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Response to Jan 21 Email

It came to our attention that a resident of North Bend, Mr. David Spring, distributed an email recently – in which he accuses the school district of lies and deceit. His email contained a number of points, which attempt to provide “evidence” for his views. Unfortunately, most of these points are either false or misleading.  Here are some responses:

  1. Mr. Spring believes that Mount Si High School needs an immediate $100 million remodel – to essentially raise up the entire school to avoid destruction during a “MEGA flood at Mount Si High School due to the to impact of Global Warming on the Upper Snoqualmie Valley” (from “Assessing the Risk of a Mega Flood at Mount Si High School” by David Spring, Jan 5, 2011). Mr. Spring believes the school district is hiding this information from us.

    There is no credible evidence of either an impending “mega-flood”, or that MSHS would be “destroyed”. The $100 million remodel project he claims is being hidden from us, is actually a discarded alternative once considered for this bond proposition – which you can read about in the Long-Term Facilities Committee final report to the school board.  This was the so-called “tear down & build up two stories” plan, and was indeed estimated to cost nearly $100 million. For the 2011 bond, the school board instead chose the much more cost-effective plan of annexing nearby Snoqualmie Middle School instead.
  2. Mr. Spring claims that it would cost less to operate TWO separate high schools than to operate one high school with a 9th-grade campus across the street (the current plan).   Common sense tells you this cannot possibly be true.  2 principals? 2 sets of counselors? 2 sets of teachers for every subject? 2 athletic programs? 2 music programs?  It’s clearly a LOT less expensive to run one high school, even if the 9th grade teachers move across the street to a different building.
  3. Mr. Spring claims the District is using 8% per year growth to calculate future enrollment needs. This is FALSE.  The District’s enrollment forecasts show student enrollment growing at an average of 3% per year – consistent with ACTUAL growth seen since 2008. 

    Please refer to the published enrollment forecast charts in the District’s current FAQ:

    Perhaps Mr. Spring is mistakenly referring to outdated enrollment projections from before the recession and real-estate market crash in 2008.  At that point the District was seeing ACTUAL growth of 6-7% per year.  That high growth rate was a main reason why a 2nd high school was proposed back in 2006-7. The current reduced forecasts are a main reason why a 2nd high school is NOT needed any longer.
  4. Mr. Spring claims the District is under-reporting the number of classrooms at Mount Si High School (43 vs his count of 52 classrooms). It seems Mr. Spring is mistakenly counting dedicated special-use rooms (computer labs, video labs, music, special-ed programs) as general-purpose classrooms. Special-purpose rooms are not counted when reporting building capacity. It’s true that the school *could* convert computer labs or other rooms to general-purpose classrooms in an emergency overcrowding situation – but that’s obviously not “normal” capacity.
  5. Mr. Spring claims the average cost of a new high school in WA State is only $31 million. This is very far from true. In fact, the full-size high schools built in the last couple years have averaged $80-$100 million total project costs.  Unfortunately Mr. Spring has seriously misinterpreted the data he is basing his claim on

    First – he’s claiming an AVERAGE using costs going back to 2001. School construction costs have risen more than 50% since 2001. These numbers have to be adjusted for inflation to have any meaning for an “average” or comparison.

    Second – the costs in his table are only a PRO-RATED PORTION of the full costs of building these schools. Specifically they are the costs for the “Matchable Sq. Feet” portion of the school building – that’s just the portion of the project that qualifies for state matching funds.

    Third – these costs do not include design, engineering, site preparation/mitigation, permits, legal fees, sales tax, furniture, fixtures, or equipment. These so-called “soft” project costs normally total at least 30% of the “hard” construction bid cost.
  6. Mr. Spring bases almost all of his arguments on his unique interpretation of our state constitution: he believes the state is required to pay much – if not all – of the costs of local school construction. He believes all we have to do is SUE the state legislature, and we will then get at least half of our school construction costs paid for.  While we agree with Mr. Spring that we’d like the state to pay more – wishful thinking is not going to solve our problems.

    Mr. Spring further claims that “No other school district in our State has ever been asked to build a high school, or even a middle school, without State matching funds”.  As evidence – he points to a state table listing school construction projects, and seems astonished that ALL of them received some kind of state matching funds.  Well, no surprise here. The table he’s referring to lists only State-Matched school construction projects. By definition it doesn’t list any school projects that didn’t qualify for state funds. (Note: none of our recent new school projects appear in this list – because they didn’t qualify for state aid. Mr. Spring appears to have manually added our district’s schools to this list in his version of the table, to make it appear that we are the only district being singled out).

    In reality, Washington State’s School Construction Assistance Program (aka “matching funds”) is a relatively small, under-funded program. The most important thing to know about the program is that it provides matching funds.  School districts get NOTHING if they do not pass their bond first.

    Second, this program is forced to prioritize. Most of its limited budget goes to 1) “poor” school districts and 2) replacement or modernization of aging school buildings at least 30 years old. New school construction in relatively “rich” districts (most in Western WA) unfortunately qualifies for little or no matching funds.

    The program is currently funded by the State Legislature at about $750 million over the two-year biennium. That’s a little over $1 million per year, per school district. Just last week the Governor recommended slashing this program to only $500 million for the next 2-year biennium, to as part of ongoing budget-cutting.

    It would be nice if the state did provide more assistance for school construction. The unfortunate reality is – they provide very little today, and will likely provide even less in the future due to budget cuts. 
  7. Mr. Spring claims the replacement middle school in the current bond proposition will be “by far the most expensive middle school ever built in our State”.  Once again, he’s completely misinterpreted the data he’s basing this on – and seriously underestimated the actual costs of these schools. See #5 above.  In general, due to inflation alone, the *newest* schools tend to be “the most expensive ever”.  The estimated cost of the replacement SMS project is in line with similar projects across the area.
  8. Mr. Spring makes unfounded characterizations of the Issaquah and Snohomish Freshman campuses as “failures”.  Both were actually very successful programs, which succeeded in raising freshman grade averages, while reducing discipline issues and smoothing transitions to high school.  Both were discontinued for financial reasons, not because of “complaints from parents” as Mr. Spring claims.

    The Snohomish freshman campus successfully ran from 1992 to 2008.  It was located in an aging building that needed to be rebuilt or replaced – and instead they moved the 9th graders into the new, larger Glacier Peak High School when that building opened in 2008.

    The Issaquah freshman campus ran successfully from 2006-2010. It was always planned to be converted back to a middle school after 8-10 years. Overcrowded middle schools and tough financial times forced the Issaquah School District to make this conversion several years earlier than planned.  Issaquah school board member Mike Winkler said "Pacific Cascade has performed beautifully. This is merely based on the need of the overall district. We've had nothing but great comments from the parents who've had kids there." Issaquah passed a bond to expand their two high schools, to provide enough room for all students 9-12.
  9. Mr. Spring claims the District is lying when it says that SMS will be converted to a Freshman Campus in 2013, whether or not the bond passes. He claims that state budget cuts will reduce the number of teachers at MSHS to the point where there will be empty classrooms.  This is not true. Mr. Spring has extrapolated a worst-case budget-cut scenario, and made the (incorrect) assumption it will be only MSHS teachers who bear the brunt of any future budget cuts. If budget cuts do happen, in reality they will be spread across all departments and all schools.
  10. Mr. Spring tells us we don’t need a FOURTH middle school.  He is absolutely correct. We need THREE middle schools. Snoqualmie Middle School is going away in 2013, and needs to be replaced.  This is either an attempt to mislead people into thinking we will end up with FOUR middle schools, or a complete misunderstanding of this 2011 bond proposal.

Mr. Spring’s final solution to our problems is to have our school board SUE the state legislature to provide more construction matching funds. He wants us to be a “test case” - and sacrifice our children’s immediate needs for adequate schools, just so he can pursue his long-standing quest for a symbolic but futile lawsuit.

Mr. Spring wants us to believe that we will get something for nothing. All we have to do is sue the state, he claims, and we’ll magically get half or more of our construction projects paid for.  Then – since we’re only going to pay half-price – Mr. Spring believes we then afford the TWO giant projects that he really wants: building a second comprehensive high school in North Bend, AND a $100 million remodel of Mount Si High school (to avoid global-warming “MEGA-flood” destruction)

Wishful thinking and passion can be useful – but NOT when they ignore reality, and prevent us from doing the right thing for our kids.

Posted by Cary Porter on
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