Monday, January 13, 2014

LWSD Levy Information – Post #4

Lake Washington School District Levy and Bond Issues -- 
Voting Date:  February 11, 2014

This is the fourth in a series of posts regarding the upcoming Levy and Bond issues for February, 2014.  First three posts can be found here.

Q. When do you do replace a building and when do you modernize? How is the decision made?

A. The district’s modernization program, started in 1998, reviews school buildings on a 30 to 40 year cycle. The State offers some potential construction funding assistance for the modernization of school facilities on a 30-year cycle, though it only pays for a portion of some of the project components. Before designing a project, each building goes through a study to determine whether it will be modernized through major renovation or whether it is more appropriate to build “new-in-lieu” of modernization, i.e., a replacement building. That determination is made based on a careful review of the costs of the different options as well as whether or not the site has space for a replacement of the existing building. Renovating an old building to bring it up to current safety and educational standards can be as costly or more costly than a brand new building.

Q. Why do you need portables? Why do schools sometimes open with portables?

A. Portable classrooms are part of the District plan to address changes in demographics and programming needs. They provide flexibility in handling changing school populations. School enrollment changes as neighborhood demographics change. We do not want to overbuild, asking taxpayers for money to pay for classrooms that may remain empty for many years. We also do not want to under build, causing overcrowding and the use of too many portables.

Q:  If the bond/levy measures are passed, when would construction begin for each of the schools?  Can you give me a bit more information on the process that occurs AFTER a measure is passed?  For instance, are the boundaries re-lined before the school building committee is formed?  Before the plans are drawn?  Or after the school is built?

A:  After a measure is passed, construction planning begins in earnest. Planning would start first for those schools planned to open first, with design and permitting work that takes significant amounts of time. 

With regard to boundaries, I can only speak to the last time a new school was built, which was Carson Elementary in Sammamish. That boundary committee started its work one year before the school opened. The committee met, surveyed the community on their interests and developed options during the fall. Community feedback was sought on the options, and a final option was recommended to the board, which it approved. The goal was to complete work before kindergarten registration in early February so families would know where to register. That goal was met. If the bond passes, I expect we would have a goal of completing any boundary changes by the end of January 2016, for boundaries that would go into effect for the fall of 2016, allowing kindergarten registration to take place as usual in February.

If what you are asking is whether we take potential enrollment growth in a specific area into account before designing the school, we look at the capacity that will be needed according to projections in the entire learning community (all of Redmond, in the case of the two proposed new elementary schools) and design the school(s) to add the needed capacity. The boundary process then strives to equitably divide the total numbers of students, current and projected, between currently existing schools and those being built. 

Q:  You mentioned in the email below that a High School takes three years to build.  What is the projected time frame for the Juanita project?  For the STEM project?  For the new elementary school(s)?  If memory served, Horace Mann was demolished and completed in a 2+ month summer span.  I don’t remember the exact time for Redmond Jr. High (now Middle School), but it seems it was a short time as well between demolishing and building/occupancy.

A:  Here’s a link to the bond measure detail chart on the website, which includes the project completion dates for all projects.

It takes much, much longer than 2+ months to build an elementary school: demolishing the old school is done over the summer but building the new school on the site takes longer, and there is permitting, planning and site preparation work to be done before that can happen. Thus, the first new elementary schools if the bond passes are scheduled to open in the fall of 2016. For building a new school on a new site, the site preparation work is much more involved and takes longer.

Q:  If buildings are intended to be used for 30-40 years; shouldn’t the size projections for new buildings calculate growth based on the same time frame?  My reference point for this is again, Redmond High School, which was rebuilt and over occupancy (based on portable buildings) within two years.  And Horace Mann was rebuilt with the same or fewer classrooms as its predecessor building; even though there were several housing developments that could have fallen within the boundaries at the time for that school.  It wasn’t until after Mann was built that the boundaries were shrunk yet again and the schools “closed”.  Redmond Middle School was over capacity within just a few years as well as they now have three or 4 portables.  

A: Size decisions for schools do look at growth based on projections. We know that projecting for 8-10 years can be reasonably accurate: many of the students who will be in our schools in that time frame have already entered our elementary schools and we have some knowledge of upcoming development. The farther out you go from that time frame, the less accurate the predictions. We do plan for up to four portables on a site to ensure flexibility: if our projections are wrong or other space needs arise, we have the additional space. Projections cannot, for example, take into account how many of the students who show up may have particular special program (ELL, special education, for example) needs that require the use of additional classrooms or space for services for a small number of students. Those needs can vary considerably each year and will affect how many classrooms are available for general education classes.

Keep in mind also that neighborhoods do go through demographic trends as families that move in to new neighborhoods together see their students through school and then tend to remain in the neighborhood for some time. The school age population is not a steady number once housing has been built but rather tends to go in waves. We saw that in Kirkland as the school age population fell in the last decade and we had empty classrooms that have now filled up as older couples sold their homes to young families. If we do not use portables to provide the flexibility of extra space, then we do need to build to the highest possible number, which would mean even more empty classrooms for longer periods of time that we have to pay to heat and clean when we hit the low side of the demographic wave. We believe it is more fiscally responsible to take the approach we have.

Q:  The district had to have had plans or discussions to change the class pattern from K-6 et al to K-5 et al quite a few years prior; which should have been reflected in the new school buildings and projects in the pipeline.  It certainly should have been in the planning process of Redmond High School because it’s been less than two years since the addition and we’ve just recently added the fourth portable.  

A:  That planning was indeed involved. However, there are a number of factors affecting Redmond High School’s size. As noted above, changes in special program needs can have an impact on numbers of classrooms available for general education classes. In addition, we heard very clearly from the community that they did not want high schools over 2000 students. We chose to add a Choice high school, the STEM school, expecting it to draw students from Redmond High, rather than add on enough classrooms to grow Redmond High well over that number. As a new school, the STEM School has been ramping up its attendance, starting with just freshmen and sophomores last year and adding juniors this year. Since it is not yet at full capacity, it is not yet drawing its maximum number of students from the Redmond attendance area. Next year, with the addition of a senior class, we should be pretty close.

We also have students at Redmond High who are on variances from Eastlake. Students from the Eastlake attendance area who attend Evergreen Middle or who are in the Quest program at Redmond Middle have tended to ask for those variances. While those variances were automatically granted in the past, starting last year, they are no longer automatically granted. And we added a full-time Quest class at Evergreen Middle this year, which kept some Evergreen students at their home school rather than sending them to Redmond Middle for that program. 

So there are a number of factors that have and will affect the total number of students attending Redmond High. It’s not as simple as just predicting the enrollment from the neighborhoods slated to go to Redmond High. Special programs, choice schools and variance patterns all have a part to play.

Calculating School Capacity 

School capacity is based on a “Standard of Service” defined in the district Capital Facilities Plan.

At elementary schools, we use this formula:   Total number of classrooms (including portables) minus the number of classrooms used for specific programs or subjects (computer labs, art / science rooms, Special Education self-contained, etc.) times 23 students (average class size K-5) per classroom plus 12 students per Special Education self-contained classroom.

At secondary schools, there is also a percentage of classroom usage since teachers normally get one period for planning and generally have done their planning in their classroom. In our newer schools, however, separate small teacher planning spaces have been added so that classrooms can be used for more of the time. 

So for secondary, the formula is: Total number of classrooms (including portables) minus classrooms used for special programs times 70% (older buildings) or 83% (new buildings) times 30 students at middle school and 32 students at high school plus 12 students per Special Education self-contained classroom.

Of course, depending on the mix of students and programs, this estimate may not match the reality. An elementary school that has many students in grades one and two where we keep class sizes smaller might need more classrooms than an elementary school that has many students in grades four and five, for example.

1 Information provided by Kathryn M. Reith, APR Communications Director, LWSD
2 Information from website
3 Information from website
4 Information from website

LWSD website information regarding the Levy & Bond Issue:

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