Build More Schools in Lake Washington School District, says Community Task Force

 

Group advises district on efficiency, cost-effectiveness, continued community involvement

 

After nearly a year of work by the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Long Term Facilities Task Force, P.S. Reilly, Task Force member and parent, called its recommendations “a reasonable person’s approach to what is a very tough problem.” The tough problem was the issue of classroom capacity and aging schools in a rapidly growing school district. The “reasonable person” represents the collective wisdom of the 63-person community task force as well as the larger community, represented by input collected during the process.

            Reilly, a task force member and parent, presented the Task Force's 254-page report

to the Board of Directors at its November 9 meeting. It is the outcome of nearly a year of work by the volunteer Task Force and its Working Subcommittee. Several smaller groups also dug into specific topics, including the efficient use of space in school buildings.

Build to house enrollment growth

            The Task Force report recommends the district build more schools to meet growing classroom needs, with further guidance on how to approach building. Updating or replacing aging schools should focus on those schools that can also add more classrooms.

            LWSD’s enrollment has grown by an average of 625 students each year over the last five years. That equals the size of a large elementary school added every year. Some current school buildings need updating or replacing due to their age and building conditions. The Task Force was charged with recommending strategies to address both of these issues for the 2017-18 through 2029-30 school years.

            The Task Force recommended a list of specific projects to meet the district’s needs through 2029-30, while also suggesting potentially innovative projects to explore.

 

Efficiency and cost-effectiveness emphasized

            Several Task Force strategies involve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It provided strategies to lower costs, such as specific cost-effective design principles. It recommended strategies to reduce some of the need for new schools, such as adding classrooms to existing schools where possible and moving preschools from elementary schools to other facilities.

            The Task Force learned about the limited funding options available for school buildings. School districts in Washington rely heavily on funds raised through bond measures to build new schools. The Task Force recommended long-term efforts to increase funding options. They recommend the district urge state legislators to seek the removal of sales tax from school construction and to update to the state’s outdated school construction funding assistance model. They also suggested seeking private funding, including donations and naming rights. Finally, the Task Force suggested pursuing an increase in school impact fees and selling undevelopable and/or excess parcels of land.

Continued community involvement

            Throughout the report, the Task Force recommended ways to increase community engagement in district facilities efforts. Suggestions included sharing the existing building condition assessment results with the community, establishing an expert advisory group on design and construction, and continuing to educate and gather feedback on facility challenges and choices. The Task Force also recommended periodically reconvening a Task Force to review these strategies. 

Back-up plans outlined

            The Task Force recognized that back-up plans might be necessary if the district cannot raise enough money to build all of the needed classroom space. They suggested using strategies the District now employs to house students to meet the remaining need. Those strategies include adding portable classrooms and teacher planning rooms, or moving district-wide programs to available space.

The Task Force also grappled with what to do about the continued growth if there is no funding to build more schools. They looked at various options to house the District’s growing enrollment with no additional schools. Under those conditions, the Task Force concluded that changing the school calendar so that students attend school in groups, or tracks, at different times through the entire year was the most viable plan. Reilly noted this approach is neither the Task Force’s nor the community’s desired approach but was identified as a back-up plan.

Next Steps

                Superintendent Traci Pierce noted that the district has already begun to implement some of the Task Force’s recommendations. For example, the school board legislative platform adopted at the same meeting included the Task Force’s recommendations concerning school construction sales tax and the state construction assistance formula. The district has also begun working with a demographer on ways to refine further its enrollment projections, another recommendation. The Task Force’s recommendations will be on the November 23 School Board meeting agenda for formal action.

                Dr. Pierce also noted that if the district is to build new schools, a bond measure will be needed. The next step will be to convene a bond advisory committee to advise the district on a potential funding measure to address the immediate needs.