Thursday, July 16, 2009

School Board approves capital facilities plan

Thank you to everyone who attended the school board meeting tonight, and spoke up about this 6-year capital facilities plan. Unfortunately, the school board's response was: This is a template, we fill in the numbers, it doesn't really mean anything, other than collecting impact fees from developers.

The board did not respond when asked why they still felt student enrollment would increase, and we would need ANOTHER new school; they did not respond when asked directly whether they are saying portables are substandard, or useful (the plan calls for buying even more portables, but their facilities update calls for a new school to get kids out of portables).

Please stay tuned: The district seems to like putting forward new documents and plans during the summer, when most people are out of town, or simply enjoying the weather and not thinking about schools. But we're keeping our eyes open, and will keep you informed!

Here is the text of what Neighborhood Schools Coalition representative Melissa Schapiro said to the board:

"I’m here to bring attention to two items on the agenda tonight (July 1, 2009):

First, I ask you to question the numbers in this new capital facilities plan, especially the projected growth and enrollment increases. Just like in the last six-year plan, growth was predicted but not realized, and enrollment ended up being flat. In the meantime, we spent millions of dollars on a new school that is running at half capacity.

Unemployment is still high, and expected to move higher: Families won’t relocate here without jobs. Developers can't afford to build new homes, and families can't afford to buy them. Expect your enrollment to stay flat or decrease, as families move to areas with lower housing costs and more jobs. Expect enrollment to decrease, as families don’t enroll in public school, or pull their children out, because they can’t trust that their school will stay open.

Why are you still planning to move ahead with another new school, to open in 2012, one street away from our neighboring school district, in a remote area with few students? Where do you plan to get the money to operate this new school? Your constituents have a right to know.

You’re saying the new building is needed to get kids out of portables. That’s what you said when pushing to build Wade King Elementary. The school is built, and our students are still being kept in portables.

This fall we will have more than 125 kids at Happy Valley going to school in metal boxes in parking lots, without bathroom facilities. Meanwhile, we have a completely renovated school building that used to house more than 300 students sitting empty. If you really want to get kids out of portables, you could do it now.

Your plan calls for buying even more portables during the next six years. So, are portables substandard, requiring us to build more schools? Or are portables a good resource for housing students? You can’t have it both ways.

Your plan’s calculations include Lowell’s empty classrooms, but doesn’t state when the building will open as a school.

Your plan’s calculations show a drop in capacity at the middle school level, when the new Shuksan Middle School opens this fall. Is the new school smaller than the old one?

Your plan shows a “service standard” of 22.5 students per classroom for grades K through 5. Not one class at Happy Valley Elementary had so few students last year. How can you base your capacity on this number, when most of these classes had 24 or more students?

The budget you passed June 25 states the district has about 10,400 students. Just three weeks later, your capital facilities plan states it has 10,594 students. This is a big difference, especially when the numbers are being used to validate a need for another new school.

Your plan calls for considering a bond issue in the next six years. You need voter support for this. Will voters support you again, if you haven’t followed through on the promises from the last bond? I encourage public review of this plan; it was only published on Tuesday. Why rush to pass it tonight? The current plan doesn’t expire till December.

Also on the agenda is a rewrite of your communications policy, which highlights the need for two-way communication between the district and board members, and the community. I encourage the board to participate in two-way communication; this public comment period is not two-way. You should allow question-and-answer time. You have the opportunity to rebut public statements, but the public is not afforded the same opportunity to question your statements. Other school districts allow for this. We should be working together. You should allow two-way communication at School Board meetings.

In the last two weeks, several other Whatcom County school districts passed their budgets. They all faced budget cuts, but again, only Bellingham School District saw fit to close a school to save money. And only Bellingham School District insists that more than 4 percent in reserves is needed to cover payroll and future crises. Why are you afraid to spend reserves during an economic crisis, but you feel comfortable spending reserves in flush years for operating expenses? Again, if this is a crisis, use the crisis fund. If you expect the crisis to continue, don’t build a new building, because you know that in order to fill it you’ll have to close existing schools and transfer those operating funds to the new building."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Latest Capital Facilities Plan --- more portables?!?

The school district posted the attachments to the July 16 agenda today. Included is the new Capital Facilities Plan, which shows what the district expects in terms of enrollment and building use, during the next six years. It is on the action agenda for board approval Thursday. To read it, click here: Bellingham Schools Boarddocs , open the 7-16-09 regular meeting item at the top left, and find the plan under "action items."

The district is expecting to rubber stamp this "plan." I encourage everyone to read it carefully, and come to the meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m., and comment on it. It is your only chance to have a say about this document, which will steer major changes in the district for at least the next six years.

Of concern:

* The plan expects enrollment to increase to more than 12,000 students at the end of this six year period. The last six-year plan also expected big enrollment boosts, but was 1,000 students off. The district admitted this in March, but is continuing to insist that the district is growing, while enrollment has actually been flat for years.

* The plan continues to push forward with building a new elementary school on Aldrich Road, to be open in the fall of 2012. The reasoning for this, again, is to get kids out of portables.

* The district is counting Lowell's capacity in its ability to house children, but there is no language in the document about when Lowell will reopen.

* A chart shows the capacity of each school and its "relocatables," or portable classrooms (picture a metal box in a parking lot). The numbers do not reflect the actual number of students in the classrooms. For instance, Larrabee's portables have a capacity of 66, but 90 students were in the portables in 2008-09.

* Classrooms have a capacity of 22.5 students for elementary grades; however, this last year, nearly every class at Happy Valley exceeded 25 students.

* The plan then calls for the need for buying more portables in the future:
"The District inventory includes 41 relocatables (portable classrooms), with 28 available for regular classroom use. Based on enrollment projects and planned permanent facilities, the District may need to acquire additional relocatables during the next six-year period. As enrollment fluctuates, relocatables provide flexibility to accommodate immediate needs and interim housing. The use and need for relocatables will be balanced against program needs."

* Table 2-B on page 14, shows the school capacities. It shows middle school total capacity falling when the new Shuksan Middle School opens this fall, and it looks like the capacity for middle and high school students is seriously deficient.

These are just a few of the issues that need to be questioned BEFORE the school board passes this plan, and puts in motion changes the people of Bellingham don't support.

Another item on the agenda regards updating the district's communications policies. Read that carefully, too. It highlights the importance of TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION as a key component of the district's responsibility. So far, we've had no two-way communication, so please, insist on it. Other districts do it. Ferndale just passed its budget yesterday, after many community meetings in which board members, administrators and community members SPOKE WITH ONE ANOTHER, decided against closing a school to save costs, and FOUND SOLUTIONS TOGETHER.

See you Thursday night!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Board meeting, 5:30 p.m. July 16

The school board has a day-time work session, and an early board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16.

Of interest on the agenda, under action items, is "Adopt Capital Facilities Plan for School Impact Fees."

This is the plan we've been waiting for; it updates the 2004-09 plan, with current school capacity and expected growth for the next five years. This will be a good indication of what the district plans to do -- how it will justify building a new school on Aldrich Road, without the extra students to fill it, and without the operating funds to run it.

Hopefully, we'll also find out if the district is still planning to go ahead with its "capacity study," which is the precursor to closing schools in order to get the students and money to operate new schools.

The facilities plan itself should be available in the next day or two, and I will post it when the district attaches it to the agenda.

To see the agenda, go to
Bellingham School District and School Board , click on School Board meetings, agendas and minutes, enter the public site, and you'll see the list of agendas.

Friday, July 10, 2009

District tears down old Shuksan building, and more

Bellingham school district, in its facilities update last week, announced it was tearing down the old Shuksan Middle School building, ahead of schedule, in order to provide kids in the new building some playing fields this year. The plan had been to house the administration in this old building while the Roeder Administration building was being fixed this year. The Roeder project is on hold, and the district hasn't announced where the administrators will be housed when the project does begin.

Meanwhile, the teardown is under way, and several concerns have come up.
This information was shared with us by Stephanie Twiford, of the Shuksan Middle School community:

The district has demolished a 14-by-20 foot greenhouse, apparently worth about $10,000, with heater and circulation fan and equipment It could have been salvaged, given away, or the ReStore could have come in, dismantled it, and sold it. Now it is in a landfill somewhere.

The district also removed more than 25, 22-year-old Mt. Fuji cherry trees that were at the edge of the Shuksan property. It was a spectacular site in the spring to see these trees in bloom. A former principal (Mike Copeland) had students help plant them as a beautification project, and they may have been a gift from our sister city in Japan.

And the mural inside the school is in jeopardy: The new principal said he didn’t know if there was room in the new school for it, as they were going a different direction. What exactly that means is beyond me. It’s a wonderful mural that the entire school worked on, with the help of Bellingham artist Donna Wheat.

This is just another example of the district not paying attention to its constituents.
Make some noise --- don't let them think they can get away with stuff just because we're on summer break! Call school board members, call the district office, write letters to the editor at The Bellingham Herald!

The Shuksan families have a group on Facebook called Save the Shuksan Mural.
We also have a cause on Facebook for Neighborhood Schools Coalition.

Join the causes, and let's make a change!

Friday, July 3, 2009

District's 'facilities update'

The district posted this update today, updating us about all the capital projects the district is completing this summer. Read it here: Facilities update July 2009

Somehow, the district has been able to complete the new Shuksan building, is speeding up demolition of the old building, and moving into the new school this fall.

All the other schools' seismic work is being completed this summer, and mention of Lowell is limited to this: "Lowell’s exterior walls are being reinforced and attached to the roof and floors. Lowell is not being used during its temporary closure for any other purpose."

Then, the update moves into the need for a new Aldrich school, because -- gasp -- schools are so overcrowded they are housing children in PORTABLES!

"Since voters approved the bond in 2006, enrollment at Alderwood, Birchwood, Northern Heights and Sunnyland elementary schools has increased by a total of 182 students. Alderwood Elementary School currently is using one portable classroom, Birchwood has six portables in use and Sunnyland is using four portables."

Well, Happy Valley has seven portables! and Larrabee has three. The district already built a new school to get the kids out of these portables, and also has an EMPTY building that these children could be in, but the district is choosing to keep our youngest kids in portables.

Why does the district continue to tell us they need new buildings to get kids out of portables?

Who are they kidding?