Dear Editor, Paul Hall recently wrote a letter to the editor, responding to my rebuttal of Matt Gregory’s opinion of the upcoming Capital Levy that will be on the February ballot. This letter is intended to provide clarification and additional information.
Lake Washington will ask voters to consider a $65.4 million capital levy on February 8, 2011, specifically to address significant overcrowding in the district. Due to student enrollment growth, by 2014 the district will need additional space for approximately 1000 students at the high school level and will have little or no room at the elementary or middle school level. This year, LWSD has 614 more students than a year ago, and we are expecting over 400 more students each year for the next five years.
Mr. Hall is asking the district to use money set aside through the voter-approved funding for the modernization program and/or the capital projects program to meet the district’s need for more space. These programs have been approved by voters, are on track, and our public commitment is being fulfilled. For each phase of the modernization program, we make a commitment to the voters that specific schools will be modernized. We could, through a public hearing process, stop modernization of schools identified and redirect those funds. But we believe this violates our commitment to the public. I am sure that the families served by the eight schools that will be modernized in the next four years would agree.
There seems to be some confusion regarding our modernization and capital projects programs versus the current need for space so let me provide a little background. In 1997, a four-phase modernization program was developed to modernize all facilities over a long period of time (1998-2030). The scope of that program was determined through a community input process. The community overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive approach that would address not just building needs but also the educational program needs of students and families long into the future. In 1998, the first modernization measure was strongly passed by voters. In 2006, when Phase II of this program was up for voter consideration, that approach was validated again through a public input process and the successful passage of the measure.
When a school is on the modernization schedule, cost estimates are developed by a third party for modernizing the current structure as compared to the cost of building a new building. These estimates are developed using the educational specification that is used for all facilities in the program to ensure equity across the district. If the cost of modernizing the current structure is at least 80% of the cost to build a new building, the state superintendent’s office (OSPI) recommends building new. This guideline has led to building a new building for all but one of the district’s modernization projects. To ensure that the cost estimates are legitimate, we have yet another third party evaluate the first set of cost estimates to ensure that the costs are appropriately developed.
Concurrently we also have a capital projects program. This program was last approved by voters in February 2010. The capital projects program invests in every district building to make sure that our buildings are kept in good condition over their lifespan and repairs to major systems are made in the short term. This may include lighting, HVAC systems, roofs, or fields. Upgrades to major systems in Juanita High School have benefitted from this program.
Lake Washington has one of the most effective facility programs in the state. We believe that strategic investments help us avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish.” We seek the advice of outside experts, ask for citizen input, are prudent in our spending, and keep our focus on the current and future needs of our students. Our projects are delivered on time and within the program budget. We take our responsibility to the taxpayer very seriously, and look for areas where savings can be realized without compromising programs for students.
We will soon be out of space. We have asked our citizens how to address the space problem and the measure in February reflects that input.
Dr. Chip Kimball, Superintendent
Lake Washington School District