Op-Ed: weighing the benefits of passing the school construction bond to the risks of failing it

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Lisa Surowiec is a long-time neighborhood and PTA leader.

By Lisa Surowiec

You have gotten a ballot. Maybe you've returned it. But maybe it's sitting on your table, because you just aren't sure how to vote. There have been some conversation strings in a couple of places online, and you don't know what's true.

Here are the inescapable facts:
  • This is money that will go to Building Schools. Construction. It cannot and will not be used for instruction or classroom activities. It also cannot be shuffled to the general fund.
  • McCleary, the Levy Cliff, and all the other school funding scenarios would not affect the running of this bond.
  • The capital projects being considered are: rebuilding the 2 middle schools, rebuilding Parkwood Elementary, and constructing an early learning campus where the current Shoreline Children's Center lives.
  • You will probably feel the tax increase, but the portion of your overall tax bill going to schools has likely been going down. Check out the King County Property Tax Assessor's website to see the percentage you've been paying.
  • There are many different perspectives on this issue. Many that I have heard voiced actually have little to do with whether building these structures is a good idea. We have gotten tied up in some emotional ideas and lost sight of what this bond means. Below, I have addressed some of the concerns that I've heard, from my own personal point of view. I may not have an answer for your perspective, but here are my rebuttals for the arguments I've heard.
For those parents and community members who are still upset because of school closures:

I get it. My oldest daughter was in the most impacted class when Sunset Elementary closed. Not many people fought harder than I did to keep our beloved school open, testifying, researching, and pleading, vilifying the former Superintendent and (probably) terrifying the Board.

A couple of things about that. One, we were wrong. Sue Walker's administration did not actually get us into the dire financial situation we were in, although she made a great target for our ire. They made a spectacular hire in Marcia Harris (and then Marla Miller), and closing those schools and moving those programs likely saved the District's financial future. Did it suck? Yes it did. Are we still under State supervision? Nope. In fact, we have a great credit rating and we qualify for State matching funds of $25M.

The demographic survey at the time showed that we were in a dip, but would eventually get our student population back. It just didn't make sense to operate schools that didn't have enough students to justify the expense. Now that we're out of the dip, the predicted growth is happening (the projections were right), and we officially closed the boundaries to elementary students who do not live in-District (our middle and high schools are NOT overcrowded at this time).

The thing is, this doesn't have anything to do with whether or not we should build these schools. Harboring a grudge or distrust of a previous administration does not mean that an early learning campus is a bad idea, or increasing capacity at Parkwood doesn't make sense, or that the middle schools don't need to be rebuilt.

The District, since those closures, has actually done a very good job with taxpayer money, even retiring a bond early. If they were running rampant, we'd see a bond request for several elementaries, just in case things really got out of control population-wise.

For those who would vote it down because our kids are protesting / demonstrating:

If you just read the publicity around the walkouts, you might think we've lost control of the teenagers, and that the District fully supports and encourages this behavior. Here's how it came across as an Einstein parent...

The school's ultimate responsibility is to ensure the safety of the students, and of course to educate them when they're in school. The understanding is that as with any decision, there are consequences. If you walk out, you need a parent to excuse the absence, or you have an unexcused absence on your record. The school has predictable consequences, and leaves the high fives or groundings to the parents (depending on your family's belief system).

If you don't have a kid in middle or high school, you might not have talked to one recently. There are exceptions, but these kids are paying attention (that would be "woke"). They are reacting to potential threats to loss of rights, and choosing to be visible and participatory when most of them cannot vote. They are learning, through both school and community, that our country allows them the freedom to express those concerns in a walkout, just as others can choose to stay in class and pursue the day's education.

This also has nothing to do with whether it's a good idea to build schools. The fact that some of them exercised their right to make this statement means that they are learning about this country, and about freedom and rights. It would be a great argument in favor of a levy, if we were running one.

For those who think the 6th graders should stay in elementary school:

I understand the arguments against that decision. However, that was done parallel to, rather than as a result of, the bond decision. The middle schools are in need of rebuilding, and these two capital projects were voted on in October. The IPCC finished its work months later. So here we are. A majority of public comment was supportive of moving these kids up, and it will be happening.

If you're uncomfortable with that scenario, the very best place for your energy would be helping to identify the best configuration of the middle school grades and providing input. If you are concerned about their social-emotional learning, perhaps mentoring programs or student mediator programs deserve an advocate? Or you may think it's unconscionable to make decisions propelled by curriculum. But if we don't give kids access to (for instance) true science labs earlier, won't we be then yelling at the School Board when our kids can't compete for spots in great STEM universities because they can't fit advanced science classes into their high school schedules?

6th grade is moving up. Shouldn't we be in favor of supporting them with more secure buildings and better spaces?

For those who think the bond is being rushed:

There has been some surprise from a resident or two who only realized this was going on when they got the first mailing. But the Board vote was in October, and Shoreline Area News reported on it then. And after dozens and dozens of public meetings, everyone should have been reached in at least a couple of different ways.

Yes, there is a lot of publicity around McCleary. That does not mean the District is rushing to push a construction bond through.

For those who think the schools get too much money:

We do invest a lot in our schools. It's one reason we have a great reputation. And yes, roads, healthcare, and human services are important too. But education is important not just so that our community has productive members, but because it really does help break the cycle of poverty. Early childhood programs in particular have been proven to be the biggest bang for our buck. The fact that we're considering building a whole campus for those programs is extraordinary.

For those who think the schools should just be repaired:

It is hard to hear the dates that the schools were constructed, know when our own homes were constructed, and think "well of course they should be torn down." If you are a homeowner, you know very well about all of the things that need repair and regular maintenance.

Remember that schools are different than your home. Every day, hundreds of kids are living hard in these spaces. The materials that were available at the time these were built were only meant to last a couple of decades. Our homes, especially the older ones, were likely built with better materials.

The materials are old, the pipes are old, the designs are old. Could they last a few more years? Sure. But enough has changed since these were constructed that it really is time to rebuild.

Ultimately, we are weighing the benefits to passing this construction bond to the risks of failing it. 

The benefits of passing it are better facilities for the middle school kids, potentially better situations for the surrounding neighborhoods (traffic patterns and other impacts), capacity relief at the elementary school level, and investment in our early learning programs. The risks it are to property values and future attraction of quality educators, but also to neighbors who might struggle with increased taxes.

If you are still on the fence, please go to the School District's bond information page

Watch the video. Look at the charts. Go over the information that came out of the Instructional Committee and the Building Committee. Find research on school districts that fail bonds. Bethel: Spanaway market "cold; " Niche #118, School Digger #109 Marysville: market "cool; " hasn't passed a bond in 10 years. Niche #173 , School Digger #119 Shoreline: Niche #10, School Digger #10 market "warm"

And then weigh in. We need 16,002 people to cast ballots to validate the election.

Please vote Yes. 60% +1 passes. The investment is worth it!


Anonymous,  February 8, 2017 at 7:03 AM  

I think you need to take a look at schools in surrounding districts. I'd rather pay to remodel two schools at a time. Using the analogy of my home, I wouldn't remodel four rooms at once, instead, I'd take it slowly and work on one or two at a time.

Michelle February 8, 2017 at 8:31 AM  

Thank you for your service to our community. You've given extraordinary amounts of time and thought and energy over the years, for so little personal reward. You are a gift to our neighborhoods, our schools, and our city. Thanks for laying out some of the issues here, and for all you do.
Michelle Hickman

Lisa Surowiec,  February 8, 2017 at 1:09 PM  

@anonymous 7:03, You're right. That would be how I would likely approach a house project as well. But what if your favorite uncle offered you a certain match, and you did one room? And then partway through, you REALLY needed to address another room (I'm guessing that would be a bathroom in this scenario). But your uncle has offered his funds to his next favorite relative, so they're tied up? And maybe the interest rates have gone up for the loan you will need... I'm not sure how much of the bond would be affected by economies of scale (ordering faucets in bulk or saving on mobilization costs), but that's a possibility. And the State match that pumps $25 million to this likely wouldn't be available in smaller chunks. This bond addresses some serious overcrowding issues without going after, say, 4 elementaries at once - the middle schools are in worse shape than most elementaries, and Parkwood would get some elbow room for their kiddos.

Anonymous,  February 8, 2017 at 9:37 PM  

@Kenrick, The city and school district are two separate taxing entities, each with their own elected leaders. They have absolutely no fiscal connection. The each propose, pass and collect their own taxes. Voting no on this bond will have no impact on the city whatsoever. The school district doesn't receive funds from the city or vice versa. I realize in other part of the country, cities run their own schools, but not in Washington. Each are separately governed and have no financial connection.

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