Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Now you know 5 . . .

On the topic of overcrowding in our schools I want to share some additional information that you may find interesting. I would also ask that you consider sharing the “Now you know . . .” series of posts with others in our community. We must find ways to get factual information about our current reality in the community to generate conversations and a deeper understanding of our current and future student housing needs. The majority of this and other information can be found in the Ad Hoc Citizen Committee Housing Proposals found here.

The series of charts below will share comparisons of King County school districts passage of bond measures from 1985 to 2011. Though there are many variables that influence the need for a bond measure such as enrollment growth and age of buildings the comparisons are quite striking considering our growth and current reality. Before looking at approved bonds, however, the chart below captures our current situation. It lists the square footage per student taking into account all schools and total enrollment in each King County school district. Tahoma is at the bottom with less than 100 sq. ft. per student with the average for the other districts excluding Skykomish being 146 sq. ft. per student. What does this mean? It means that we are placing more students into buildings than they were designed to accommodate and are doing it by adding portables and using spaces efficiently. It means that we have not as a community created learning spaces approaching the average square footage per student that students in other King County school districts experience every day.

The next chart identifies the total bond dollars approved between 1985 and 2011 in King County School districts. Though we were the second fastest growing school district behind Issaquah on a percentage basis over this time, we can see from the chart that only three school districts have approved fewer bond dollars than our system.  What does this mean to you?

I think the next chart is even more telling. It shows bonds approved compared to enrollment growth for the same time period in our neighboring districts. The yellow bar represents enrollment growth and the green bar bonds approved. We have far fewer bond dollars approved compared to enrollment growth than any other district in this comparison.

The final chart builds off of the previous one by showing the bond dollars issued per student enrollment increase for this same time period, 1985 to 2011. Once again, Tahoma is at the bottom of the comparison with about $14,000 per student increase and far below the average for the districts excluding the highs in Bellevue and Renton, of about $49,000.

So, what does all of this information mean? For some, perhaps a celebration because we are experiencing academic success compared to these same school districts with less community support in the form of approved bonds. For others, it means we have created a situation that will soon result in critical decisions this community will need to make about the future of its school system. Yes, we have been successful by adjusting grade level configurations and adding portables to accommodate student enrollment growth. And, yes we can continue to meet these needs in the near term, but at some point without increased capacity we will not be able to offer the current program that has produced this success. Though slower growth projections have lessened the urgency, the time line for adding new capacity requires multiple years of planning. We cannot wait until the students are here to make decisions, we must move forward and plan for our future.

The question is a simple one. Do we want to move forward on our journey to prepare young people for post high school success in learning and work with today’s planned learning environments? If yes, then we will need to add additional classrooms and infrastructure space to our school community. If we do not add space we will need to change our school culture and the question then changes. How do we safely house more students than the buildings can hold? The answer to this question will result in a far different school system than we experience today and one that we may face in the coming years.

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