from other countries (which I love!). Maybe we should be addressing this issue in order to get more voters to pass our school bonds? Food for thought.

  • I favor having the 9th graders physically located on the same campus as grades 10-12, primarily because it both saves operational money and enables more flexibility in class schedules/programs for all 9-12 students (ie, teachers). With that said, I’m also in favor of continuing the special focus began by MSHS principal John Belcher 2 years ago on helping 9th graders transition into the high school setting…something that is not location dependent, and is already underway. I believe that such transition is enhanced by co-locating as many 9th graders into the same area (eg, common building), although that alone does not accomplish the bulk of it. Therefore, I like the idea of a new primarily 9th grade building added to the main MSHS campus in the proposed “options”.
    ONLY the option C presented by SVSD addresses up-front in the timeline providing a building solution to the middle school capacity problem we are now in…it does that by proposing another middle school be built, while continuing use of SMS as the FLC. A solution that I fear will not be approved by enough voters to pass…we’ve already seen what happened to the last middle school construction bond, twice even (defeated). Of course, such a bond proposal could be constructed that significantly ups the chances of approval, if it eliminates all costs associated with building competitive athletic fields/facilities (a reason cited by enough voters for why they voted “no” on the past 2 ballots), is based on credible forecasted enrollment and other data (another reason why other “no” voters denied, and why the repeatedly inaccurate Calm River forecasts need to be thrown out for an alternative data source), and reduces the over-all construction costs (by using existing architectural plans and down-grading materials used). Even if all these things were worked into a new middle school construction bond proposal, it is nearly a crap-shoot on voter approval given their memory of the previous TFMS middle school bond sales pitch that SVSD needs to have 3 middle schools, and then the subsequent step back to 2 middle schools. Mind you, I’m not saying we shouldn’t put another middle school bond proposal on the ballot, I’m saying that SVSD now has a huge self-inflicted problem that now likely requires more careful, and longer timelines, with a much tighter proposal to move forward. I’m not convinced that trying to sell voters on a replacement middle school and high school bond stands a good chance of passing before 2015. That doesn’t mean that the current bond discussion involving the public is wasted, as that is valuable for the somewhat distant future at worst…just that teachers are being sacrificed in the meantime, who happen to be the most important factor in accomplishing SVSD’s mission (again, according to sound study data, not just my opinion). EVERY time a bond proposal is placed on the ballot, it costs .5 to 1.0 FTE teacher because that money must come out of the general fund), NOT including the costs of its development which so far has been considerable in the present planning, which I estimate has cost us another 2 teachers. That translates directly into pressure to grow larger class sizes, another factor that studies clearly show affects student learning beyond how great the teachers are.
    But, let’s not lose sight of the fact studies (and our own SVSD parents) say that incoming 6th graders have a more difficult time transitioning into middle school, as compared to 9th graders into high school. We should be investing more into helping 6th graders, before spending the money & resources on 9th graders. IF we are truly “data/evidence driven” AND wishing to improve our students academic performance into high school AND lower our drop-out rates, we need to FIRST make sure our middle school kids’ needs are satisfactorily met. Accommodations to help them transition, teacher pro development to keep them academically engaged and excited during the stressful transition, integrated & interdisciplinary curriculum/tcollaboration between subjects/classes, anti-bullying and other student safety training/practices, are some examples of what the evidence shows makes a big difference there…things that we’re doing a bit backwards at the moment by beginning at the high school level and trying to work it down into lower grades over what will likely turn out to be many years.
    Same goes for elementary school. It’s a domino effect: elementary school kids that do poorly do even worse by the time they get to middle school, and many are gone from our schools by end of high school (drop-out, pulled out by parents for another district, private school, home school), and SVSD has one of the highest such rates in the state, certainly well above our neighboring districts. Investments earlier in the cohorts pay off, investments made later to fix things that could have been prevented cost more taxpayer $$, constrain SVSD academic outcome metrics that state & federal funding looks at, or sets up our schools for state intervention (a risk that already emerged for a few of our elementary schools 3 yrs ago).
    Like you and so many other parents, students, and teachers, I want it ALL NOW. The problem is that SVSD simply CANNOT do it all now. Our district has a severely limited budget and existing resources. So, just like your home budget, we have to PRIORITIZE the things that we want, and begin tackling them starting with #1, then #2, etc, and go as far down that list as the present budget and actual income allows. After all, as we succeed at the most important things, we are free to tackle the next priority on the list and over time we may just actually get all that we all want. My mantra has been to first fund and resource those things that are (1) absolutely required to fulfill SVSD’s stated mission (distilled: educate our kids to academically prepare them for success after high school graduation, in further schools, careers, and life), and (2) driven FIRST and PRIMARILY by sound study data evidence that clearly indicates what works BEST, what doesn’t, and not be driven by pet ideas and intuition of insiders and outsiders (intuition is fine, in the absence of sound scientific study evidence, but I have not yet seen that situation here), or by selfish needs of a smaller group because their kids happen to all be near or in high school now, or whatever else has driven the “everything is a priority” mentality that continues to suck the resources well dry and keep SVSD schools from performing at the level that so many others across the nation, even in WA, are attaining. Too big of a percentage of local property tax payers tell me that they are not inclined to keep funding such seemingly aimless or “boil the ocean” practices, thus their demands for a strategic business plan that SVSD keeps putting off the creation. Even our smaller Riverview School District has had such a business plan now for 3 years, and I was informed in an interesting conversation with one of their board directors yesterday is currently being updated (annual review of such plans is a common best-practice). I ask you: if a smaller sister district can join Issaquah and so many other school districts similar to SVSD in developing and maintaining a plan with PRIORITIES that drive their budgets, why shouldn’t SVSD? The time to have these priority discussions, and likely battles, is best done during plan development. SO, I also like to ask those here: what’s more important to engaging your kids into learning: great teachers, smaller classes, new school buildings, another sports team?

  • Danna,
    I want you to know that as a parent, I feel your pain. We all want what is best for our children and we all want a long term solution to our lack of adequate permanent school facilities. We agree on the need. But we also need to understand the facts that face us if we are ever going to solve this problem. The first fact is that there is not a current capacity problem at Mount Si High School. Even if all of the 9th Graders stayed at Mount Si High School, it would be more than 100 students below capacity. This is why it was completely unnecessary for the school board to annex Snoqualmie Middle School. If Snoqualmie Middle School were not closed, our three middle schools would also be 200 students below capacity. Meanwhile, our elementary schools are already over their maximum capacity – especially Cascade View Elementary School. We will shortly have full day Kindergarten which will be the equivalent of adding 300 children to our elementary schools in a single year. Even if we built another elementary school on Snoqualmie Ridge, it would be at maximum capacity the day it opened. This is not to prioritize elementary school children over middle school or high school students. It is simply recognizing the facts. An economical $30 million bond would solve this problem.

    The problem is different at Mount Si High School. All three of the options being considered by the current school board involve spending more than $200 million. As our school district is only one quarter of the size of the Issaquah and Lake Washington School Districts, this would be like trying to pass an $800 million bond in those school districts. An amount this large on a per child basis as never been passed in any school district in our State.

    Another fact we must consider. The local property tax rate in our school district is already 50% higher than in Bellevue or Seattle ($12 per thousand versus $8 per thousand in Bellevue and Seattle). Our homeowners are already paying one thousand dollars more per year than they pay in Bellevue or Seattle. Asking our homeowners to pay so much more on top of what they are already paying is unfair and contrary to our State Constitution.

    Then there is the lack of State Matching funds. The State has historically paid 67% of the cost of building every other high school in Washington State. But when our children need a school, the State is not willing to pay more than 3%. This is also contrary to our State Constitution. Every year for the past five years, I have begged the school board to demand that the State pay their fair share of building the schools our kids need. The school board has refused – and this more than any other reason has led to several school bonds going down to defeat.

    Finally, the Lake Washington School District just built a high tech high school for 600 students for only $31 million. So why is it that all three options being considered by our school board are for $200 million to $250 million??? Why won’t our school board allow us to have ALL OPTIONS on the table and have a REAL discussion about how to solve this problem?

    It is time to stop blaming the voters and stop repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Our problems will not be solved by putting yet another doomed $200 million school bond on the ballot. I attended one of the focus groups being held by the school district and I was extremely disappointed at the misleading “facts” and lack of options being presented to parents. For example, parents were told that a second high school would cost $100 million. If this is the case, they how did the Lake Washington School District build a state of the art STEM high school for only $31 million? It is time to allow a real discussion of the real problems based on real facts – and allowing parents to openly and freely discuss ALL options – not merely the three extremely expensive options sanctioned by the current school board. It is the only way our kids will ever get the schools they need and deserve.

    David Spring M. Ed.
    Parent, North Bend

  • By the way, since you asked, as a school board candidate, where I stand on the 9th Grade campus is that our 9th Graders deserve the opportunity for four full years at a comprehensive high school. It is wrong to force our 9th Graders to be the ONLY 9th Graders in the entire State to attend an isolated 9th Grade Campus. It is also wrong to severely overcrowd our two remaining middle schools simply to create 20 empty classrooms at Mount Si High School. If elected, my first motion as a school board member will be to return the 9th Graders to Mount Si High School by the Fall of 2014 AND reopen Snoqualmie Middle School by the Fall of 2014.
    David Spring M. Ed.
    Parent, North Bend

  • Hi David, can you map out an ideal plan for k-12? How would it sync with the current district efforts providing/exposing stem-for-all? How do you think we should house an eventual estimated 2,100 high school age student population? Thanks for your ideas.

  • Steph,
    Thanks for the question. I have posted more than one dozen ideas on my website springforschools.org with the purpose of providing a better quality education for every child in our school district. First, we need to better support full day Kindergarten and lower class sizes in our elementary schools. This is simply not possible with our currently over-crowded elementary schools. As I said on my website, I actually think we need two more elementary schools on Snoqualmie Ridge to support these two goals (which are mandated by both our State legislature and our Supreme Court). I have advocated for more than five years that a 6th elementary school at Deer Park should be put on the ballot as a separate issue. The current school board has refused to do this.

    Second, I am certain that going from three to two middle schools will be a disaster for both our middle school and high school students. I am not willing to wait five or more years before going back to three middle schools. We should return to three middle schools immediately to reduce the harm to our kids.

    Third, I believe we should follow the example of the Lake Washington School District in offering parents and students more choices in their high school options. On my website, I have posted images of the inside and outside of the new STEM high school in the Lake Washington School District. At $31 million for 600 high school students, this concept is not only economical, it is very forward thinking. By the way, the STEM high school is open to any student who applies and commits to putting in the effort – not merely the kids who are good at math.

    As for a 2,100 student high school, the average high school in our State is about 1,000 students. A 2,100 student high school would be a Mega High School and in my opinion would be a major mistake. Many studies have shown that huge high schools greatly reduce student engagement – and greatly increase the student dropout rate. So rather than building a $150 million mega high school, I think students would benefit much more from two more average size but much less expensive and more engaging high schools. There is no benefit to any high school being more than 1,400 students. So a STEM school of 600 to 700 students and a more general purpose high school of 1,400 students to me would be a reasonable compromise that would allow parents and children a choice in the kind of high school they attended. Both would offer STEM programs. But a specialized STEM school could go into this area more deeply.

    Finally, I firmly believe in providing all of our students with greater access to technology. If you go to my website, you will see that I propose doing what the Lake Washington School district has already done by providing every middle school and high school student in our school district with a laptop computer which they can use at school and at home for their homework.

    Where I am most different from the incumbents in this race is that I believe that it is up to the State legislature to fully fund both school operation and construction. Our State Constitution and our Supreme Court have been quite clear about this. It is wrong to place a huge tax burden on the backs of local homeowners when we are already paying taxes at a much higher rate than anywhere else in the State. If you have any more questions, feel free to email me: springforschools@aol.com.
    David Spring M. Ed.
    Parent, North Bend

  • My son starts middle school in 2014. Any Board candidate who will try to get Snoqualmie Middle School back by 2014 has my vote, regardless of any differences I may have had with him on any other aspects of all this. I wanted the replacement middle school, and voted for it. But we didn’t get it and now here we are. Your intention to pursue getting SMS back secured my vote David. That just trumps everything else for me. I hope you get elected and are able to bring it about.

    1. It was a bittersweet last 8th grade graduation ceremony at SMS this afternoon…. “Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle.” The middle school may be ceasing to exist, but I got the feeling many staff members and kids will always be Eagles at heart. It’s just sad. There’s a lot of history at SMS – 40 years of it. Okay, done being sentimental… but now that it’s finally happening, the sadness is real.

  • As I previously stated, it was a grave mistake for the school board to have decided to convert Snoqualmie Middle School into the Freshman Learning Center, BEFORE securing approval from voters on a replacement middle school. And even after it was apparent to the school board incumbents after the twice-defeated whacky middle school bonds “that dog won’t hunt” (sorry, I lived in GA for many years) the STILL persisted in the “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” mentality of moving back to 2 over-crowded middle schools. I concur with David on this: SVSD needs to reverse the insanity and move back to 3 middle schools as quickly as can be done; sadly, there’s no indication that the minority voice on the board about that will not continue to be over-ridden by the old incumbent majority that made this original mistaken decision.
    I am in favor of correcting this past mistake if elected by returning SMS as a middle school. The lack of the present facilities options for bonds as they’re being presented in addressing this idea is a flagrant denial of the public’s opportunity to weigh in on that, and if it must be corrected by a final upgrade of the school board with either David Spring or myself to push this forward then I hope the voters will take that course.
    This new middle school capacity problem joins a litany of other underserved middle school problems that the board and its administration have failed to address, including student safety, better engagement of students into learning, transitioning 6th graders into middle school, growing class sizes, and seeding the interests in STEM that are needed by the time they get to high school. And as I previously stated, it’s distracting too many from the things that make the largest improvement in our kids education: plenty more effective teachers.

  • Living Snoqualmie