Should Seattle Vote NO On SPS Levy? (Yes)
On February 9th voters will be asked to approve two levies for the Seattle School District; the BTA levy III and the Operations Levy. The BTA is ‘dedicated’ funding for buildings, technology and academics/athletics. It’s become the go-to pot of money for the district.
Like most things in the district, building maintenance is a huge mess- just look at the half a billion dollar backlog in work for proof. How is it SPS has at least 3 pots of money it can use for building maintenance, yet it can’t keep up? Should voters see this as a need for more money or a sign of mismanagement? I have my opinions and I hope you educate yourselves before you cast your ballot.
Last year I interviewed Melissa Westbrook to talk about the state of SPS- we touched on the levy quite a bit. Since then Westbrook has put together some straightforward (and startling) info on the facts about the upcoming Levy. Here it is. You may want to take an antacid now…
BTA III Levy Issues – Levy Election February 9, 2010 for a $270M levy
- Seattle Public Schools has 116 buildings (this includes open, closed and interim). Almost half of them are at least 50 years old or older.
- Funds for maintaining and repairing/renovating these buildings come from two places: the Operations budget and the Capital budget.
- Basic maintenance comes under the Operations budget. The Maintenance budget is just about $9M. OSPI, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, recommends about 2% of the Operating budget for maintenance and SPS is spending under 1%.
- Major system replacement (HVAC, seismic upgrades, roofs, windows) comes from the BTA levy while renovations and building upgrades come from the BEX levy, both of which are part of the Capital budget.
- BTA stands for B (buildings), T (technology) and Academics/Athletics. It has become a catch-all levy for the district.
- BEX stands for Building Excellence. This is our renovation/rebuild/building upgrade levy. Started in 1992, the levy has done work on over 39 buildings throughout the district.
- However, despite these three funding sources for buildings, the district has backlogged maintenance of nearly $500M.
- The district says that the reason we have this backlog is because voters turned back one levy 4 times in the ‘90s. This did occur, however, the major reason for the backlog is that the district and its leadership – superintendents and Board members– simply decided to spend less on basic maintenance even after they lost ground when the levies failed.
- The head of Maintenance, Mark Pflueger, has a plan to start on the backlogged basic maintenance but neither the Board nor the Superintendent have given him direction or money to enact it.
- SPS is spent $18.6M in 1979 on basic maintenance. Today, the budget is $8.3M with about the same number of buildings.
- The district is reopening 5 previously closed buildings which increases the number of buildings online.
BTA III Levy
- The BTA III levy is for $270M. The “B” in the levy for buildings is about 51% or about $137M. Of that $137M, nearly $50M will go to reopen 5 closed buildings. Schools that have been waiting for maintenance and repairs will have to wait longer as these schools will receive their levy money first.
- The BTA levy will barely make a dent in the backlogged maintenance. District staff said this at a Board Work Session last year. We cannot “levy” our way out of this backlog and district leadership has no plan to do so.
Where does this leave us?
- From the Facilities Management Plan, “Further deterioration will occur if the backlog is not reduced, and the ultimate cost of correcting the deficiencies will increase.” Simply put, taxpayers will pay more because the district does not do enough basic maintenance on our buildings.
- From the Operations Audit done in 2009: “The district’s General Fund budget does not support maintenance and repair needs as recommended in the Facilities Master Plan.”
- Leadership will tell you the money went into the classroom. The problem is that a safe and solid physical classroom is part of a good classroom. If the water and air quality isn’t good and the building isn’t seismically sound, all the great teaching in the world won’t matter.
This is a false economy that is crippling our district’s ability to move forward. We need change now to work on the buildings in poor condition AND protect the multi-millions we have spent on new buildings. If those nice, new, buildings aren’t maintained, do we honestly believe they will be decent buildings in 20, 25, 30 years given this underfunding of maintenance?
The district needs to:
Commit to raising the funding for basic maintenance
Provide clear lines of accountability via detailed public accounting of capital funds spent on BEX and BTA on a bi-annual basis
Seattle Times December 7, 1995
“He (Superintendent John Stanford) acknowledged, though, that if given a choice he would have kept the maintenance levy in the package and deferred the $75 million technology plan. The district has a major maintenance backlog of such things as roofs and heating-system replacements of about $185 million.” (italics mine)
If John Stanford was worried about this in 1995,
why isn’t district leadership in 2010?
Other quotes about this issue:
From the District’s own Facilities Master Plan:
“Increased funding of the “B” portion of the BTA levy would help resolve a lack of funding, a severe reduction in maintenance staffing couple with a backlog of maintenance work orders when there has not been a significant reduction in the number of buildings, and construction materials inflation.”
Seattle Times December 18, 1990
The consultant’s report said the absence of preventive-maintenance planning is costing the district millions of dollars in major reconstruction costs because upkeep has not been steady or planned.
Seattle Times November 2, 1994
No districtwide, systematic program for preventive maintenance exists, said Ed Heller, acting director of maintenance, custodial and grounds services.
(Note: the current head of Maintenance, Mark Pflueger told a Board committee that all his department does “is put out fires.”)
About Melissa Westbrook
“I am a long-time Seattle Public Schools parent with my last child graduating this year from Roosevelt High School. I have served in almost every PTA position possible over the years with my last service as co-president of the Roosevelt High School PTSA from 2007-2009. As well, I have been an education activist in our city in both promoting public education as well as being a watchdog over our district. I served on the School Board’s Closure and Consolidation Committee 3 years ago that helped to determine the first SPS buildings closed in over 20 years. I currently write for the Seattle education blog, Save Seattle Schools (http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/), and continue to be active in our district.”