Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Everett School District Bond - Your Thoughts!

Please take our survey about why you voted how you did and what could be done in the next bond vote.  The survey takes about 5 minutes. Results will be shared with the School Board.  We encourage you to share this with your local friends - the more responses we have, the more accurate the survey is as a measure of public opinion.  




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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Superintendent SPEAKS (sort of)

This was sent to all district employees from Superintendent Gary Cohn a couple of days after the bond vote and when it really looked like it wasn't going to pass again.  My commentary is in red.  

Dear Colleague:

With only ten ballots remaining to be counted at the elections office, the published results yesterday afternoon were higher than the day before, but still less than 60 percent. As of the announcement yesterday, we had 58.58 percent approval for the bond – an impressive majority and enough to elect the officials who guide our nation and state, but not enough to build schools for students.

Thank goodness this still requires a 60% super majority.  Bond votes obligate local taxpayers to 20 years of taxes and can have consequences on the local economy in the future.  We want these long-term obligations to be thoughtfully passed with that knowledge. This isn't a tax that will go away in a few years - it's a long-term obligation and it should NOT be easy for a district to pass without solid numbers and reasons for asking the taxpayers to pay the district's debt for 20 years. The PTA and others are lobbying to get the law changed to a simple majority, but hopefully the taxpayers will fight that.  You want to tie me to 20 years of your debt, it's not going to be easy....  

This morning I am sharing with you the spirit of the response our Board of Directors President Pam LeSesne gave the media who called her when yesterday’s election results were posted. I share her sentiments, as I also share our collective and dauntless resolve to continue this work on behalf of our students.

“In our classrooms, students learn about the value and power of our Democracy. The election result is not what the board or the district hoped for. However, it is our voter’s answer, and we respect it.

The rest of the letter doesn't sound like it....

“Voters said no to our request for funding to build schools for more students. While the voters said no, the district cannot say no to the families moving here and to the hundreds and hundreds of students who will enter our classrooms in the next decade.

DRAMA ALERT!!!!  This is not a decade-long failure.  They get to ask again in February.  

“Voters said no to technology that will help students build skills they will need for their futures. Without that technology infrastructure, our students will not be as competitive in their careers and higher education. “Our challenge now is, without these resources, how to respond to the real needs of children in Everett Public Schools.

I don't believe what they're saying and they shouldn't either.  No one said "No" to kids. They said "no" to an administration and board who puts themselves first. It's shameful to keep using children as pawns this way. How about you ASK the voters why they said "no" instead of making sweeping assumptions that present a false idea that voters said "no" to punish the students? How many of those projects could your $28 million have said "yes" to?  



“The board and district’s next step is to consider what options we have for accommodating the hundreds of students who will be coming to our district over the next decade and in what ways we can ensure the best possible educational technology access for students.

DRAMA ALERT 2.0!!!!  This is not a decade-long failure.  They get to ask again in February.  
 
“Until the board is able to convene and discuss tonight’s results and set future direction, the district must put these capital projects on hold. “School districts can put bonds and levies on the ballot just twice a year – that is state law. If the board decides to ask voters again for some or all of this construction funding, the soonest that election could occur is February 2015.”

There is no one to blame but themselves. They could have waited until August to put this on the ballot again - Ferndale, Lynden and others around the state are waiting.  There was no hurry and, by doing what they did, THEY have delayed the projects, NOT the voters. 

If they had put it on the August ballot after some thoughtful changes and listening to more than those who will vote for anything you attach a photo of a wide-eyed child to, they may have well passed it and could have accessed money by the Fall. Instead, they listened to those who voted "yes" the first time and just warmed it up and rammed it through again.  Now, they can't ask again until early 2015 and so, rather than projects being delayed just a few months, they are potentially delayed up to a year.  But, it was their decision to put it on the ballot again so fast, not anyone else's. They must own that fact.  

As President LeSesne says, the board must convene to consider options, and that is a process that will take time and certainly more than a few discussions. We will begin preparing for the board some options for the timing and staging of educational technology. We will gather options for reconsidering how we focus operational funds and capital funds – and how and if we continue with any projects on the drawing board. This is going to take time, and I will keep in touch with you along the way as we consider some difficult decisions.

Voters across the state, in districts large and small turned down capital bond requests. As of Thursday evening, only two out of 12 April 22 school issues were passing. Lakewood School District to the north of us had gleaned 60.05 percent. Reardan-Edwall School District in Lincoln County earned an impressive 66.25 percent approval. (Actually, what I'm reading is that this bond FAILED.  It straddles two counties and while Lincoln County voters heartily approved it with 66.25%, Spokane County voters rejected it in numbers that kept it from passing.  It only got 54.93% approval)

The other district Thursday results were:

  • Pioneer,59.53%
  • Highland,58.90%
  • Everett,58.58%
  • Bridgeport,53.06%
  • Lake Washington,52.39%
  • Tenino,52.27%
  • WallaWalla,52.17%
  • Oakesdale,48.93%
  • Sequim, 43.61%
  • Dayton, 27.73%


All but Lake Washington and Everett are small districts in remote or rural areas that are still economically depressed or have small tax bases.  None of these are "news" or even comparable. In fact, Pioneer District is on its SEVENTH try to pass their bond.  Dayton is so tiny that it has ONE high school with 240 kids. The fact that these bonds didn't pass isn't unusual.  It often takes several tries in small communities. 

Thank you for your work on behalf of students, and please remember that 58.58 percent speaks loudly about the majority support your work and our students have from this community.

The law says you need more than a simple majority to pass a bond. Maybe it's time to reach past that "majority" and find out why the 42% voted against it.  Given that Everett hasn't had a bond failure in 18 years and hasn't had a DOUBLE bond failure in 39, there might be a need assess the actual reason why rather than making assumptions or crowing about "majority support". That kind of talk doesn't exactly start winning over the 42% who will surely be voting again in February 2015.  

Warm Regards,
Gary

Friday, April 25, 2014

Everett School District Bond Rejected Again


While the April 22 Everett School District Bond vote will not officially be certified by the county until May 6, and there MAY be a handful of votes counted and added to the total in their next update on May 2, it's basically a final tally here 3 days after the election.  Yesterday's tally barely budged the needle in the district's favor and I don't think there are enough votes out there still to be reported that will push it to the needed 60%.  

Here's how it looks for Round 2 of the Everett School District $259 million bond request:  
Vote CountPercent
APPROVED11,590   58.58%
REJECTED8,19441.42%
Total Votes:19,784



And, here are the certified results from the February vote:

APPROVED          10,654   58.13%
REJECTED            7,674    41.87%

Total Votes         18,328

You can read my take on Round 1 HERE.  

So, they essentially got 1,456 more people to vote in Round 2 - a mere 8% increase. They got a 9% increase in those who approved the bond and 7% increase in those who rejected the bond.  At the end of the day, they didn't even gain .5% in the final approval and certainly didn't get to their required 60% to pass it.  

I assume, that like Round 1, they will sing the praises of the MORE than 50% who voted "YES".  However, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. They don't get the money.  

Now, let's apply a little history here - The Everett School District LOVES their history. They talk about it all the time and Larry O'Donnell - champion of everything the district does - even wrote a book on it in the early 1990's that I just happen to have a copy of.  

The last time Everett faced an embarrassing (and really quite spectacular) bond failure was 1975.  The district presented an $11 million bond in February of that year, and, not unlike February of this year, the levy passed and the bond failed.  However, they waited an ENTIRE YEAR to try again, but alas, the bond failed AGAIN in February 1976.  They put it on the ballot again that same year during the September primary election and it failed AGAIN.  They finally set it aside for nearly 2 years and tried again with an increased amount of $16,972,000 in February 1978.  They also had a smaller bond of $1.5 million for district swimming pools. The regular bond passed that year and the swimming pool bond failed.  

But, notice that when the bond failed the first time, they didn't rush to put it on the ballot again with the attitude that they just needed to beat the bushes for more voters.  They waited a year and suffered the humiliation of having it fail THREE TIMES in a row before they set it aside for nearly 18 months. 

In other words, it's been nearly 40 years since we had this kind of failure in the district. There was another less spectacular bond failure in 1996.  The district ran a bond in February that got less than 55% support. They did exactly what they did this year and ran it again immediately in April and got 60.3% approval. Perhaps they relied too heavily on history to repeat itself 18 years later.  

Meanwhile, I have heard the School Board and Administration pat themselves on the back in the last couple of years for getting done what no other Superintendent and Board has been able to do for 20 years - they built a new administration building! Okay, GREAT!  But then they also must own the fact that they achieved another historic milestone that stretches back farther than 20 years - they failed a bond TWICE in a row.....  Are the new administration building and the bond failure connected? Absolutely!  

So, what next?  They cannot legally run another bond until February 2015.  I assume that will run it again, then.   However, will it be the same package with the backed-in and unsubstantiated project guesstimates and unrestrained money usage based solely on the discretion of the School Board? Who knows. It shouldn't be the same package and language if they truly got the message they were sent by the voters.  

Of course, we here at the Everett School Board Project will be presenting our ideas in the coming weeks.  We hope the school board and Superintendent has the courage to consider them.  We would even welcome a meeting with Board President, Pam LeSesne to discuss them.  Now is not the time to gather in all their properly pedigreed community friends to figure out what went wrong.  In fact, I believe that parade of "Community Leaders" actually just annoys the living daylights out of average people - I heard it every time a letter appeared the paper from one of them.  

Now is also not the time to fire up a public meeting that is carefully controlled and led by their expert manipulators.  Now is the time to reach past the PTA cheerleaders and go directly to the moms and dads who, besides having kids in the schools, don't have any other connections or agendas beyond making sure their children are in safe and effective buildings getting a good education. 

This will take a signal to the public that they are willing to accept public input outside their next Rotary meeting.  This may take a Town Hall-style meeting where no one is telling us we must "accept positions we may not normally want to accept" or told what is and isn't acceptable to ask or discuss or that we are allowed to only make a 3-minute statement to which they will not respond in a board meeting.  This may take them setting up tables at concerts, sporting events and Curriculum Nights and going where the parents are instead of asking the parents to come to their 4:30 Tuesday afternoon board meetings.  They are going to have to listen FAR more than they talk.  

We were told after the first bond failure that the only real failure was that we (the voters) didn't get enough information and that not enough of us bothered to vote.  So, rather than listening (beyond asking for emails which they apparently only really wanted from supporters), they decided to just talk LOUDER and more OFTEN about the bond - as if that was all we needed as a public.  

I could have told them that wasn't going to work.  But, I don't have to now....




UPDATE: The Great Transportation Fix....


Check out what happened after we suggested a fix to a transportation issue that caused the district to look at messing with school hours.  

LINK to the original post with update.  


Thursday, April 17, 2014

What it looks like to respect the taxpayers and put students first....

I'm sure the Bellingham School District has it's challenges and critics.  I don't think there's a school district in the country that doesn't.  However, in looking around at other local bond issues the other night to see what had been done and what was being done, I stumbled across a bond I could have gotten behind.

Last November (stay tuned, I'll comment on that in a moment, or one of our new school board directors will, rather), Bellingham ran a $160 million bond that passed with 66% approval.  The bond includes an ambitious list of projects not unlike our own.  They will rebuild two schools (I went to both) that are currently 48 and 52 years old.  By the time the 48 year old high school opens on the same property the current one is, that school will be 52 years old.  They apparently don't possess the arbitrary 40 year replacement cycle. They replace based on need.

They will update, modernize and repair roofs and HVAC systems in several other schools not unlike our own list of projects.

There is no technology on the bond because they ran it in a separated tech and operations levy in the past.

They asked for $2 million to upgrade the bus barn - something Everett did without asking the voters and something they use to justify the way they built the administration building.

They will build a small, new alternative high school that has been housed in portables for nearly 20 years.

They will upgrade the fields at all three Bellingham high schools

And, they will upgrade the facilities at their version of the Lively Property.

But, here's the kicker.  They ASKED voters for $17 million to update and do safety upgrades to their 106 year old district office building (their version of the Longfellow building).  They aren't asking for a new building - just for upgrades to it.  Is $17 million a lot of money?  Yes, it is.  However, the statements made in this video warm my heart.  In a nutshell, they say they acknowledge that no one really wants to pay for this BUT, they also flat out say that "we don't need to build a luxurious, large new building."  Is that a shout out to Everett?  Check out the video below.  





Now for the timing of their bond.  They ran it last November.  Yes, NOVEMBER!  That saved the district a LOT of money by running it alongside a regular election.  But, by running it during a regular election, they were obligated to allow both a for AND against statement in the local voter's guide. The thought of that would cause our administration to curl into the fetal position in their new offices.  


In fact, at the March 4 school board meeting where the timing of re-running the bond was discussed, new Board Member, Caroline Mason, had reservations about waiting until November because voters might get confused about what they're voting on. Please... we are just as smart a Bellingham voters.  I think we could have figured it out. The translation of the statement is that in November, there would be too many voters who were there for other things and voted on the bond as an afterthought vs. voters in February and April who are there just for the bond.  




Now, let's talk briefly about the language of the bond itself.  It's BINDING! They don't give themselves a whole lot of closed-door wiggle room to do anything with extra money beyond doing MORE improvements to school facilities:

Section 2. Capital Improvements. The District shall make the following capital improvements (the “Improvements”): 

(LIST OF ABOUT 11 IMPROVEMENTS THEY WILL MAKE)

The cost of all necessary planning, architectural, engineering, and other consulting services, inspection and testing, administrative and relocation expenses, on and off-site utilities, related improvements and other costs incurred in connection with the making of the foregoing capital improvements shall be deemed a part of the costs of the Improvements. Such improvements shall include all necessary furniture, equipment and appurtenances.

If available funds are sufficient from the proceeds of Bonds authorized for the above purposes, the District may use such funds to acquire sites for facilities of the District or to pay the principal of or interest on the Bonds, In the alternative, if available funds are sufficient from the proceeds of Bonds authorized for the above purposes and/or state and local circumstances require, the District may use such funds to acquire, construct, equip, modernize and make other capital improvements to the facilities of the District, all as the Board of Directors may determine, after holding a public hearing thereon pursuant to RCW 28A.530.020. 

AND, HERE'S THEIR STATE MATCHING FUNDS DECLARATION:

It is anticipated that the District may receive funds from the State of Washington pursuant to Chapter 28A.525 RCW. To the extent that such state funds are not received timely and used to pay costs of the Improvements, the District intends to apply such state funds to construct and equip a new warehouse for District use (they put a name on what they may do with those funds instead of hiding them) and/or future school facility construction projects, including planning and design of such District facilities. Such state funds may also be applied to pay the principal of or interest on the bonds provided for herein or to make other capital improvements to the facilities of the District as the Board may determine after holding a public hearing thereon pursuant to RCW 28A.530.020. 

That's cRaZy talk right there.  Doesn't Bellingham know "The Everett Way"? They are supposed to be vague and deceptive about bond dollars so as to keep all their options open.  I guess Dr. Cohn needs to make a trip up there to sit down with their Superintendent and "school" him on not making the other districts look bad.  

I'm sure that while there were plenty who didn't want this bond to pass in Bellingham, I have a different perspective living in a district that goes out of it's way to keep the public out of their hair.  Maybe if I lived in Bellingham, I might have been on the "no" side - I haven't researched if this raised taxes or not.  But, after living here, I certainly have a much lower bar to compare bonds to in any city I might live.  I just need to ask myself, "Is this better than Everett?"   I bet that 9 times out of 10, the answer will be, "Yes".  

A shout out to my home town for respecting voters and putting students first in word AND action.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

North Middle School aka The Poster Child of Emotional Manipulation for Monetary Purposes

by Kim



Not a real sign... but it could be.  
In today's Everett Herald, there is a letter from a 7th grader at North Middle School. North seems to have become the "Poster Child" for the second running of the Bond.  It's hard to sort out the truth in the condition of the school.  We have had claims that buckets are placed in classrooms to catch ceiling drips and claims that students are getting SOAKED walking between classes on open covered outdoor hallways (it must have not rained much before they built the school in 1981....).

Now, we have a middle school student claiming that students are cautioned against leaning on the support posts of those covered walkways.  REALLY?  If that's the case, then the Fire Marshall needs to take a trip over there and assess the safety of the school.   Perhaps he'll condemn it and then all the students will be evacuated to the Community Resource Center for classes.... 

However, just 2 years ago, the building condition report the school board received said this: 

 "At present, the Everett School District DOES NOT HAVE A CRITICAL HOUSING EMERGENCY in the form of classroom space across the District. None of the district’s schools have been damaged from catastrophes or natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, wind damage or related structural failures. All of the district’s current permanent and temporary facilities are fully operable." 

First of all, if what the 7th grader said IS true, people need to be fired over letting a school degrade into a dangerous situation. Seriously, fire everyone from the Superintendent on down who has anything to do with facilities maintenance and made the decision to merely warn students over fixing the problem.  Especially since they were probably unstable clear back in 2012 when they broke ground on that new $28 million administration building. Where was the talk of the problems at North Middle School then?  Where were the parents and the teachers and the students?  $28 million probably could have more than adequately taken care of most of the issues, if not all, they are clutching their pearls over, now.  It was apparently as acceptable to let students risk being crushed by a walkway cover as it was to let student break their ankles on the poor fields at the high schools.  STUDENTS FIRST....

I hope that while the first thought of the district was, "Gosh, that ought to catch all those 'bleeding heart' voters who don't want to let the kids go wanting anymore and compel them to APPROVE the bond," that their second thought is now, "This makes us look REALLY bad...."  Because, if it's true, it really does.  

Meanwhile, who can forget THIS gem posted in the comments section of the Herald after an article about the bond:

"I work in the maintenance department of the school district so this must remain anonymous for my own protection, however I just can not vote for this. The complete waste and siphoning of money from my department must stop and our workers restored so we can have safe, healthy schools for these children. The custodians alone are still working under the 2009 budget cut and desperately need new equipment of their buildings and safety while our trades workers can barely keep up with demand or buy the proper materials with the constant squeeze from management. 

This levy and bond money will only be grabbed from the taxpayers without their blessings and fed into the admins bloated budget while we plebeians suffer. 

I will be voting no."

Which should lead any thinking person to wonder if our buildings and students aren't being used as pawns in a game of showmanship and public manipulation.  

In 2009, the administration had an evaluation done of most of the buildings in the district.  At the time, North Middle School received all 4's and 3's on the condition of the facility.  A 4 is "Building makes positive contribution to educational environment" and a 3 is "Building suitable".  If it had received 2's and 1's as Monroe and View Ridge did, it would have indicated a need for remodeling or upgrades.  

At the time, the report said that upgrades and modernizations that WERE needed at North Middle School were estimated to cost about $2 million.  Now, without any plans or detailed estimates, we have gone from $2 million to over $41 million for renovations and upgrades.  How did that happen?  

From the District's Building Condition Report
Add this to the fact that James Monroe Elementary and View Ridge Elementary were completely rebuilt for a cost of less than $19 million EACH.  The modernization of North Middle School will be more than the cost of those two newly rebuilt schools COMBINED.  Tear the thing down and start over - it HAS to be cheaper.  

The point is that one has to wonder where the truth is in all this. Emotional blackmail and heartwarming platitudes are how school districts fleece taxpayers into writing them blank checks.  I'm all for taking care of our schools so they operate efficiently and so that students in both ends of the district have schools of comparable quality.  However, I am totally against purposely letting schools degrade to dangerous levels when they are on the downward slide of the district's arbitrary 40-year replacement cycle and then using those poor conditions to convince taxpayers to open their wallets "for the kids". 

The high school I attended in Bellingham was built in the early 70's and, as of last month when I was up there, it looks exactly the same as it did the day I graduated 30 years ago.  I'm sure there have been upgrades since then, but I'm also sure that students are STILL getting soaked walking from one side of the school to the other through the "California-style" open courtyard passing areas.  But, there's probably little reason beyond that to tear it down and start over.  

Meanwhile, I hope someone calls the Fire Marshall to go have a look at those support poles.....  

We need to send a clear and unmistakable message to current leadership that things need to change.  Everett taxpayers have repeatedly been called "Generous" by this superintendent and, frankly, I think it's becoming a code-word for "Sucker".   Is it acceptable to make students wait just a little longer for their upgrades and fixes?  I believe it is if it forces a long-term shift in attitude that benefits both the students and the taxpayers in the Everett School District. We need less secrecy and manipulation and more students as priorities.  One has been too much "the norm" and the other has been sadly lacking in this district for far too long.  You can say, "Students first" and "it's about kids" all you want, but at the end of the day, actions have spoken far louder than words.....




Saturday, April 12, 2014

Businesses are People, too, I guess....

Everett is the "bluest" of towns.  It's always been about the value of the "working man".  Unions reign supreme and union members talk about being out to get "the man".  Everyone celebrates the lowly worker  and "average Joe" around here.  

That is, until you cross the "Good Old Boys" network where some of the more prominent names in the community stand to lose something.  Then, a parade of names with connections shows up in the Everett Herald with their community pedigrees attached in the form of self-important titles, business names, declarations of the number of years since their family rolled into town in a Model T or educational alphabets.  

When there's money to be lost, it's not about the "average Joe" or the "worker" anymore, it's about influencing the "average Joe" to agree to pay money to the district so the school district can pay money to them.  They do this by declaring that certain opinions are more valid and valuable than others in this community.  Suddenly the "average Joe" doesn't matter - he's only a taxpayer to be tapped for their own interests.   


The largest contributors to the Everett School District bond campaign this time are businesses who stand to win or lose depending on how this thing goes. Do they care about "the kids" or about the possibility of their own Gravy Train derailing? Some of them didn't make these kind of donations during the first campaign. Clearly, they are trying to protect their interests this time.

  • Dykeman Architects ($1500)
  • DLR group (architects & engineers, $1000)
  • Huttleball & Oremus Architecture ($1000)
  • AWA Electrical consultants ($500)
  • Bogard Engineers ($500)
  • Electro Communications Co. ($500)
  • Reid Shockey (Shockey Planning Group, $500)
  • Beresford Company (flooring, $500)
  • Micro Computer Systems, Inc (school computers, $500)
  • Rettenmeir Financial Services (educational bond services, $200)
  • Perkins Coie (the District’s favorite Educational Law Firm, $250)


Some of them have already sent their obligatory letter to the editor with the correct pedigree attached to their signature.  Many have personal connections to the Superintendent and members of the School Board outside their jobs.  

In a town as "blue collar" as Everett, are we going to let these businesses pretend the are people, too?  

If it's "about the kids", then let's get the business influence out of the process and listen to the "average Joe".  But, so far, the district isn't ready to listen to Joe....