Ty Swenson
Arbor Heights Elementary parents and teachers, all wearing yellow t-shirts and 30-plus strong, argued for an improved timeline in renovating their school in dire need of repairs at a Seattle Public Schools Levy meeting on Sept. 24 in West Seattle. SPS, in a timeline released earlier this month, planned to improve the school in 2019. Those in attendance said it needs to happen much sooner.

Arbor Heights parents, teachers and students rally for improved school replacement timeline

K-5 STEM parents also discuss supply shortages and inoperable labs at meeting with SPS

Holding signs that declared “Arbor Heights Can’t Wait” and wearing yellow t-shirts signed by the youth of Arbor Heights Elementary, well over 30 parents, teachers and students of the worn down West Seattle school made their case clearly to Seattle Public School administrators at a public meeting for the upcoming BEX IV and Operations Levy votes in February.

The meeting at Madison Middle School on Sept. 24 was a chance for the school district to explain the importance of passing the levy in order to maintain, improve or build schools over the next six years in order to stay up with expected increases in student population. It was also a forum for the community to voice their concerns over a preliminary wish list of BEX IV projects the district hopes to tackle with the funding.

One item from that wish list pertained to Arbor Heights, with plans to “replace (the) existing building with (a) new/expanded facility by 2019.”

For those invested in the school and their children’s safety and education, 2019 is not nearly soon enough. One by one, parents and teachers stood up and explained the situation. There was a teacher’s room that flooded with scorching water directly from the boiler after a rusted pipe finally gave way (while the kids were in the classroom), there were tales of rat droppings found in corners and actual rats scurrying across classroom floors, a mold-infested cafeteria, tiles peeling away, rooms that can’t get hotter than 45 degrees … in the winter, and water that is not safe to drink.

“I’m an Arbor Heights resident, former parent and teacher … (and) I encourage people to come to Arbor Heights,” one teacher said. “All I can tell them is we have a great school, wonderful parents, but I can’t say a thing about the building.”

“This school is falling apart, please help us,” she added.

From the parent’s perspective, a mother said whose son graduated from Arbor Heights last year, and whose daughter is just beginning preschool, said, ““The conversation that is going around my dining room table is, ‘If Arbor Heights school is not going to be addressed prior to 2019 – and I mean way prior to 2019 – why in the world as a responsible parent, would I put my child in that unhealthy environment?’ I have nothing but amazing things to say about that staff, we have an exemplary meter in our new principal; that is not the concern. How can you tell me it is OK to send my baby girl into a mold-infested cafeteria … (with) 'Don’t Drink the Water' signs everywhere … I mean these are horrible conditions.”

“The district has got to step up and make us a top priority for the health of our children,” she concluded.

Pegi McEvoy, assistant superintendant for SPS operations, addressed the concern.

“One of the things the staff has been struggling with is the cash flow issue, needing to meet enrollment capacity needs, and knowing that … the capital staff really wants to remodel Arbor Heights,” she said. “So those are some of our challenges and what we are hearing from the community is … ‘What can we do to move that timeline forward?’ We will be taking that information and that request back as part of our analysis, so thank you for that.”

“We hear you, we know you want the schedule moved up, and we are certainly going to try in every way to move that schedule up,” Lucy Morello, SPS capital projects/planning director, added.

There is still time for SPS to change their timeline and projects for the BEX Levy up until Nov. 7 when the board approves a final proposal. Then, on February 12, 2013, Seattle citizens vote on the levies.

K-5 STEM supply shortage
Parents from the newly minted K-5 STEM School at Louisa Boren in Delridge also spoke up during the Q and A session on Monday night, issuing concern about a serious shortfall in basic school supplies and two science labs without the needed infrastructure to be put to use.

One parent, while pleased with the direction K-5 STEM is headed in teaching her child strong foundations in science, technology, engineering and math, had something to say about the supplies.

“Let’s talk reality,” she said. “You mentioned (the school) being a success. We are three weeks into school and we have no supplies. I toured the supply closet today: it’s empty. We are told that the approval process for supplies is about 35 to 45 days backlogged … we don’t have paper, we have staplers but no staples, we have a very small amount of paint and no paint brushes. We have two science labs that were promised to us that are sitting there empty.

“When we are talking about the levy, I think K-5 STEM has to be addressed in that because there were promises that were already made and if we are not going to fulfill promises to parents who made a big leap of faith (in sending their kids to the school), how can we trust that any promises made with this levy will be fulfilled?”

Update information on K-5 STEM
In a follow-up email, Executive Director of West Seattle Schools Carmela Dellino said after the meeting she took a look at the supply situation.

“It was determined that overall the supplies teachers need for day to day work are in the building, including staples, paper, notebooks, etc,” Dellino wrote. “Many of the art supplies had not yet arrived, but Cindy (Baca, secretary at K-5 STEM) is working on tracking those as well as ordering more supplies to get ahead of the need.

“Starting a school from the ground up is a challenge and I believe the principal and staff at K- 5 STEM have done a great job of launching this amazing school,” she continued. “Of the recent schools that have newly opened in the Seattle School District over the last couple of years, few if any have started with such a large student body. The other compounding problem that occurred was how late it took to get in the building. There was little time to get supplies organized and on shelves and delivered to teachers prior to the start of the school. From my understanding in talking with Shannon (McKinney) and Cindy, I think the supply situation is largely getting resolved.”

Regarding the science labs, Dellino wrote that she is working with Phil Brockman, Executive Director of Schools, and Principal McKinney to get them up and running, although “there are still facility issues that need to be quickly addressed.”

Despite the kinks a new school endures, Dellino reiterated her impression of K-5 STEM in it’s initial weeks.

“I am proud of the work being done at K-5 STEM and have full confidence in Shannon and her staff to provide the highest quality instruction for their students,” she wrote. “I am also incredibly impressed with K–5 STEM's parent community and their dedication to ensuring the success of their school.”

Parents also asked the district for clarification on the when and where’s of K-5 STEM’s permanent home (the district did not have an answer). The Boren site is considered interim – possibly for the next two years – and the district is currently looking into options for a final site. Fairmount Park Elementary is part of that discussion.

Levy basics
Seattle Public Schools PowerPoint presentation from the Sept. 24 meeting is available online, detailing, among other things, where the money will be spent and how much more homeowners can expect to pay in taxes. Here are a few highlights from that presentation:

- The BEX Levy expires in 2013, hence the February vote to bring it back for another six years until 2019. The total levy amount would be $655.2 million over six years (spread out into equal chunks over that time).

- 94 percent of the annual General Fund comes from three sources: Federal (13 percent), State (54 percent) and Local Operations Levies (27 percent).

- Seattle Public Schools enrollment is estimated to grow an additional 7,000 students over the next ten years. Seattle’s north and southwest (West Seattle) regions are growing the fastest. To keep up with ever-expanding numbers, the levies are used to expand, restore or build more capacity.

- The four priorities for the BEX IV Levy are building safety and security (primarily seismic safety), capacity, building conditions, and accessibility and flexibility in providing equitable program distribution across the city.

- In the history of capital spending at SPS, 22 percent has been spent in the Southwest Region.

- And last, but certainly not least, the estimated cost to homeowners to pay for the levies over the next four years (based on a home valued at $400,000, including the Operations, BEX III and IV, and BTA III levies) is $998 in 2013, $1,112 in 2014, $1,142 in 2015 and $1,140 in 2016.

A full list of SPS's current BEX IV Levy projects can be found here.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.