Monday, January 26, 2015

Districts Scramble As Enrollment Jumps

The Seattle Times published an article this weekend about the HUGE jump in local school district growth.  The article highlights some specific high growth school districts, including our neighbors to the west - Issaquah.  Curious about how this growth is affecting the new Issaquah High School, I gave their school district a call.   
The new Issaquah High School is filling up, though it's not quite at capacity yet.  They are in that limbo stage where they can turn teacher planning spaces into a few additional classrooms, etc.  Their expectation is that in about 2-3 years they will need to bring in portables to accommodate for the growth.  If you aren't aware, the new IHS opened its doors just 4 1/2 years ago, in August 2010.  That's mighty quick for a school to reach capacity.  Good thing they have space for portables (which our new school won't have).

I can think of another quickly growing area near Issaquah... the Snoqualmie Valley.  Builders are constantly working hard to add homes and bring more residents to our beautiful community.  Does anyone really think this growth is going to stop in the near future? 
When planning for our schools let's make sure we are investing our money in a long term solution.  Building a high school that only allows for 100 to 200 additional students, and is expected to be at capacity within 8 years of opening, is not a realistic comprehensive long term solution for our growing schools. 
Please join me in voting NO on Proposition 1.  Let's ask our school board to bring us a real long term solution.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Questionable Mailer

This arrived in my mailbox today.

It made for an interesting read... I made some notes in red.
(click on the image to view it larger) 

I hope voters don't ignore the fact that valley growth is not going to stop any time soon, and that this high school will very quickly be too small for our needs.  I bet many Snoqualmie Ridge residents remember when Cascade View Elementary opened above capacity on its first day.  Please join me in voting NO on Prop. 1 and asking the school board to bring to voters a real long term solution.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In Favor of Education and Moderation

Over this next week our community should be receiving their ballots to vote on a school district bond lasting 20 years with the hefty price of $244,000,000.  For most home owners in our community this bond will mean an average school property tax increase of 50% in 2016 over what we paid in 2014.  I write this editorial with the intent to shed light on what really is being asked by the school board with this bond proposal.  I am a firm believer that schools are the foundation of a community; however, I am also a proponent of responsible fiscal spending since homeowners are footing the bill. 
I’ve spent a lot of time studying this particular bond issue over the last two years.  Initially I was excited for a new school, but as I started to look deeper into the proposal I realized we are spending far too much without getting the biggest bang for our buck (and we’re talking a lot of bucks!).  I decided to make a more thorough evaluation of the requirements, future needs, and the current proposal—the following is what I found:
Elementary School
There is a strong need for another elementary school.  In fact it increases annually as enrollment projections continue to reflect our growing community.  Currently, our elementary schools are so overly crowded that over 30% of students are in portables, and roughly 200 children are bussed to elementary schools outside their own city.  Soon the state will be funding lower class sizes for K-3 and full day kindergarten, but the district elementary schools literally have no classrooms to be able to make those reductions.  Superintendent, Joel Aune, stated this past August that the need for an additional elementary school “Is a critical, critical priority.  On a scale of 1 to 10 it’s a 9.”  We need an additional elementary school to meet the immediate overcrowding issues.  Unfortunately, at $35 million the elementary school is a relatively small portion of the bond proposal.
High School
The largest portion of the bond proposal is for the rebuilding of Mt. Si High School at roughly $190,000,000.  It is glaringly obvious that a rebuild will not support the long term solution required in our growing community, and will only result in more money needed in a few years if it is not properly addressed.  Let me break down my concerns:
  • NEW HIGH SCHOOL CAPACITY INCREASES ONLY BY 200 STUDENTS:  Currently Mt. Si High School & FC has the capacity for 2,100 students vs. the new high school’s absolute maximum capacity of 2,300 students (no room for any portables).  This is only a 200 student increase, and to my calculations that works out to be about $950,000 per student.
  • NEW SCHOOL WILL LIKELY BE AT CAPACITY 8 YEARS AFTER IT OPENS:  The districts own demographer has projected that upon opening day in 2022, the new high school is estimated to have 2,100 students enrolled.  He then added that by 2030, a mere 8 years later, that new high school will reach its maximum capacity of 2,300 students enrolled. 
  • ONE AND DONE…. I DON’T THINK SO:  What happens when this new high school reaches capacity 8 years after opening?  The tax payers will be pressured to fund another mega bond to fix this shortsightedness.  Ideally the school board would be planning for a true long term solution that will take our high school needs into consideration for another 30+ years.  
  • IF IT AIN’T BROKE…:  Structurally the Mt. Si High School building is sound. In fact, 2/3rd of it was rebuilt in the early 1990’s, and currently it was reported that the building still has another 30 years of life.  Could some areas benefit from a bit of refreshing?  Sure, whose property wouldn’t every few decades?  The exception here is that I don’t tear down my house when it starts to show its age, it’s not economical unless the benefits overwhelmingly justify the costs.
  • WHAT DO THE TEACHERS THINK?: This past spring a presentation explaining the bond was made to the staff in our school district to try to get a feel for their support or non-support of this proposal.  The feedback from the teachers at the high school was overwhelmingly against the bond.  This speaks volumes to me about this bond not being the right solution.
  • MOVING THE FRESHMAN 1 BLOCK:  One of the arguments in support of the bond is the idea of getting the freshman back on campus so they can have a “real” high school experience. To date, the Freshman Campus (FC) has been a big success within the community, and especially with parents of students who’ve actually experienced it.  The original design for the new high school had the freshman fully integrated back into the school with all grades in one building, but after gauging public support for the FC, and hearing the principal testify as to the student successes, the board (some of whom were quite vocally against the FC from the get go) has decided that the addition of a separate building on campus, just for the freshman, would appease the public.  Wait, don’t we already have a building by the high school for this exact purpose, and didn’t the district just spend a few million dollars on that project?   The answer to both these questions is “yes”, so why spend $190,000,000 to essentially move it over one block?
  • FLOOD PROOFING:  My only question to this issue is “You want to spend $190,000,000 to rebuild a school in a flood zone?”  Hmmm….
  • ADEQUATE LAND:  To build a new high school a district needs 40 to 50 acres to allow for the necessary space required to accommodate the buildings, parking, and sports fields.  Now take into consideration that with this current bond plan the 30 acres that Mt. Si High School sits on will be expected to service 2,300 students (a much larger than average sized high school) and that leads to two major issues (see next two bullets).
  • PARKING DILEMMA:  Not often mentioned, but still another consideration, is the issue of parking.  The parking situation at the site will only allow for a 2,100 capacity school – not negotiable.  Currently the district is looking for solutions, but last I checked hadn’t found one.  When I am in the high school area I see a lot of residential houses around the school but no real adequate land for the additional acre needed to meet the required parking mandate.
  • WHAT ABOUT SPORTS:  I remember a while back at a board meeting when the designer of the new high school cautioned the board about building a school beyond 2,100 students, due to the parking issues and our small sports fields.  Our current sports fields are inadequate to allow the number of students and teams needed to support a mega high school sports program.  Again, the land surrounding the school is all residential homes in the floodway, not allowing for any expansion of the fields.
  • IF YOU REALLY VALUE QUALITY EDUCATION:  Having followed this bond discussion closely I have heard a few board members try to justify the size of this mega high school by rationalizing that “other districts are moving to this larger high school model”.  I take exception to this sort of rationale by board members who claim to value education.  Study after study report that smaller schools do better in the areas of safety, teaching conditions, and higher academic performance[1].
      Students at smaller schools:
    • Outperform students in large schools on standardized tests.
    • Have more opportunities for participation per capita in co-curricular activities – with a larger percentage of students participating and in more kinds of activities.
    • Engage with a broader cross-section of students, reducing social and racial isolation.
    • Lower incidents of fighting. 
    • Feel safe.
    • Feel more connected to their school and teachers and are less likely to drop out.
    • Have more opportunities for and participation of parents within the school – a critical factor in student success.
    • Experience a greater sense of efficacy by both teachers and students – that they really have a say.
If the school board really values education, why introduce a plan that would put our high school students in an environment that is proven[1] to hinder actual education?  

Proposed Solution

There is no doubt that our district is rapidly growing and right now the pain is really being felt at the elementary schools and middle schools.  We can address these two issues by building an elementary school, middle school, and include necessary capital improvements throughout the district for roughly $140 million--that’s a savings of $100+ million over the current bond.  This would give all of our schools a bit of breathing room in half the time it takes to build a high school and it would give the board more time to examine a better long term high school solution.

Should this bond fail, the school board will likely run another bond this year; probably an altered version of the current proposal.   I hope, when this happens, they will listen to the community and acknowledge the need for an elementary school is too urgent to continue attaching it to a controversial high school component and run the elementary school on its own.

This bond does not present the right solution if we want to maintain and to improve our student’s academic learning.  The proposed bond is a very expensive, short-term band aid for a larger issue, which requires a long term plan (greater than 8 years) that takes into consideration those of us who will bear the increased tax burden.  This is why I invite you to join me in voting NO on this bond.

Bryk, A. S., & Driscoll, M. E. (1988). The high school as community: Contextual influences and consequences for students and teachers. Madison, WI: National Center on Effective Secondary Schools, University of Wisconsin-Madison. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED302 539)
Fouts, J, Abbor, M, Baker, D. (2002). The Influence of District Size, School Size and Socioeconomic Status on Student Achievement in Washington: A Replication Study Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling. Washington School Research Center. Seattle Pacific University, Lynnwood, WA.

Grauer, S. (2012). The politics of school size. Retrieved from
Howley, C. & Bickel, R. (2000). When It Comes to Schooling...Small Works: School Size, Poverty, and Student Achievement. ERIC. 

Husbands, J., & Beese, S. (2001). Review of selected high school reform strategies. Paper presented at The Aspen Program on Education’s Workshop on High School Transformation, Aspen, CO.
Mitchell, S., (2000). Jack and the giant school. The New Rules, 2, 1–10.

Nathan, J. & Thao, K. (2007). Smaller, safer, saner successful schools. Minneapolis: Center for School Change, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Nguyen, T.S.T. (March 2004). Study of High School Restructuring. High schools: Size does matter..

Oxley, D. (2007). Small Learning Communities: Implementing and Deepening Practice. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Portland Oregon.
Slate, J. R., & Jones, C. H. (2005). Effects of school size: A review of the literature with recommendations. Essays in Education