Sammamish City Council member shocked at LWSD bond request

September 24, 2013

By Ari Cetron

New: Sept. 24, 1:06 p.m.

When she saw the proposal for a 21-percent tax hike from the Lake Washington School District, including about three-quarters of a billion dollars in bonded debt, Sammamish City Councilwoman Nancy Whitten was taken aback.

“My mouth is dropping when I added up your numbers,” Whitten said during the Sept. 16 city council meeting.

Lake Washington Superintendent Traci Pierce, a Sammamish resident, had given a presentation to the council about the district’s proposed bond and levy package. The Lake Washington School Board approved two levy requests and one bond request in August, and they will appear on the February 2014 ballot.

If approved, the packages together would fund school operations, help purchase new technology and pay for a laundry list of school construction projects.

The total cost would mean an additional 81 cents per $1,000 of property value. The owner of a $500,000 home would pay $405 per year more, starting in 2015.

The two levies are designed to replace existing levies that will expire at year’s end. Each levy would last for four years.

One measure, an educational program and operations levy, funds basic school district operations, including teacher salaries and other day-to-day expenses. The existing levy costs property owners $1.78 per $1,000, and the replacement would increase that to $1.85.

The other levy replaces two existing levies. It is a proposed $41.6 million measure for facilities and technology, which will cost 91 cents per $1,000, a 21-cent increase from the existing levies.

The bond’s price tag is $755 million. The bond would add about 53 cents per $1,000 to property taxes for the next 20 years. District officials would use bond funds to accommodate a projected 4,200 new students by 2022.

“They are significant numbers to meet a significant need,” Pierce said.

Whitten said she felt “burned” by the recent bond package from the Issaquah School District, which included funding for things like covered football stadiums and other items Whitten believed were “not essential.”

Other council members pressed for details of the bond and levy, such as the ages of the schools that were being modernized or renovated, along with specific lists of what projects are included in the bond package.

The council seemed lukewarm on the proposal.

City Manager Ben Yazici pointed out to the council that having good schools is critical to Sammamish’s success.

“We couldn’t be a great city without the support and success of our school districts,” he said.

The council will discuss the measure further in an upcoming meeting and decide if they wish to endorse the measure or not.

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Comments

9 Responses to “Sammamish City Council member shocked at LWSD bond request”

  1. Michael Sullivan on September 24th, 2013 4:08 pm

    THANK YOU to the City Council for asking tough questions of LWSD with respect to the bond issue. I know that my name often shows up in The Review as being quite critical of the various Councilmen, but assuming the report was accurate, the praise is well deserved.

    There has been this long standing myth that throwing more money at education will yield stronger students. This can’t be further from the truth. Far and away, the two primary factors that determine whether or not a student will succeed are the teachers and the parents. If students are given a great set of teachers, and are fortunate to have a mom and dad that emphasize education, you’ll see success.

    I went to high school in Upstate New York about 15 years ago. Our district spent a lot of money on teacher salaries and benefits, and it showed – I was fortunate to have a really great set of teachers. Sure, our textbooks were sometimes held together with duct tape, we had classes with 31 kids in them, we had older computers, our larger middle school was a WPA project that hadn’t seen any major rehab since the FDR administration, and our high school’s football field was a muddy mess… but we had over a dozen AP courses offered, and had one of the best music programs in the state. Our test scores were some of the highest in the region.

    At the time I thought my teachers were grossly overpaid. Our district always gave the union exactly what they wanted. However, after having seen my classmates success, in hindsight I think they were worth every penny.

    It is all about priorities. Maybe one way to increase student performance is to go back to basics – recruit the very best teachers you can, focus on developing a curricula that drills the basics, and dump the bells and whistles like providing a laptop to every student and building swimming pools and new AstroTurf football fields. The amount LWSD wants to spend on facilities is unconscionable. The Sammamish City Council is already pre-occupied with building taxpayer-funded swimming pools as it is, we don’t need another group doing the same thing!

  2. Jon Anderson on September 24th, 2013 10:08 pm

    Hey, gotta pay for Common Core some way! Suckers!

    How else do you expect your little Noah and Madison to grow up to perfect little Communists?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epo2oWoL7ZE

  3. Beth Sigall on September 25th, 2013 2:15 pm

    I am the parent of children who attend elementary and middle school in Lake Washington School District.
    Many of our schools are crowded. Very crowded. My son’s middle school has 1,000 students. Last year, my son’s elementary school at one point had nearly 800 students (w/ multiple portable classrooms added), even though the building’s original capacity was about 500 students. I would invite Sammamish City Council members to come visit our schools and see this firsthand.
    My kids’ schools aren’t the only ones in LWSD that are over capacity; this is a district wide problem. We are expected to grow by 4,200 students over the next 4 years. That’s a lot of students for a district that is already bursting at the seams.
    Passage of the bond will ensure that we have the resources to build much-needed new facilities. In fact, if you read the bond, you’ll see that is where the funds will be directed — towards building new schools, and modernizing outdated ones (including 3 new elementary schools, a new middle school and 2 new choice schools). When we build new schools our existing schools won’t be as crowded.
    When I talk to parents across the district who have kids in schools, they get this. They know we desperately need new buildings to relieve overcrowding, and upgrades to others that need repair.
    Parents move to our district b/c of our world class schools. But if we’ve no place to actually put students, or if we simply keep shoving them into already overcrowded schools, our standing will diminish. Families will stop moving here; others will relocate to less crowded districts. That will hurt our economy as a whole. And that’s why passage of the bond and levies is so important for our entire community.
    Beth Sigall
    Redmond

  4. Jon Anderson on September 25th, 2013 5:43 pm

    Parents! PLEASE! Educate yourself about the new federally mandated Common Core curriculum that is being used THIS YEAR in our state, in the LWSD.

    Will you be outraged? Depends on how much you care.

  5. Michael Sullivan on September 25th, 2013 7:53 pm

    Beth, I don’t doubt that there are overcrowding issues at LWSD. I’ve seen the portables outside the buildings and with the growth around here, it is completely expected that we will need to build additional schools.

    However, the premise that we must spend three quarters of a billion dollars on a bond issue to do that is poppycock. I have read the details that are on LWSD’s site and I have several issues with it.

    The largest problem I have with the bond is the construction of the two magnet high schools. This is a luxury item – if LWSD had extra space, and was threatening to close down schools due to underutilization, then maybe I’d buy the argument that we should use the empty space. However, that’s not the case. Space is at a premium right now. LWSD doesn’t have the money and they don’t have the space to operate specialty schools. These schools will cost millions to build, staff, and maintain. Honestly, I question whether or not magnet schools truly prepare students any better for the real world than a general high school education paired with a bachelor degree in the field of the student’s choice.

    The other issue I have is that LWSD’s website is very, very short on details with respect to where money is being allocated for this project. I see that they considered 5 different proposals and settled on “Option C”. Yet, cheaper “Option B” would have cost $463 million and STILL provided all of the new schools that this $755 million bond would. The only explanation for the difference between the two is a deferral of the modernization program…. so does that account for the entire price difference? Why are the new schools all-or-nothing? How much are each of these rehabs going to cost, and what exactly is being done to each school?

    Let me put the $755 million number in some perspective. In 2013 dollars, it was cheaper to build Safeco Field ($713 million). It only cost $549 million in 2013 dollars to build Qwest Field. Chris Hansen’s arena was supposed to cost $500 million. Basically the LWSD taxpayers are being asked to pay for the equivalent of funding one and a half of Chris Hansen’s arenas. I believe it is very important to fund education. However, these numbers just don’t add up. I’d like to understand why it costs $755 million for this project and what, if any, efforts were made to constrain costs. These new schools had darn well better be palaces for the amount of money these contractors are going to be raking in.

    Combined with LWSD’s inability to listen to the community the last time they proposed a large bond issue (and the resulting failure of it), I think it is more than fair that the citizenry at large is going to be hesitant to support this measure. I’d ask everyone, whether or not you have kids in LWSD – read their website and decide for yourselves. Don’t blindly assume that because you have kids in LWSD, you must support this measure. Educate yourself, read their website, and determine if they are truly being good stewards of the money they are receiving to educate your child.

  6. Beth Sigall on September 26th, 2013 9:50 am

    Beginning in March 2012, LWSD conducted listening tours for the public to comment and provide feedback at four different public forums. These forums were widely publicized through various community outreach; they were held at each main HS in LWSD so as to provide communities the opportunity to voice their concerns. Dr. Pierce and her staff made presentations and answered questions at each of these forums. There was also an online survey where anyone in the community could provide feedback on the proposed bond and levy options This was all done prior to the adoption of the one that will be on the ballot. In sum, the district provided ample opportunity for public feedback on the levies and bond prior to their endorsement. So I’m not quite getting the claims that some have been caught off guard by this, or that ample information hasn’t been provided, when the district has engaged in extensive dialogue with the community on this issue.
    Second LWSD has a long and rich tradition of providing choice school options for families (we have 11). They are a very popular choice for parents — they are all oversubscribed with lengthy waitlists (in the hundreds). Parents have repeatedly asked the district to provide more choice options, particularly those with a science and technology focus (which is what the bond will do). In building more choice high schools the district is responding to what parents want for their children, and what surrounding, top-rated school districts like Bellevue also offer.
    Keep in mind that choice schools draw from students across the district — they are lottery-admission. When you build more schools you necessarily help ease overcrowding at other schools.
    Beth Sigall
    Redmond

  7. Beth Sigall on September 26th, 2013 11:36 am
  8. Michael Sullivan on September 26th, 2013 2:47 pm

    Beth,

    I don’t have kids in school, and as a result I don’t proactively monitor the LWSD website. I never received a flyer in the mail, and I never saw any news articles in either The Seattle Times, Sammamish Review, or Sammamish Reporter about it until a month ago. Apparently it was reported in the Redmond Reporter, but that does little help for me being a Sammamish resident. Like most other districts I have lived in, I am guessing that LWSD sends notices about events like these home with kids to give to their parents… leaving it up to individual citizens to stumble upon these events rather than proactively ask for feedback.

    Let me give you another example of questionable communication on the part of LWSD to show you why I feel like these guys need some work in this department. I own property very close to the new roundabout that was constructed in 2012 at NE 8th St and 233rd Pl NE to provide secondary access to Eastlake High School. The first time I heard about this project was an article in The Review that talked about the Sammamish City Council signing off on the plan. No land use notice was posted prior to this, and I received no written notification that this was being planned. Upon contacting the Sammamish Public Works department, thinking the city was to blame, I was told that this was LWSD’s project and that they were responsible for notifying landowners within 500 feet of the intersection. Upon further investigation, it turns out that notices were hung on doorknobs of nearby houses, but because I own a townhome, only the HOA management company was notified. So basically, the project passed without any input from the individual owners of the 71 townhomes in our complex.

    Now, I could jump to the conclusion that LWSD did this because they ran the numbers and figured out that mostly single people and older couples live in our complex, and that it’d meet opposition from us. But, I’m leaning more towards giving them the benefit of the doubt because communication has been a repeated problem for them.

    Apparently I am not alone in this belief – Councilwoman Whitten seemed to be blindsided by this proposal as well… someone who is certainly very well connected to the community, but whose children have grown. I would encourage you to watch the Sept 16th Sammamish City Council meeting. The video is on the City’s website. Traci Pierce couldn’t answer some very basic questions that she should know the answers to – the length of the bond, how old some of the schools being modernized are, and what the projected enrollment increases were for Eastlake.

    Oh, and those gates that block the 233rd Ave NE entrance to Eastlake are always open on the weekends, despite the sign on the gate that says they should be closed. A big thanks to LWSD for following through on your promise to area landowners to only keep that entrance open during peak hours…

    So yeah, from my perspective, LWSD has done a pretty lousy job being a member of the community. The voters in 2010 seemed to agree. In my view, they have a lot of work to do to rebuild their reputation.

  9. Kelly King on October 1st, 2013 9:36 pm

    Thank you Beth! I couldn’t agree with you more!

    I read Nancy Whitten’s comment and was quite saddened, particularly ‘ Whitten said she felt “burned” by the recent bond package from the Issaquah School District, which included funding for things like covered football stadiums and other items Whitten believed were “not essential.” ‘ Issaquah’s bond measures have nothing to do with Lake Washington’s, nor does it affect the same people who live in Sammamish. Nancy Whitten should hope to have two of the best school district’s in her city and the minimum funding by the state won’t help that at all.

    I know the council discussed earlier this year why few people in their 20′s moved to Sammamish. When we returned to the area in 2006, in our mid-twenties we didn’t even consider moving to Sammamish, we moved to Kirkland within the LWSD boundary. My husband and I, are now parents and we chose to move to North Sammamish and chose a particular community because of how well the LWSD elementary is rated. Even though our real estate agent said we should go to Bellevue School District, we know LWSD has big plans to continue being one of the bests. All of those wooded areas being plowed down and turned into homes are going to quickly be filled because the schools are so good. The extras are a huge part of that reason. We will need more classrooms. I say they are so good but when I moved here as a freshman from Michigan in the mid-nineties, I was ahead in every subject except math. Geometry is geometry. Am I sad that our taxes will go up, yes. But that is okay if it is going to better our next generation. Washington schools are behind and those bonds and measures are what help some school districts keep pace with the rest of the country’s schools. As parents we could choose to send our kids to private schools, but I’m happy that there are good alternatives in the public schools. I am excited that when our child reaches high school, he will have the option of Eastlake or alternatives such as an International school or Science and Engineering school if he is interested!

    I am pleased that city manager Ben Yacizi has a more educated response.

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