Photos by Ty Swenson
Arbor Heights Elementary Principal Christy Collins gave journalists a tour of their deteriorating school on Jan. 24 to illustrate the need for funding a new facility. Seattleites will vote on two school levies in a February 12 election. PLEASE SEE BELOW THE STORY FOR MORE PHOTOS

SLIDESHOW: Arbor Heights toured as Seattle Public Schools pleads for the public’s levy vote

Seattle Public Schools officials used Arbor Heights Elementary in West Seattle as their venue to campaign for a “Yes” vote on two levy renewals in the upcoming Feb. 12 special election.

The levies total over $1 billion, and homeowners can expect a tax increase of around $150 a year, according to SPS.

Arbor Heights, now 65 years old, was chosen because it is the pinnacle example of a Seattle school in dire need of replacement, a project included in the Building Excellence levy and scheduled for 2018 (although officials noted they will try to move it up to 2016 at the earliest if possible). From overcrowded classrooms to wildly inconsistent heating and potable water concerns; staff, students and parents are ready for an upgraded facility and have been for many years.

Seattleites will vote on a $551.9 million Operations Levy, covering 26 percent of SPS’s general fund for basic school operation over the next three years, and a $694.9 million Building Excellence (BEX IV) levy covering long-term renovations and rebuilds (including new Genesee Hill and Arbor Heights schools) over six years. A voter pamphlet is available at Seattle libraries now, and more info can be found online at http://www.kingcounty.gov/elections/currentelections/201302/measures.aspx.

Bob Boesche, interim deputy superintendent, said both levies are “replacement levies” for Operations and BEX levies coming to an end in 2013.

“We do not take this for granted,” Boesche said of a potential yes vote, “it is a privilege to have that support from citizens.”

He hit on two points coming out of levy support including stewardship (“We know that we have to prove and gain trust from our community in the use of these monies. We believe we can show and demonstrate that.”) and “promises made, promises kept.” He referenced completing all BEX III levy projects on time and within budget as an illustration of their intent to complete the projects slated for the next six years.

Boesche said the Operations Levy covers dwindling support from federal and state government and helps pay for classroom supplies, transportation, security, music and athletic programs. The BEX Levy covers the need for more space for an exploding student population and required infrastructure upgrades for earthquakes and wireless internet for all schools. The district is also reducing the slice of budget reserved for central SPS operations so more goes directly to the schools, he said.

Pegi McEvoy, asst. superintendent for operations, said reducing the number of portable classrooms is a major element of the upcoming BEX Levy.

With new schools, SPS plans to build projects that can house up to 650 students (with the intent of serving 500 initially and providing a cushion for growth). Officials said they wish to assure the public large schools do not necessarily equate to massive classroom population size, and that less core facility costs are associated with teaching more kids in one location.

Touring Arbor Heights
Christy Collins is the principal at Arbor Heights Elementary, and after the media briefing she led reporters on a tour of the school to illustrate their need for a new facility.

Cameras, notepads and microphones attached to humans weaved through the hallways as students’ heads swiveled to get a look at their unusual guests. Collins showed off chaotic tangles of power cords in nearly every corner (indicative of too few outlets), chalkboards so old they no longer accept writing, classrooms crammed beyond capacity, and a door recently broken into by thieves who took several computers. A seemingly positive exception to the decay was a computer lab filled with iMacs (and kindergartners deftly navigating learning games with mouse and keyboard), but the unusually hot and humid space was a reminder of an outdated and inconsistent boiler system that leaves students overheated in one room, and bundling up with gloves and beanies in the next.

“We also need to be cognizant that putting a lot of Band-Aids on a school is not the most fiscally responsible way to meet the needs of our students, and again that is why we are on (the BEX IV Levy) … for our rebuild because we realize it is far more fiscally prudent,” Collins said.

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