As members of the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Long-Term Facilities Task Force, we spent nearly a year taking an in-depth look at how our area’s growth is affecting our local schools. We brought our own experiences to the task force.
Jon Pascal lives in the Juanita learning community and sees first-hand the challenges faced by students and teachers at overcrowded or aging schools, such as Juanita High School. Steve Hitch lives in the Redmond learning community where students are packed into crowded classrooms and portables. Together, we are convinced that infrastructure needs will continue to get worse and student learning will be further impacted if action is not taken now to fix these problems. That is why we wholeheartedly support the April 26 school bond.
The bond proposal reflects our recommendations to address our district’s most urgent needs while keeping our tax rate level.
Our 63-person citizen-based task force was charged with analyzing the district’s facility needs, engaging the community and developing recommendations. After doing our homework, we learned that the problem is larger than our own individual experiences showed. School enrollment has grown by an average of 625 students each year over the last five years, and it is still growing. There is not enough classroom space, so our schools are overcrowded. Many students are learning in portable buildings, which are not meant to be a long-term solution.
In addition to the lack of classroom space, the district has schools that are aging. The aging facilities cost more to operate and maintain, and do not meet the current performance criteria to support the type of learning environment our students need to be successful in an increasingly competitive world.
To develop a long-term facility plan for the district, we examined population growth across the district and reviewed the district’s available assets such as undeveloped properties, existing schools, and other facilities. We determined where new schools could best be placed, while leveraging existing assets and cost-effective building design and construction strategies to lower costs. We toured existing schools to better understand the increasing costs of maintaining aging facilities, and the challenge teachers and students face from older facilities not designed to best serve their educational needs.
We worked diligently to develop a list of specific projects to meet the district’s needs during the 2017-18 through 2029-30 school years. As part of our commitment to being responsible and fiscally disciplined, we pinpointed strategies for efficient and cost-effective facility designs. For example, we suggested ways to reduce the need for new schools by adding classrooms to existing schools where possible and moving preschools from elementary schools to other facilities to free up more space for elementary classrooms.
The April 26 bond proposal represents the first stage of a long-term, fiscally responsible funding plan to address our schools’ growth. By paying off other district bonds and levies, the school district can fund this bond proposal without raising our tax rate. And bond approval ensures that the district is eligible for state matching funds to make sure our local investment goes even further.
We are pleased to see widespread support for the bond measure as it has been endorsed by the League of Education Voters, Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, Seattle-King County Association of REALTORS; Lake Washington Education Association; and the PTSA Council. You can see a full list of elected officials and community leaders who endorsed this measure at www.vote4lwsdkids.org.
We believe that the April 26 school bond is fundamental to maintaining the quality of life for our cities’ residents and supporting the high-tech work force our businesses require. It ensures that our children get the best education possible without raising anyone’s tax rate.
Please join us in voting “yes” for the LWSD bond.
Jon Pascal and Steve Hitch, task force members and LWSD parents