Letter | Why You Should Vote YES for the LWSD Levy

My husband and I live in the Juanita community and we strongly urge Lake Washington School District residents to vote YES for the district’s February 8th capital levy. Maintaining our excellent schools is important to the quality of life in our community and to our children’s futures.   If our children choose to live here when they are adults, we hope they’ll find this is a stable community and still a great place to raise a family.

The levy is needed to pay for new classroom space and a new school to accommodate the district’s sudden increase this past year in enrollment after a decade of almost no growth.  The increase is no anomaly; the enrollment is expected to continue to climb.

New classroom space will be added to Redmond and Eastlake High Schools.  The new school, located on the east side, will be open to all  6th to 12th graders in the district interested in science, math, engineering and technology.    Acceptance will be by lottery as it is in other choice schools.

So, why would we – west side Juanita parents who don’t have children in east side schools – still support the levy?

Because the Juanita community and all the district’s communities will benefit from the levy and, what’s more, could be negatively affected if the levy failed.

A school district kept in tip-top shape supports higher home values.  The quality of schools in a district is often the first thing house-hunters ask about.  A good or a bad school anywhere in the district affects the entire district’s reputation.    This is why the SeattleKing County Realtors endorsed the levy.

Passing the levy to build more classrooms on the east side will help ensure that the east side, in turn, will support us when it’s time to pass a bond to modernize Juanita High School, Kamiakin Junior High and seven other schools beginning in 2014.  It’s a simple case of quid pro quid.

In fact, we’ve already benefited from east side support when, in 2006, district voters approved the bond that is currently financing the new construction of Finn Hill Junior High and the soon-to-begin modernization of Sandburg Elementary.   (And just for the record, the district’s amazing Environmental Adventure School will remain on Finn Hill and be housed in the new building.)

The problem of overcrowding will not go away and in these tight economic times the district does not have a pot of money available to buy portables.

If the levy should fail, the district could do one of three things – any one of them could have a negative impact on Juanita residents.    The first option, double-shifting, is the most likely option said some district administrators and school board members.    The three options are to:

  1. Double-shift students at Eastlake and Redmond High Schools, causing  students attending the morning shift to rise very early, and students attending in the afternoon to miss participating in after-school activities including sports.    Although both Juanita and Lake Washington are 3A high schools, they occasionally compete against the 4A High Schools of Redmond and Eastlake in football, basketball, soccer, swimming and baseball among other activities.   It’s a real question as to how well Redmond and Eastlake High Schools, operating on a double-shift, will be able to field all their athletic teams and continue to participate in intradistrict competition.
  1. Redistrict school boundaries and bus kids from the east side of the district to its west side.   We would likely see more kids at Lake Washington and possibly Juanita High Schools.    Considering our community’s traffic challenges, busing would be a logistical nightmare.    East side families would have to forego the luxury of sending their children to neighborhood schools; while west side families would see their children’s class sizes increase.
  1. Ask for voter approval to redirect the bond money already set aside for the modernization of schools in phase 2 towards building the additional classroom space that’s needed.   However, to not use bond money for the original purpose approved by the voters is to set a terrible precedent.    In the future, voters will think they can’t trust the district to use the bond money as advertised.  Also, using the approved bond money will delay the modernization plans of Sandburg Elementary, the International Community School and the other seven Phase 2 schools yet to undergo modernization.   Certainly the modernization schedule of schools in Phase 3, including Juanita High School, Kamiakin Junior High and the seven other schools will be delayed, too.

And a note to those who think the Juanita community was somehow short-shrifted last year when the bond failed.   It was not.  Juanita High School was always scheduled for  Phase 3 modernization beginning in 2014.  Last year’s bond proposed modernizing Juanita HS sooner to take advantage of the favorable bond rates.   But that bond was shot down, so Juanita HS is still on the Phase 3 schedule.

Finally, taxpayers should know that every year the Washington State’s Auditors Office performs a complete financial audit of the district’s financial records.  It’s the equivalent of being audited by a CPA firm.   These audits are the taxpayers’ assurance that the district is spending money legally according to government regulations and voted mandates.

In its most recent audit, the State’s Auditor office found “no significant deficiencies or material weaknesses in either internal control over financial reporting or internal control over major programs. The Accountability Audit Report showed the District’s internal controls were adequate to safeguard public assets. “

At an annual rate of 31¢ per $1,000 of assessed value, the levy would cost the average homeowner $13 per month for six years.  This is a cost that we’ve decided is worth paying to protect important common interests.   Please join us in voting YES for the February 8th levy!

Sincerely,

Barbara Billinghurst

Bob Kelley MD