Image courtesy of Seattle Public Schools
The above map shows the proposed building system repairs, replacements and one-off projects for Seattle Public Schools to consider completing under the BEX V capital levy.
Image courtesy of Seattle Public Schools The above map shows the proposed building system repairs, replacements and one-off projects for Seattle Public Schools to consider completing under the BEX V capital levy.

The Seattle School Board began navigating the murky waters of deciding which projects should receive priority under the Building Excellence V (BEX V) capital levy, which Seattle Public Schools plans to put to voters in February.

At a work session to finalize the BEX V project list and funding on Wednesday, Sept. 26, school district officials presented school board directors with the information gathered over several months from community meetings, focus groups, online input and feedback from staff and senior leadership.

The proposed BEX V levy would run from 2019-2025, and would help fund renovations or replacements for eight to 12 buildings in the school district.

Projects at 26 schools are under consideration, as well as an interim site project at Old Van Asselt and the addition of a 12th high school. In total, the projects would cost $4 billion.

Building system repairs and replacements and other one-off projects — which include things like roof maintenance, improving fire alarms and HVAC systems, and technology updates — must also be factored in and addressed.

Dr. Flip Herndon told the board that the goal was to get as close as possible to deciding the number of projects to target, as well as the necessary levy amount to complete the projects.

“We realize that this is a challenging task for the board, it’s never easy,” Herndon said. “There is always more need than there is supply of money.”

In a brief overview of the process leading up to the meeting, Richard Best, director of capital projects and planning, stated the district had begun developing a list of potential projects back in 2016, ranking all the schools in the system based on capacity and assessment criteria.

The school board adopted five guiding principles on May 9 to serve as “overarching framework of ensuring educational and racial equity” to help in the ranking process. Those principles were building safety and security, right-size capacity, building conditions and educational alignment, environmental and financial sustainability, and updating technology.

The board worked with a Facilities Master Plan Task Force, which was charged with providing recommendations to the board regarding where enrollment and capacity needs projected to be most urgent within the district over the next six years. The task force was also charged with corroborating the ranking of the proposed projects for the board to approve. The group met six times from July through September.

In April, district officials began conducting regional community meetings to discuss the projects being considered. This month, Seattle Public Schools wrapped up five more community meetings to present the levies and receive feedback from the public. Among the top issues heard from the community, Best said, were concerns over how equity would be applied, questions about equitable access to technology, questions about how projects would be selected and scored, and how the district would weigh the scores.

Criteria for the weighted scores includes student and staff health, safety and security, the condition of the school, the right size capacity (or how the projected enrollment correlates to a school’s capacity), and the educational adequacy of the building. Past capital projects and future levy plans are also taken into account.

Among targeted priorities the board is considering under BEX V are replacement projects at more than 10 schools, including Northgate Elementary, Rainier Beach, Mercer Middle School, Aki Kurose and Viewlands Elementary.

With so much need for upgrades within the district, part of the challenge for school board directors was finding consensus on how much to ask from taxpayers while trying not to raise taxes.

The board discussed potentially asking for more than $1 billion, possibly in the range of $1.2 and $1.4 billion, which would could mean a tax rate in the range of 90 cents to $1.13 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Herndon acknowledged to board members the difficulty of the task at hand, though he added by taking this path the district was trying to be as transparent as possible with how the next round of projects are selected.

“We haven’t heard someone come up with a better way to weight this, I think it’s a challenge to do,” Herndon said. “I don’t know if there’s one perfect way that will meet everybody’s expectations, but at least this is trying to make it explicit.”

The board requested proposals to be brought back for potential scenarios the district would face if the board chose to reprioritize the list and swap out certain projects.

School board committees will be reviewing board action reports on the operations and capital levies before the board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the levies the week of Oct. 22. The board currently expects to take action on the operations and capital levies on Oct. 30, though could do so as late as Dec. 5.