LWSD school board to propose levy measure

Board to Propose Levy Measure to Address Overcrowding

Permanent classrooms added to high schools, new science school added

At the October 11 board meeting, the Lake Washington School District board of directors voted to accept the recommendation of Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent, to propose a levy measure for the February 2011 ballot. The proposal is for a levy of $65.4 million to pay for classroom space that will address immediate overcrowding by building permanent classroom space.

The measure would pay for additions to house 250 students each at Eastlake and Redmond High Schools. It would also pay for a grades 6-12 school serving 675 students that would focus on Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics, or STEM. This proposal will relieve immediate overcrowding at the high school level, as well as anticipated overcrowding at the middle school level in the near future.

The measure would cost $.31 per $1000 of assessed valuation, or approximately $155 per year for a $500,000 home. The levy would last for six years before it expires.

The board of directors will vote on a resolution for a levy measure at its November 8 meeting. The levy measure will be on the ballot for the February 8, 2011, election.

The district held three public input sessions and a survey on its website to get direction from the community on what to put on the ballot. It also commissioned a phone survey of a random sample of community members.

“What we heard from community members and parents alike was strong support to address short-term overcrowding,” noted Dr. Kimball.  “More than two-thirds of respondents in both surveys disagreed with statements that advocated not asking the voters for any funds, regardless of overcrowding.”

“We also heard concern about most no-cost alternatives like double-shifting high school students, busing students to other schools and losing space for programs,” noted Dr. Kimball. “We heard from the community that we should ask for money for permanent solutions, like additions to buildings, rather than relying on portable classrooms as a short-term solution.”

Dr. Kimball also stressed, “And while we were encouraged to address the short term overcrowding, it is clear that our community expects us to be fiscally conservative at this time. This is why the proposed measure is $190 million less than the measure in February 2010.”

The superintendent did not advise putting bond measures on the ballot for new elementary school space or to modernize Juanita High School at this time.

“Juanita High School is scheduled to be in a modernization measure that we would propose in 2014,” noted Dr. Kimball. “Given the current economic situation and the lack of support among parents in our survey, I cannot recommend moving up the timeline.”

There was more support for putting a bond measure on the ballot to build a new elementary school, which 57% of those who responded to the web survey and input session survey favored.

“A bond measure requires a 60% supermajority to pass,” noted Dr. Kimball. “We really need the new elementary school by 2015. It can be added to the 2014 bond, rather than asking for that money now. In the meantime, we will have to use the elementary school space we have more efficiently. That will mean some boundary changes in the near future.”

High school size was also a concern for community members and parents, who wanted to keep the size of current high schools below 2,000 students.

“The only way to keep the high schools smaller was to limit expansion of Redmond and Eastlake to additions of classrooms to 250 students for each school, putting them at about 1750 students each,” said Dr. Kimball. “We don’t have enough growth at this point to justify building a fifth high school, which could cost $140 million or more. Instead, we can create a smaller school that provides some relief for the additional student populations at middle and high school and at the same time meet the interests we have heard over the last couple of years for a school that concentrates on science, technology, engineering and math.”

Board President Jackie Pendergrass acknowledged the interest in these subject areas, not only in this school district but also on a state and national level.

“There is a state workgroup developing a plan to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) instruction and career pathways in state K-12 schools,” noted Pendergrass. “There are similar initiatives at a national level. Given the many parents in our district who work for science and technology companies, there is a strong interest in our community for this district to be a leader in these disciplines.”

“This STEM school can not only meet the interests of students who want to pursue careers in these fields,” said Dr. Kimball, “but it can also help us incubate the best practice for STEM education in all of our schools.”

Over 600 more students enrolled in the district this fall as compared to last year. The district anticipates 500 more students enrolling each year for the next five years. This additional enrollment is causing overcrowding now at many district elementary schools. In the fall of 2012, the district will change to a grade configuration of grades K-5 elementary schools, 6-8 middle schools and 9-12 high schools from its current K-6, 7-9 and 10-12 configuration. While the decision to change was made for academic reasons, the district would need new classroom space for about 1500 elementary students in the fall of 2012, or the equivalent of about three elementary schools, if it was not made. Instead, the district expects it will need space for about 800 high schools students in the fall of 2012.