Last month, a group of Snoqualmie Middle School (SMS) teachers met with Snoqualmie Valley school board members. The meetings were about the upcoming 2013 school bond, not about asking the board to reconsider its decision to convert SMS into a 9th grade campus in 2013. The teachers met with board members to propose they consider changing the scope of the (most likely) February 2013 school bond.
On March 8th, when the SVSD school board voted 3-2 to proceed with the 2013 annexation which converts SMS into Mount Si’s Freshman campus, they also surprised the room when they voted unanimously voted to run a repeat middle school construction bond to replace SMS on Snoqualmie Ridge – a bond that failed twice in 2011. Observers say the board’s decision to run the bond again highlights its support of a three middle school education model.
What that group of Snoqualmie Middle School teachers asked the board to consider was a school bond for a Mount Si High School remodel/expansion instead of building a new middle school. The teachers asked the board to consider using SMS as a temporary 9th grade campus, learning from it and then moving the Freshman Learning Center to its own space on the Mount Si campus. With MSHS work complete, SMS could again serve Snoqualmie middle school students.
Over the past two months of school board meetings, board members discussed a need to remodel/upgrade Mount Si, who’s last major 2-year remodel was completed in 1992. Modernization could help MSHS students keep up with the technological educational demands now facing them. There was even talk of available state matching funds for such a remodel in 2014 – ten years earlier than previously stated.
Some think it is a viable option. When the Freshman Learning Center opens in 2013 and 450 9th graders are moved off the MSHS campus, there will be additional classroom space to remodel without highly disrupting MSHS students. In 2013, there will be about 1200 students at MSHS – roughly the permanent capacity of the school. The new 2009 portables could house students while other wings and classrooms are remodeled.
SVSD did explore a MSHS remodel/expansion before deciding to utilize SMS as 9th grade campus. The deterring factors to the remodel/expansion were price and disruption to high school students. The original MSHS modernization model was $100 million and added capacity for 800-900 students. New reduced, enrollment projections now show MSHS only needing additional capacity for about 500 students. With a smaller expansion/remodel needed, it is predicted its cost could decrease – making the price tag possibly equaling that of a new middle school. Utilizing the 2009 portables for 10-12 graders (with 9th graders temporarily on a different campus) alleviates the concerns of highly disrupting MSHS students during the construction work.
One board member described the 2012/13 SVSD budget as being “down to bare bones.” After keeping past budget cuts away from classroom education, SVSD was forced to cut teacher salaries from next year’s budget – to the tune of about 20 teachers and instructional assistants.
New schools require increased operational budgets to run them. Costs of running a new middle school are estimated around $750,000. The cost to run a 9th grade campus could be up to $300,000. That’s a possible $1 million budget increase during a time of less state education funding and an SVSD budget that has been already trimmed to “bare bones.”
The Issaquah School District (ISD) faced the same challenges when deciding to convert its Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus to a middle school after 5 years of operation- 3-5 years earlier than planned. ISD already had bond funding secured to construct a 5th middle school. Administrators then looked at new enrollment projections and the operational costs to run that 5th middle school (about $750,000 per year) and weighed the impact on its shrinking budget.
The Issaquah School District ultimately determined it was fiscally advantageous to utilize bond funds to remodel and expand Skyline and Issaquah High Schools and then move 500 9th graders back to each school. Pacific Cascade was then converted to a middle school and the additional operational costs of a new school were avoided. You can see the details of Issaquah’s Pacific Cascade campus decision process by clicking here.
Like SVSD, Issaquah receives one of the lowest “per-pupil” funding amounts in Washington. In 2007, not foreseeing an increase in state funding, seeing stabilizing future enrollment projections and not wanting to sacrifice educational programing for the operational costs of a new school, the ISD School Board decided to use and expand existing school buildings.
On March 8th, the SVSD school board voted unanimously to again run a school bond to construct a new middle school. Since then, new information has surfaced; most importantly, a serious budget crunch and the loss of teachers. It’s a fact that building new schools increases operational budgets. The SVSD budget is tight and has been continually trimmed for five years. In three years, will the district have another potential $1 million dollars of operating budget to run a separate 9th grade campus and 3rd middle school? Should we know before running a new bond?
An alternative bond option, Mount Si modernizing, could be a win-win for the district. A modernized Mount Si benefits each SVSD student. It’s been 20 years since its last major remodel. A remodel qualifies for state matching funds, reducing taxpayer impact. With 9th graders on a different campus, room is created at MSHS to complete remodeling without highly disrupting students.
Bellevue, Newport, Eastlake, Issaquah, Skyline, Shoreline, Shorewood, Vashon – these are the names of area high schools that remodeled with students on campus. In a time of shrinking state funding and smaller education budgets, is remodeling existing buildings in lieu of building new ones a viable way to protect fragile educational budgets from more teacher layoffs and programming cuts?
Last year’s school bond was 1 vote shy of passing. A year later, the SVSD budget crunch is real – evidenced by losing teachers, IA’s and larger class sizes next year. A real question is, if that bond had passed, could we afford to run a 3rd middle school and a freshman campus in 2013? Is a modernization/expansion of Mount Si a viable bond alternative; one that could put less pressure on future SVSD operational budgets?
The SVSD school board will be doing more bond planning in the coming weeks. Board member Geoff Doy says, “The Board is planning a work session to discuss the content of the future bond; much will impact that discussion including our ability to afford the running cost of a new school building within our very tight operational budget.”