With 600 new students entering classrooms in fall of 2010, the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) student population is on the rise.
District officials expect growth to continue at a rate of roughly 450 students per year, which will include more than 800 additional high school students by fall of 2012.
“That’s a bit of a dilemma because we’ve run out of space,” LWSD superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball said during a public discussion at the Redmond Senior Center Monday afternoon.
During the discussion, Kimball talked about the proposed six-year, $65.4 million capital projects levy that will address the issue. The levy, which is on the Feb. 8 ballot, will allow the district to build additional classrooms at Redmond and Eastlake High Schools as well as a new secondary school that will focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
“This is a short-term fix,” Kimball said. “Unfortunately, to do this, it involves this dreaded word called ‘taxes.'”
Kimball said, for a homeowner with a $500,000 house — the average amount for a house in the district’s boundaries — the levy would be about $13 a month for the duration of the six years.
LWSD, which currently has a student population of about 24,560, initially proposed a $239 million bond measure in February 2010 to accommodate the growth, but with only a 56 percent approval, the measure failed to gain the supermajority of 60 percent required to pass.
The district began evaluating its options and had an extensive community input process that included public meetings, online surveys and a random-sample survey, to find out what people wanted.
“We wanted to hear from everyone,” Kimball said. “We find that universally, our community is supportive of schools.”
While this is the case, he added that the collected data indicated that people think the district should focus on solving short-term problems first and wait until the economy picks up before turning to long-term solutions. This, combined with people’s concerns about creating new taxes in the current economic climate, prompted the district to propose the levy, which trustees approved in November. Another difference with the levy and bond is that the bond would have meant debt as LWSD would have had to take out a loan; whereas with the levy, the district would not.
Kimball said if the measure fails, something still needs to be done. He said there is the possibility of Redmond and Eastlake High Schools switching to a double shift schedule with half of the students beginning school in the early morning and half beginning in the afternoon. This would save the district money, but Kimball said it is very disruptive as sports and other after school activities would be affected as well as families’ morning and evening (particularly dinner) schedules.
Other measures include changing school zones to shift populations west, meaning more students would need to be bused farther from home. Previously approved projects to renovate school buildings in Redmond and Kirkland would also have to be put on hold as the money would need to be determined if it should be used for the additional classrooms at the high schools.
With all of this at stake, several local entities such as the Redmond, Sammamish and Kirkland City Councils and a number of area politicians have endorsed the levy.
City of Redmond Mayor John Marchione said a major reason people choose to move into an area is the school system. And with major companies such as the Microsoft Corporation and Nintendo in Redmond, the city wants to meet this need.
“Good schools help build good communities,” Marchione said. “These employees want good schools for their kids.”
The district’s overcrowding issue has been due to a number of factors: a recent spike in births in King County, ongoing development and home sales and younger families moving into the area.
LWSD has already done a few things, including converting computer labs and specialized art and science classrooms in elementary schools to regular classrooms, adding portable classrooms and changing feeder patterns to shift some students to schools that have more space available.
The district will also shift to a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 grade configuration fall 2012. This shift was for academic purposes, but will definitely help with the overcrowding. According to the district website (www.lwsd.org), without the shift, 21 elementary schools would not have the space to accommodate 1,561 students.
“Only six elementary schools would have space available and much of this space would not be in the places needed,” the website states. “Students would need to be transported from their home schools and boundary changes would be required.”
For more information about the proposed levy, visit www.lwsd.org/News/2011-Levy.