LETTER | Response to Evergreen Middle School Complaint

The following is in response to this letter publish yesterday.

Editor: 

While we can sympathize with the unfortunate students at Evergreen Middle School who can no longer carry backpacks in school because of severe overcrowding, we need to look at the entire school district's overcrowding crisis and put it in perspective and recognize that it is not the only school in the district that is overcrowded.  In fact, almost all schools in the district are full and many more new students are expected.

 

The serious overcrowding at Evergreen Middle School is the result of excessive growth INSIDE Redmond and Sammamish.  The district's solution is to build a new middle school at Redmond Ridge for the 475 middle school students who live in Redmond Ridge and Redmond Ridge East.  The district will transfer another 300 students who live in rural King County to the new Redmond Ridge Middle School, leaving Evergreen nearly empty.  With a surplus of space at Evergreen, the district will transfer 1000 students from overcrowded middle schools in Redmond and Sammamish out to Evergreen Middle School in rural King County.

 

I live in Redmond and was on the Long Term Facilities Planning Task Force. I recognized that the district intended to build a new middle school at Redmond Ridge that would create a surplus of middle school space in rural King County and wrote an in-depth analysis of why we don't want two middle schools (Evergreen and the proposed Redmond Ridge school) outside the city limits.  The primary reason is that students who live in Redmond and Sammamish should attend schools in their cities that are accessible by walking or biking.  The second reason is that the district doesn't have enough buses for students who are currently eligible for bus transportation. Providing transportation for 1000 students who will need to travel more than 4 miles out to Evergreen will result in reduced bus service to other schools.

 

The school district never considered the impact of having two middle schools out in unincorporated/rural King County when it paid $15,000,000 for land at Redmond Ridge in January 2015 for a new middle school. (I filed a public records request for the Redmond Ridge Middle School land purchase so I have all their documentation for this ill-conceived plan.)   It was an extremely foolish purchase, made by an assistant superintendent who doesn't know anything about facilities planning.  The proposed bond measure will spend an additional $75,000,000 building a new middle school at Redmond Ridge.  It will relieve overcrowding at Evergreen Middle School but at the expense of middle school students who live in Redmond and Sammamish. 

 

Two of the three new schools in this bond measure will be built at Redmond Ridge on the far eastern edge of the district where only 5% of the district's students resides. The third new school will be an elementary in North Redmond.  Kirkland and Sammamish will get no new schools from this bond measure.  All 12 of the elementary schools in Kirkland are full or almost full.  Kirkland has had significant new construction during the recent building boom. Since 2009, the annual birth rate in Kirkland has increased from 800-850 babies per year to 1100 per year. (Data from the Dept of Health.) Schools in Kirkland will start seeing an up-tick in new students starting with next year's kindergarten classes.  Providing space for an extra 250 students per year means that collectively, Kirkland elementary schools will see an additional 1500 students in the next 6 years.  Middle schools should plan for 750 more students in 9 years and high schools can expect 1000 more in 12 years.  The $398,000,000 bond measure provides no funds for new elementary schools in Kirkland.  The 2018 bond measure will add only one elementary in Kirkland.  It will be too little, too late.

 

Kirkland has plans for medium to high density housing construction in many of its regional neighborhoods that will bring even more students to Kirkland.  Where will they go to school?  I have the school district's enrollment projections for Kirkland and they don't predict a surge in student enrollment, partially because the district calculates kindergarten enrollment by multiplying annual births in King County by 7.99% rather than looking at individual city birth rates.  The district also underestimates the number of students generated by new construction and neighborhood turnover.  The task force strongly recommended that the district hire a demographer to predict enrollment and housing trends. The district should have been using a demographer all along. 

 

Kirkland will need 3 new schools in the next 5 years for the new students who have already been born in the city.  Redmond is experiencing a similar baby boom and new construction boom.  It is naive to believe that one new elementary in Redmond will be enough.  Rebuilding Juanita High School, Kirk Elementary and Mead Elementary schools should probably be at the bottom of the list for the school district's construction priorities.  Adding many new schools or school additions where they are needed should be at the top of the list, especially in Kirkland.

 

I toured Juanita High School with the task force and it has maintenance and overcrowding issues, but it has functioned as a school for the past 6 years since the district's first failed bond measure to replace it.  Given the imminent surge in student enrollment that will happen very soon, a better solution for Kirkland would be to fix Juanita's heating, lighting, electrical and bathroom issues and also build a small third high school campus for 1000 students that would reduce overcrowding at both Juanita and Lake Washington High Schools. The supplemental high school could be like the STEM school that was added in 2012 for $35,000,000. Unfortunately, when I tried to introduce the topic of additional satellite high schools for Kirkland and Redmond during the task force meetings, the district never scheduled the topic for discussion.

 

The district implies that all 63 members of its task force were in agreement with its final recommendation.  I was on the task force and strongly disagreed with the final report and the proposed $398,000,000 bond measure.  I co-wrote the CON statement in the voter pamphlet that voters received with their ballots.  It includes a link to an informational website: Reject-LWSD-Prop1.com. I suggest that voters connect to the website and read it in order to understand what this bond measure is about and what this school district really needs.  The website also contains an explanation of the district's "No Tax Rate Increase" promise and explains how this bond measure will cause your school taxes to increase significantly.

 

Susan Wilkins