Parents with wide-ranging questions about overcrowding in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) gathered for the last of three public input sessions on Oct. 6 at the LWSD Resource Center in Redmond.
Attendees viewed displays about current and projected overcrowding and possible short-term and long-term solutions, including adding more portable classrooms, making attendance boundary changes, double-shifting at Redmond and Eastlake High Schools or asking the community to fund more school facilities.
LWSD administrators, including the superintendent, Dr. Chip Kimball, deputy superintendent Janene Fogard, business services coordinator Barbara Posthumus and communications director Kathryn Reith were on-hand to answer one-on-one or small group questions.
Many parents wondered how enrollment growth projections were determined. Was it because of new development or general population growth?
Both, said Posthumus. Overcrowding is currently worse in areas such as Redmond Ridge and Northeast Redmond, due to new housing, but King County birth rates are also rising. And declining home prices have meant more families with kids are moving into established neighborhoods in the district.
Some parents asked if year-round schools might be a solution. Posthumus said the district had considered that but it wasn’t popular with most parents because they wanted to retain winter and summer breaks for family activities.
Another query was, “What’s the difference between a bond and a levy?” to fund more space for students.
Posthumus said a bond is a long-term debt that needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass. A February 2010 bond measure for LWSD modernization didn’t pass because voters felt it was not the right time to ask for more money, in light of the recession.
“A levy is like a car payment with a more limited time frame,” said Posthumus. LWSD parents are currently being asked to consider three different 6-year levy measures that could appear on the February 2011 ballot.
Another parent asked, “Wouldn’t it be logical to shift students from East to West, to balance enrollment?”
Posthumus noted,”Yes, that’s what the feed pattern changes (announced last spring) address, but we know people don’t like boundary changes or split schedules.”
Some parents mistakenly thought that the LWSD had already chosen a levy measure for the February 2011 ballot, when in fact, it is something still to be determined. There was also a question about how the LWSD planned to “advertise” its desire for community support for more funding.
Fogard noted, “The district can only provide information. It can not spend money to promote its agenda.”
Kimball commented, “If the bond had passed in February, we would have been on track (to adding more space) but now we have had to scale down, deal with the emergency now and seek long-term solutions.”
Kimball noted that adding portables is a short-term solution but space is limited at some locations. And if it’s a matter of choosing between adding more space and making boundary changes, “families prefer stable boundaries.”
Several parents asked why the LWSD couldn’t just shift students to underutilized buildings in neighboring school districts, such as Bellevue or Northshore.
“We can’t just borrow facilities from other school districts,” said Kimball. “It doesn’t work that way. Taxpayers’ money funds schools in the district in which they reside.”
As more parents arrived or left the informal input session, The Redmond Reporter asked a few about their thoughts or concerns.
“Developers should be more accountable for growth,” stated Lisa Vincent, a Redmond resident whose kids attend Franklin Elementary in Kirkland. “We’re at the undercrowded area. When we moved there, we looked at less traffic as a factor. But the ripple effect will trickle down. People who bought a home for a specific reason don’t want to send their kids to a different area. People take it personally when they expect their kids to go a certain school and that changes.”
Tami and Mark Bumiller expressed frustration with the feeder pattern changes announced last spring. Their older child attended Redmond Junior High and Redmond High School but a younger child will go from Audubon Elementary in Redmond to Rose Hill Junior High at the west end of Redmond and to Lake Washington High School in Kirkland.
“We feel like we were part of the Redmond community, but we’re being taken out,” said Mark. “At Derby Days, if our younger daughter sees the Redmond High School Band, she won’t feel part of it,” said Mark.
Tami commented, “Plans have to change for our family and we have no control. We felt there wasn’t enough input on feeder changes. They just made the decision without asking us. We don’t trust that this input at this meeting will be used to do what the community wants.”
Mark agreed, “We feel the input is too narrow — it’s just answering what questions are in this little box.”
Chris Simons, whose twin sixth-graders will eventually go to Redmond High School, was alarmed about the prospect of double-shifting.
“The frustration for me is to possibly have a child sitting home alone half the day, missing out on sports and other programs that may have to be cut,” said Simons.
Also, Simons said the bond measure presented in February 2010 “asked for too much all at once. And there wasn’t enough information about the consequences of going over capacity, such as splitting days.”
However, Amy Verrall, a Rosa Parks Elementary parent who has been following the overcrowding stories, remarked, “I feel the district does a good job of talking to parents, doing the right thing for taxpayers and for all the kiddos. These are all great schools in this district, the test scores are very high. Even if we do redistricting, they’ll do what’s best for all the students.”
In addition to the three public input sessions, at Eastlake High School, Juanita High School and the LWSD Resource Center, the district conducted an online survey at www.lwsd.org from Sept. 25-Oct. 7. According to Posthumus, data gathered will go to the LWSD board of directors before any decisions are made, such as adding a levy measure to the February 2011 ballot.