Highline Schools look to potential building bond

Editor's note: The following comments were provided by the Catherine Carbone Rogers, Chief Communications Officer with the Highline School District.

The 2009 middle school study was specifically to look at ways to improve student achievement at middle school. It was unrelated to crowding at elementary. There was a lot of support for moving 6th grade to middle school, but we decided not to, precisely because we had plenty of space in elementary at that time and not enough to accommodate 6th grade in middle schools.

The state is not mandating class size reduction, but it is offering money to districts to reduce class sizes. As you stated, we do want to take advantage of that, but may be unable to do so at this time because we don’t have enough classrooms.

The statement “building codes can no longer be maintained” is not quite right. Because they were built under a different set of codes, these buildings are not up to today’s fire and earthquake safety standards.

The 2002 and 2006 bonds replaced 13 elementary schools and one high school (Mount Rainier).

Finally, the bond resolution will be introduced at the May 28 school board meeting.

I hope you can make these clarifications. Thanks!

Catherine Carbone Rogers
Chief Communications Officer

By Ann Kendall

What do you do with a 100 year old brick school building that can’t be brought up to code adequately? Where do you find space for over 2,000 more students that will join a school system in the next decade? And how do you find room to bring class sizes in primary grades down to 17:1 by 2018? All of these questions are currently on the table for Highline Public Schools as the Board considers possibilities on how to handle crowded classrooms, lower class size mandates and several aging schools that can no longer be upgraded.

In the 2010 Washington legislative session, SHB 2776, was approved based on the bi-partisan (with statewide representation) recommendations of the Quality Education Council, called for lowered class sizes by 2018 to 17:1 for the primary grades and 25:1 for grades four through 12; in addition the bill provided a new allocation calculation for school districts. For Highline lower student teacher ratios create the need for more classrooms when current space is already tight. Beginning in 2009, the district began a study of middle school models; partly to ascertain the best way to provide a supportive middle school education, but also to determine if altering the grade mix and moving sixth grade out of elementary buildings and into middle school buildings could create some of the needed space.

After five community meetings and an online survey, the Highline Board is this month discussing options that might include: adding two new middle schools, building a new Des Moines Elementary, replacing Highline High School as well as substantial repair work at the Tyee Educational Complex and the Evergreen Campus. The cost of these projects and amount of the potential bond is currently under consideration as the Board and staff work through the options. The critical balance of maintenance and knowing when to start a new building is a familiar issue for Highline, like all districts around the state. Some buildings in the Highline system including Highline High School and Des Moines Elementary are nearly 100 years old – continued maintenance can only provide minimum sustainability and building codes can no longer be maintained.

Bonds, along with state matching funds, in 2002 and 2006 provided Highline with the ability to replace 14 aging elementary schools – to which it could be asked – if there is a state mandate to lower class size at the primary level; couldn’t more elementary schools be built? Number crunching on the current and projected population in the district suggest that building more elementary schools would not address the long-term peaks and bulges of the population currently in the system or about to enter it. With a projected growth of another 2,100 students coming to the district, more space is needed at the middle and high school levels to accommodate the influx and class size mandates combined.

What happens if more space is not created? Lack of classrooms creates the potential for school day double shifts with some students beginning their day early, and some late throughout the district. The most critical ramification of not having classrooms that accommodate new ratios is the potential loss of state paid teacher salaries for these classes; if a district doesn’t have space, they can’t accept state funds for the ratio’s required number of teachers. No district wants to forfeit funding for teachers. As the Board moves forward in their consideration, they weigh a multitude of factors when deciding how to move forward. At the May 14 Board meeting a resolution is expected that will have dollars attached to a plan of action; the meeting on June 4 will be a final decision on the plan. To follow the Board’s action and read more in depth information on the process to date, visit www.highlineschools.org.

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