This is the second of a two-part story that asked Snoqualmie Valley School Board District 4 candidates four questions to help voters decide in the 4-way primary race. The two candidates with the most votes in the August 6, 2013 primary election will move on to the November general election.
Although the candidates must reside within the District 4 (North Bend) boundaries to run for the seat, ALL Snoqualmie Valley voters elect the next District 4 school board director.
For the candidates’ answers to the first two questions visit the earlier story.
Here we go…
3) Since 2003 SVSD has not passed a school construction bond; one to solve its remaining long-term (10-15 years) capacity issues at the high school level. What do you think it will take to finally pass a needed school construction bond?
Since our last campaign, I heard from voters that although we had a process before our last measure they wanted more. Also evident was that a clear-cut need could not be tied to highly debated items. I listened. When we go to the voters we must prove due diligence and then keep it simple. I think an “All Day Kindergarten” bond will most easily pass. Our Snoqualmie elementary schools are overcrowded, valley construction has increased, and we are set to add all day kindergarten in 2016 (kindergarten classroom need doubles!!!). An elementary only bond has understandable need and would have limited potential controversy.
With SMS annexation and the creation of the freshman campus, long-term capacity issues at the high school level are solved for a long time to come. The painful truth is that even though a two middle school model is not ideal, we are not at capacity. Common space is crowded and we will hit capacity soon. With ballot success and a triumphant launch of the Freshman Campus, we should quickly run part two –address secondary level improvements and other needs. An elementary first bond is not un-loyal to other work and needs. It flexibly adapts our recent planning.
As a voter, I want to see a clear and transparent capital improvement plan. To pass a capital bond, the District and School Board need to do the following:
- Tell our educational community what we need.
- Provide evidence of why we need it.
- Show them how much money we need and where the money is going.
- Tell the public when we are going to spend the money.
- Allow the community the opportunity for feedback about the plan.
- Address the feedback.
- Provide clear and simple communications.
- Do not allow the capital facility needs be politicized. Put the needs of the kids first.
As chair and co-chair of past successful SVSD bond campaigns (1996: $32 million and 2003: $53.5 million), I helped bring together our educational community in support of a capital improvement that made sense to everyone.
Past district needs focused on modernizing existing elementary and middle schools – extending their useful life. In 1996, SVSD was able to make improvements to all four elementary schools and Snoqualmie Middle School. In 2003, with the population explosion on the Ridge, it was necessary to build additional capacity. The 2003 bond built Cascade Elementary and Twin Falls Middle School.
Our greatest capital need is to improve Mt Si High School. To have a successful bond campaign, it will be necessary for the School Board of Directors and District Administration to come to consensus to support it.
School construction “capital bonds” require 60% “super-majority” voter approval for passage. Because of the higher bar for approval, SVSD must be very careful about scope/content, timing, amount, and voter education of bonds to assure passage. Unfortunately, SVSD has failed to mitigate known risks of its bond proposals for some time now, under the delusion that simply repeating the same ballot measure will eventually succeed.
We know the reasons why large blocks of “no” voters have failed bonds, and they must be addressed to assure bond passage: (1) bloated costs from building materials/features beyond satisfactory into the luxury aesthetic & requiring substantial architectural fees, (2) inclusion of substantial non-academic facilities, particularly for competitive sports fields/facilities, (3) funding construction of capacity too far into the future, (4) bonds proposals with no clear strategic business plan, ie, context of how building costs impact teacher development, classes sizes, curriculum, etc, (5) supporting data (eg, “21st Centry Learning”) & enrollment forecasts that have been shown to be non-existent, inaccurate, misleading, & multiple versions for different uses by SVSD, (6) bundling of multiple school construction projects where a badly needed one is held hostage to others of lesser importance or greater controversy, and (7) ineffective promotional campaigns that do not educate and convince enough voters.
All of these known reasons must be addressed, and when they are I predict that bond(s) will easily pass.
As I have stated many times at school board meetings, we will not be able to pass a major bond until the bond includes adequate State Matching funds – as is clearly required by our State Constitution. It is extremely unfair to ask voters to pass major bonds when our local property taxes are already 50% higher than they are in Bellevue or Seattle ($12 per thousand of assessed valuation versus $8 per thousand in Bellevue and Seattle). Had the school board followed my advice in 2008, we would have $100 million in State matching funds and be able to use State funds to build the schools we need without imposing excessively high taxes on local homeowners.
4) How do you think SVSD should deal with the aging, 60-year old Mount Si High School, a building with seismic structural issues that is not flood-proofed?
The recent McKee/Schalka assessment “estimates the actual age (of MSHS) to be 10 years, indicating 35 years of remaining economic life.” The majority of MSHS was either constructed or significantly remodeled in the 1990s or 2000s. This is not a dilapidated old building. The structural report by Reid/Middleton concluded that there are some suggested upgrades due to recently changed building codes and that retrofitting could be considered in future remodel projects. None of the upgrades are ‘required’ until we add 10% more seismic weight or reduce seismic capacity.
All seismic issues were typical of 20th century buildings; so it is likely that the majority of the buildings in the valley, including schools, have similar issues. Safety and building upgrades are imperative! MSHS is not alone in its need for tender loving care. We have many competing capital needs. SES is also not flood-proofed. FCES has aging parts and might need a new septic system before full day kindergarten starts. We need a sixth elementary and middle school capacity increased. In our upcoming Mount Si remodel, we need to prudently save funds for other schools. The list for Valley tax-payers goes on and on and we must consider our debt limit.
The modernization of Mt. Si High School is our greatest capital improvement need in the District. I have supported the modernization of Mt. Si High School since my first involvement with the District in 1996, but building new schools to respond to the growth of the valley has taken precedence. We simply have to have a place for students to learn. Extending the useful life of our existing schools has also been necessary. We can’t let the buildings we already have deteriorate. We have met these needs, and it is time to improve Mt. Si High School. We owe it to our children to bring Mt. Si High School into the 21st Century, and to protect and preserve our school facilities for the long term. We need to make it safe from flooding. We need to build learning spaces that support our District’s educational goals and objectives. We need to add student capacity to respond to growth. We need to provide the type of environment that supports the teaching and learning process. Lastly, we need to make these educational and physical improvements before interest rates increase and the cost of construction increases another 25 to 30%.
On August 15, 2013, I will make a motion for Board approval to float a bond measure in 2014 for the modernization and improvement of Mt Si High School.
This is a tough problem, much of which is self-created by SVSD. Our middle (and elementary) schools presently have greater needs than our high school, thus we should delay expensive, major MSHS facility improvements just until such time that we have corrected our ES/MS facility problems. Then, the 2 most important high school facility needs are: (1) impending capacity shortage, and (2) seismic/flood mitigation. I agree with the majority of the school board’s recent conclusion that all 9-12 grades need to be ultimately co-located on the same campus, which means that either (1) the FLC 9th grade-only campus is converted back to Snoqualmie Middle School so that 9th graders return to the main campus, (2) construction of a new building on the main high school campus is done, or (3) an entirely new high school in a flood-free location is built. Any bond that addresses seismic and flood mitigation improvements at the existing MSHS should then be followed by a separate bond proposal to build another building on that same campus to increase capacity. However, studies clearly show that academic performance by students is negatively affected by larger school size, therefore a second high school would provide academic benefits to our students. Regardless, SVSD should not be rushing into a bond proposal for (2) or (3) above until such time that there’s a strategic plan that puts such taxpayer investments into context with other district needs, such as teachers.
Mount Si High School has major problems. I have pointed out these problems to past school boards for many years. I am glad the current school board has finally acknowledged them. Better late than never. But it will take at least $150 million to replace much of Mount Si High School. In addition, we need to build at least one and possibly two new elementary schools on Snoqualmie Ridge. The total cost will be over $200 million. This is simply too much for our small community to bear. The only way we will be able to solve this problem is by demanding that the State legislature honor our State Constitution by supplying adequate State matching funds.