Superintendent's Message, March 12, 2018

  • Dr. Cohn
    Dear friends and neighbors:
    I write this message with deep gratitude for our communities’ 55.35 percent “yes” support of the Feb. 13 replacement Educational Programs & Operations Levy, which the legislature now calls an enrichment levy. 

    The final Bond tally was 55.44 percent “yes” and 44.56 percent “no,” not enough to meet the 60 percent supermajority requirement. Although disappointed in the Bond results, I am determined, as are school staff, not to allow Bond disappointment to dampen my spirits or resolve about the important work to be done for our communities’ children.

    We’ve been asked about running another Capital Bond in April. This will not happen. Friday, Feb. 23, was the county’s deadline for placing a measure on the April ballot. A deadline that close to the February election does not permit adequate processing of the results to determine next steps. Our school board experienced this in 2014 when we ran two bonds within two months of each other. At the March 6 board meeting, directors determined not to run another Bond in August or November of this year. Instead, they asked staff for timelines and processes necessary for a potential Bond in 2019 or 2020.

    The district’s exceptional growth is not erased by the February election results. We are still the fastest growing district in the county. Our challenge now is how best to manage the ways we use existing classroom space and more portables to provide the best education possible for the students here now and coming to us in the future.

    So what’s next? On March 6, the board met for the first time following the Feb. 13 election. They reviewed election-related materials and plans as a way to begin understanding what motivated more voters to say “no” this time than the district has experienced in decades; and to weigh various options for responding to the continuing growth at Jackson and Cascade high schools.

    Facilities and planning staff regularly met with school principals all year to monitor enrollment, inventory school spaces and plan for 2018-19 students. Now those meetings and planning sessions will look out even longer into the future as the relief we hoped for from the February Bond is off the table.

    Facilities and planning staff are also focused on projects from the 2016 Capital Bond. You can follow that work on the 2016 Capital Projects website. Some of the 2016 Capital Bond highlights include:

    • March 1 was the deadline for contractors to submit bids to build Elementary 18. You will begin seeing construction for that school in May. Elementary 18 should open its doors to its first group of students the first day of school in fall 2019. We can thank 2016 voters for helping make that school possible and for the overcrowding relief it will provide our southern schools.
    • The elementary boundary committee (always a necessary part of building new schools) started work last November. Their task is to recommend which neighborhoods will send students to Elementary 18. The committee is also tasked with balancing enrollment at the other southern region elementary schools. You can follow the boundary committee’s work online and learn when it will hold public meetings about boundary recommendations. About 150 attended the group’s first two public input sessions, and we can expect more interest as they near the end of their work this spring. Having new boundaries approved by fall 2018 means families at all the schools involved have a year to plan before the new elementary opens in fall 2019.
    • The same time Elementary 18 is set to open, fall 2019, much of North Middle School will be remodeled. By 2020, North will be completely remodeled. Work at North officially begins when school ends this coming June. Construction also continues during the 2018-19 school year. Because students will attend school during next school year’s construction, you will see portables delivered at North this spring. Students and staff will use those portables while some parts of the school are being torn down and rebuilt.  The district issues calls for construction bids on North this spring.

    I do not “know” the cause of voter negativity in February, but it was widespread in the Puget Sound region – not just in our district. In general, Puget Sound districts saw as much as 10 percent drops in historic approval ratings for both bonds and levies. A deep dive into the cause for regionalized voter angst is likely already underway and will take some time to unravel.

    While all of that could be a “downer,” I am focused instead on gratitude for those who spent hours and energy volunteering to help tell the Bond and Levy stories – and kept their heads and their hearts in this important work and their faith in the future.

    Dr. Gary Cohn