Editorial

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January 28, 2013: 

LETTER | Protect our Children’s Learning

Our Snoqualmie Valley School District depends heavily upon local funding for hiring teachers, improving their effectiveness, school supplies and other school operational expenses.  About one-quarter of the district operations budget comes from our local taxpayers, and that must be approved every four years by voters.

Thankfully, our resident voters have approved replacement school operations levies in the past, but just think for a moment what would happen if that didn’t happen: massive teacher lay-offs, dramatic jump in class sizes, shortages in books and supplies, cessation in educational programs, severe cut-backs in the technology used to inform the public and prepare our youth for the digital age, are among the likely outcomes.  It would be a tremendous shock to our kids, parents, staff and community.

Please don’t assume that these replacement operations levies will be automatically approved again by our voting community.  Your ballot will arrive any day with these items on it: replacement school operations levy and replacement school technology levy.  I implore you to approve these replacement levies that will continue what their predecessors, which are expiring, have made possible: improvement in the education of our kids that helps prepare them for a challenging future.  Vote that ballot and mail it back no later than Tuesday, February 11th.

Stephen Kangas

Education Improvement Advocate

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January 27, 2013:

OP-ED | Big Plans and High Hopes for Snoqualmie Valley Schools

“To become the best School District in Washington State by any measure.”  Well, that is certainly reaching for the top.

And, how about “Educate all children to prepare them for College, Career, and Citizenship.” All!

These new statements are the vision and mission of the first ever Strategic Plan, currently in development, for the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

You have the opportunity, and I would add that you have an obligation, to be a voice in this important process.  Please get involved.

On Wednesday, January 29, 6:30PM, at Mount Si High School, an overview of this draft plan and its goals and objectives will be presented.  The goal will be to gather important input from the community and staff.

Why is it important for you to get involved in this process?

This plan will ultimately provide a decision-making framework for the district. Decisions related to educational programs, facilities, school improvement plans and budget priorities, for example, will be made with the plan’s goals in mind. Whether you have children in the schools, work in them or live in the community, you will be impacted by these decisions.

Where are we in the process? 

The outline of this plan, including 4 goals, were developed by the school board and Superintendent Aune in early November.  With this outline in hand, the district’s administrative team went to work to develop the detailed actions to progress toward these goals. Although this first draft is only for 6 months, it will be for each school year to develop annual action plans. Ultimately, we will set measurable goals and tie progress into the district scorecard.

We are still at an early stage. This is all still in development. Community and staff input is a vital part of the process. Please get involved.

Even at this early stage, we have made a huge step toward an outline for an exciting future. We have set our sights high and, in my opinion, reachable for our students and our schools.

For more information, please visit the district website at www.svsd410.org.

Carolyn Simpson

Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors,District 3

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November 19, 2013:

LETTER | November 30th, Small Business Saturday!

Shop smart and support small businesses on November 30th.  Small Business Saturday started in 2010 and was later recognized by U.S. Senate in 2011. The once little known campaign has become a movement that individuals, businesses and communities have embraced nationwide. 

Small businesses are the cornerstone of any community; providing jobs, stimulating local economic growth and giving back to the community.  The Better Business Bureau concluded when you shop at locally owned businesses, your money is circulated further, creating up to 75% more tax revenue to your community, county and state.  For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $73 remains in the local economy and $27 leaves.  For every $100 spent at a non-locally owned business, $43 remains in the local economy and $57 leaves. 

Show your support and make sure local businesses thrive.  Encourage your family and friends to spend November 30th with you shopping and/or eating at Small Local Businesses.

“HAPPY SHOPPING”

~ Paula Lodahl, North Bend resident

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November 12, 2013:

Letter: Classified Union, School District Contract Negotiation Update

The Public School Employees (PSE) Union bargaining team met with the School District’s bargaining team during the evening of October 30th. The session was overseen by the Public Employees Relation Commission mediator.

First, progress was made on settling four outstanding non-wage issues during the first half of the session.

Second, the remainder of the night was spent on the compensation package. The District presented two counter proposals on the wage issue. Both proposals were another 4-year contract at approximately 1% per year (total 4.3% over 4 years). During prior talks the District stated they would make going from a 3-year contract to a 4-year contract worth the union’s consideration. The District wants teachers and classified workers contracts to expire on different years. To date, the District has failed on their promise to make a 4-year contract worth discussing.

Next , the District said they will keep any pass through money appropriated from the state. This state money is referred to as COLA Plus (Cost of Living). Since the economic recession, the state legislature has not provided a COLA Plus. The union contends the state pass through money, or COLA Plus, is intended for the employees – not the District. This is counterproductive as our teachers, per their contract would receive COLA Plus if appropriated by the state, but not classified employees.

Also at issue is the HCA, or Health Care Carve Out (state money), which amounts to approximately $65 per classified employee per month. This money is taken away from the employee before it is applied to their insurance benefits. The cost to the District is 2.3%; however this is spread out over 4 years and not all employees benefit. Once again – teachers’ HCA is paid by the District and the classified employees are just asking for the same consideration. Further, the District wants to include the HCA in with the total wage package – this inflates the total percentage number and is not apples to apples.

The Union or classified employees countered with two options for the District:

Option One:  3-year plan at 2% per year like the teachers; pay the HCA like the teachers; and allow the state COLA Plus, if appropriated by the state legislature, to pass through to the employee similar to teachers.

Option Two: a 4-year plan (what the District wants) at 2%,2%,3%,5%; same for the HCA and COLA Plus as stated in Option One.

The bottom line is teachers received a 8% increase over 3 years and the District only offered classified workers — your cooks, aids, bus drivers, IT techs, maintenance and grounds keepers – a 4% wage increase over 4 years, at 1% per year. The workers are also asking for parity with teachers on the HCA carve out and COLA Plus.

Another consideration is the teacher’s compensation package was $3.1 million. The classified proposal is only $436,000 – less than one percent of the District’s $56 million budget.

Classified employees are members of the community who are only asking for a livable wage. They are the first to see your children in the morning and the last to see them in the afternoon.

~ PSE Chapter President, Jill Holen
~Steering Committee Co-Chair, Kathy Ryan

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October 28, 2013:

Letter:  District No Better off with Incumbent Board Member

This week’s SnoValley Star editorial resolves little to explain how we are better off with the incumbent board member, Marci Busby.  The newspaper’s own reporting indicates examples of leadership in crises.

Policy creation, which leads to bond measures for improving our school system, has been dismal for several years.

First, it’s vote for a new high school with little thought to the public’s questions, yet alone a plan to convince the public on why and how this should be done.   Next we need a new middle school, which failed. Then our kids can get by with new portables at the high school, only to be told later we need a Freshman Campus at SMS.  SMS has to be remodeled and the new high school portables sit while the school district goes from three down to two (congested) middle schools.  Now we are being told that a new grade school needs to be built for state-mandated full-time kindergarten, which the district has known for years was coming.

What is the plan? Where is the policy? This is only the facility side of the equation.

Monetary policy has also been lacking – the impact fee debacle caused by the district cost the tax payer money.  The last Technology Levy (a few years back ) was disguised as primarily money used in the form of a raise to pay teachers. Labor unrest has literally come down to the last-minute before resolution is found.

Finally, on political policy, we have a lame duck superintendent who wants out and has a backup plan voted by the current board (4 yes and one nay) for a $510,000 buyout or golden parachute if he cannot find another job.

In the eight years Director Busby has been on the school board – are we, students, parents, tax payers, any better off?  I believe the record is very clear and to bring about change in leadership I plan on voting for David Spring.

Chris Lodahl

36 year North Bend resident, two children K through 12 in the district, former elected Mayor and elected Councilmember

 

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October 4, 2013:

Op-ed: Playing Politics for A School Board Seat, Past Board Member Inserts Self into the Game

Rudy Edwards has been a long-time public servant in our community. He acted as a director on the Snoqualmie Valley School board for many years and continued to advocate on education issues ever since his retirement.

Last week he inserted himself into this year’s school board race when, during a public meeting, he presented the board with filings regarding candidate David Spring’s divorce from 7 years ago. It’s no surprise that Mr. Spring’s ex-wife said awful things about him to gain leverage in negotiating the parenting plan. And this is what Edwards sought to highlight. But he left out the fact that the judge in the case ruled her claims were made in bad faith (false), forcing her to pay Spring’s attorney’s fees of $8,400 and maintained his joint custody of his daughter. 

The board rejected Edward’s submission, directing him to meet with the Superintendent.

There are a couple of things worth pointing out. First, I won’t advance Edward’s cause in re-stating the claims made during Spring’s divorce. Second, in his attempt to smear Spring, Edwards hoped to boost the candidate he supports, Marci Busby.  Now, you might hold the quaint notion that if he wanted to support her candidacy for office, he might extol the experience and positions of Ms. Busby. But Edwards found it more expedient to simply trash her opponent. When you think about that, it seems he doesn’t hold Busby in particularly high regard, as he can’t put forward one good thing to say about her. 

To Edwards, his desired end justifies the severest of means. In this essential manner, he has distanced himself from our community and the values we hold. It seems he never considered that the misleading manner in which he portrays Spring’s divorce might impact his daughter, a student in our public schools. Edwards loses credibility, when in one breath he says he cares about kids, but in the next thrusts a painful chapter in a child’s family life into a political campaign.

Edwards’s kind of antics poison our politics, alienates voters and keeps good people from running for office. As a community, we cannot capitulate to these kinds of tactics. There are enough challenges before the school board today, and a former director and elder statesman should choose to improve the environment rather than worsen it.

Marci Busby can salvage credibility by denouncing Mr. Edward’s actions and distancing herself from his tactics. As of the writing of this letter, she has chosen not to respond to emails or phone calls for comment. 

Politics can be a nasty business. But it doesn’t have to be, if we as a community decide to reject candidates who sit quietly by while their activists mislead voters. We can take the oxygen out of the room for these types by demanding answers from our candidates on the policy challenges we face.  

Brad Toft, Snoqualmie resident, former State Senate Candidate

 

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September 5, 2013:

Snoqualmie Elementary School Teacher Explains the Divide Between the School Board and Teachers

I am a second grade teacher at Snoqualmie Elementary. I’m writing to update you on the first day of school and my concerns about contract negotiations.

The first day of school is always a day of excitement and anxiety for my students and me. It is my first chance to see the mix of children I will be working with this year. I am happy to say that I am fortunate to have a class of 25 perfect 7 and 8-year olds. It is going to be a fantastic year. Please stop by room 25 at SES and visit us sometime soon.

However, ongoing contract negotiations mean that I may not be with my students on Monday, September 9th. This concerns me, as  I’m sure it does you, too.

Here are my personal thoughts on the causes of the division between the school board and teachers:

It is about priorities.

I do not deny that each of you [board members] values education, students and teachers. However, this school board has made clear that its first priority is rebuilding our high school by using $100+ million in bond money. Looking back at school board minutes and audio recordings, a huge majority of your time is spent discussing buildings and bonds. A tiny percentage of your time is devoted to the people and learning inside our classrooms. These priorities are misguided. Buildings are necessary, but our first concern must be the people inside the buildings.

These mixed up priorities have caused failures of past negotiations and bonds. I’m hesitant to admit that I, a teacher, was the deciding no vote on the 2011 middle school bond. I continue to have mixed feelings about my no vote, but it came down to priorities.

In 2011, the state was cutting funding for public schools. Class sizes were growing; teachers had been recently laid off; and our existing schools were not getting the attention they needed.  At that same time, our school board was asking us to prioritize funding the construction and operation of a new building. I did not agree with these priorities and voted against the bond.

I assumed a failed bond meant we would make do with the buildings we had. Instead, the board moved forward with closing Snoqualmie Middle School and opening the Freshman Learning Campus in its place. Because of this board decision, kids are being bused to middle schools far away from their homes and our high school is fractured.

The school board prioritized buildings over the people inside.

In a few months, we will be asked to support a $100+ million bond for a beautiful, 21st century building. I want that shiny, renovated building. However, I can not accept prioritizing buildings over students in smaller classes and teachers who feel valued and respected by our school board. I will, again, be a reluctant no vote.

Our schools are about the people inside the buildings – not the buildings themselves.

Thank you for all of the work you do for our schools.

Sincerely,

Nate Ziemkowski

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July 25, 2013:

Parents Concerned Over School Board Candidate’s NO Vote for Education/Curriculum Pathways

** This letter was also submitted to the Snoqualmie Valley Record and the SnoValley Star **

On July 11th, the District presented its first phase of implementing the “Curriculum Pathways and Benchmarks Policy 2423” to the School Board, and it was greeted with wide applause. It’s an excellent step toward assisting students (and parents) with making informed choices about the ideal course map for students in grades 6 to 12, giving the best chance for achieving post-high school goals.

Imagine taking a family road trip from Snoqualmie to Florida. Picture embarking without maps or a GPS. You would probably make some wrong turns, and would need to stop to ask for directions. Your trip may take longer, cost more, and require re-routing – making it impossible to arrive on-time. A map would have made the journey easier and faster than doing it on-the-fly, turn-by-turn – resulting in course corrections and false starts.

This is precisely what the Snoqualmie Valley School Board’s policy 2423 tackles, stating “the District shall implement curriculum pathways for 6th through 12th grade in, but not limited to, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, English and World Languages…”. It goes onto read, “These curriculum pathways shall be widely communicated by the District to staff, parents and students.”

We like the clear communication. We like information. We like choices upfront, and early.

Thank you to the School Board members who brought this policy to the forefront and debated for its approval. The Board, however, split with a 4-1 vote in September, while approving this policy.

Why would a Director vote against this policy?

Director Marci Busby, currently up for re-election, was the only dissenting vote.  During that September school board public vote, she said (regarding the process), “I think it’s wrong …There’s just a lot of questions. There’s just so many things in the air.” 

Director Dan Popp responded, “Do we want to encourage students to [have] a post secondary education [plan]? Do we want to improve their ability to gain admission into whatever school they choose? My answer to that question is – yes.”

Busby replied, “I just think it’s premature. What is the rush?”  Director Carolyn Simpson answered, “We have eager learners that can benefit today. This policy is like a flashlight that can help point the way for them.” 

Director Scott Hodgins (also up for re-election) said, “This is a tool that helps. It is not uncommon. Most districts have this… Parents just didn’t know what the pathways were. This policy will make pathways clear to students and parents so they can make choices.” Director Geoff Doy agreed. 

Current candidate for School Board, Stephen Kangas, also spoke out in September on behalf of “many” community members who had contacted him about the policy. He said 100% were in full support of it.

Had the other Directors voted against policy 2423 Snoqualmie Valley families today would not have the Student Pathways framework presented July 11th and developed by SVSD’s Assistant Superintendent, Mr. Don McConkey.

Our support for the upcoming School Board election will be for candidates who support clear student pathways and communications to parents, because kids don’t have do-over’s in school. There is no more time to wait, and parents, like us, need this information now.

Signers:

  • Stephanie and Todd Hager
  • Doug and Becky McLaughlin
  • Richelle Rose
  • Jeannie and Dan Saimo
  • David and Anna Sotelo
  • Jennifer Rubalcava
  • Doug and Lisa Copeland
  • Kristan Ashbridge
  • Mark and Bridget Norah
  • Eric and Natalie Bronson
  • Ellis and Lisa Lewis
  • Fabiola Johnson
  • Gerald Bopp (MSHS teacher)
  • Brian Copeland of Boston, MA (MSHS graduate)

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May 2, 2013, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

Forging a New Path; Collaboration Gone Right

What a night.  A positive experience, surrounded by insightful community members is an inspiring thing. 

I was asked by our school district to attend a focus group regarding options for the next school bond. Sometimes things like this can be nerve-wrecking, as you never know what your group dynamic will be or worry that if people come in with preconceived ideas, will they hear your ideas if they differ.  That’s the risk of focus groups. You accept it going in.  So I set out reminding myself that this exchanging of different ideas is what my group is charged with doing … to speak and to listen, be open-minded.  That was the ultimate purpose.

The particular group I was placed in was delightful, respectful, positive – comprised of administrators and parents.  We all seemed to grasp that the next school bond was about improving facilities, as well as how those improvements enhance and move forward education in the Snoqualmie Valley. They work in tandem.

No one questioned or judged earlier district, board or committee decisions that brought us to this place.  That wasn’t the point – not what we were asked to do.  We were asked to discuss and share our opinions about potential bond options – ones that revolved around secondary education, focusing on improving the Mount Si High School building, as well as a 6th elementary school.

Three bond options – and none of them cheap.  How can they be when there is work to be done? Work we’ve known we need to do since 2007.  That 6th elementary school costs around $30 million to build. And Mount Si is 60 years old. Except for the football field, it hasn’t been flood-proofed, brought up to today’s flood zone building code. The last remodel was in the early 90’s. It’s been through many floods.  In the end, though, it is THE Valley high school, something that connects generations in our community as well as almost every district student.  In a way, it’s the common ground of a vast Snoqualmie Valley.

It’s our community. These are our kids. These are our schools.  They matter.  Education is a broad spectrum of things, with the brick and mortar being an important component.  We constantly strive to raise the bar on education, changing and improving as we learn more.  We invest in teacher training, technology, new curriculum, new books – and then you hit a point when it’s time to make the big investment, an investment in the buildings that house all these things that encompass education today.

Last night we were asked to share our opinions on such an investment in Mount Si High School.  As our group worked,  three of us with children realized that if we can show voters why this investment matters and pass a bond, most likely our children won’t reap the benefits of a “21st century education building.”  They will be gone from the district before the work is complete.  So in a way, we were asked to work and contribute for the next generation of Valley children.  And you know what?  That’s okay, because for me, the investment in our schools is for the future of  our community – a greater good if I am allowed to say that.

So thank you to Don, Ruth, Erin, Jill, Angela, Scott and the school board and district for inviting me, placing trust in me.  I left this group collaboration feeling positive, inspired – having learned new things from listening to the opinions of others; working with them to forge a new path.

I can honestly say, there was no division in our group, only collaboration to move forward for the good of our schools and our kids.  I believe this is what it is going to take when the next school bond comes around – positive collaboration, good planning and then showing everyone else out there why this next bond, the investment in our schools, matters.

 

April 7, 2013, Letter to Editor:

On February 28th, the Washington State Supreme Court announced a ruling that struck down the voter-approved Initiative 1185, which required a two-thirds majority to raise legislative taxes.

This decision came after the League of Education Voters (LEV), the Washington Education Association (WEA) and House Democrats along with a few activists, sued taxpayers to have the initiative declared unconstitutional. This lawsuit, initiated against overwhelming statewide voter approval, proves the need for citizens to hold current legislators accountable and to elect those in the future who will constitutionally enshrine the two-thirds threshold for raising taxes.

Over the past 20 years, whenever Washington voters were presented with the opportunity to impose a limit, they approved supermajority measures for raising taxes. In some convoluted way the initiative process has thus become a justification for a majority of voters to elect candidates who share their social views, but have contempt for Washington’s fiscal conservatism.

Because so much is at stake in our state, leadership from both parties is necessary for sustainable budgets. We must revitalize our democratic traditions in order to elect representatives that respect the will of the voters and who will form budgets in a collaborative manner. Voters not only want their wishes respected, they have demonstrated that they want the ideals of both parties to be included in the budget creation process.

Some pundits have erroneously argued that an amendment will subject budgeting to a tyranny of the minority. Don’t be fooled. It is the invented concern of the anti-democratic crowd in power who don’t share voter’s fiscal views. This distrust of voters is not just limited to the electorate’s stance on financial priorities. It is also visible during the campaign season, when voters select their representatives.  

In 2012, I was a first-time candidate for a state Senate, running on a platform of fiscal restraint in Olympia and economic prosperity for all Washington. Although I ran as a Republican, the opposition to my candidacy originated from both parties because I challenged an incumbent. In the process of the election campaign, my youthful indiscretions from 20 years ago turned into a smear, a near pogrom, by my opponent’s supporters. The effort went so far that a political reporter sympathetic to my opponent used the platform of his major wire service to write highly embellished, negative articles that were further exploited in direct mailings and on the Internet.

Political operatives who have mastered the art of the “big lie” are actively involved in our elections. Their contempt is not limited against the opposing candidates as it is against the voters themselves. Campaign insiders don’t focus on issues. Apparently, in their view, voters can’t be trusted to make the right choices. In America’s politics, the tendency among candidates and interest groups is to pursue electoral victory above all else. In fact they treat politics as war. This destructive attitude runs counter to our basic democratic values and ultimately inhibits our state government’s ability to reach common-sense solutions that capture the best thinking of both parties.

Now, it’s up to us. Voters must act over the next few election cycles to demand that their candidates for the legislature support the concept that a supermajority is needed to raise taxes. If they don’t follow the public will, then we should thank them for their services and elect new leaders who do.  

More important than many realize, if Washington is to move from unsustainable spending patterns to a budget that is predictable, we must engage the clutch that allows spending to slow to match natural revenue growth.  

Brad Toft | Snoqualmie, WA

[Brad Toft has a career in the financial sector that spans two decades that includes roles from executive to small business owner. He is President of his local Rotary chapter and a board vice-president for the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce.  In 2012 he was a candidate for the 5th District Senate seat.]

 

March 27, 2013, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

Snoqualmie Valley, Can a North Seattle DUI Tragedy Scare More Drivers Straight?

is tragic North Seattle accident.  For mor

The thing about neighborhood blogs is sometimes they allow you to get a bigger grasp on news, events and issues impacting very local communities.  In the days following the tragic, fatal accident in a Northeast Seattle crosswalk, I’ve been looking to Ravenna Blog to see how that community is doing.

Exactly 18 years ago I was a 25-year old mother with my first newborn baby.  The young woman in critical condition after being hit in a crosswalk by a drunk driver while holding her newborn is just 33.  A man, who with a blood alcohol level of .22, got behind the wheel of a pickup truck and forever changed the lives of one family.

I can’t help it. I keep thinking of the father and the unimaginable grief, anger, shock he must feel.  Another person’s terrible decision and in an instant, his life is changed forever.  His parents were killed.  His wife and 10-day old baby are fighting for their lives.  It is so unfair – unexplainable unfairness – and all because a man got behind the wheel with a .22 blood alcohol level.

I have teenagers.  One drives.  One will soon.  Have they been told over and over of the dangers of drinking and driving?  Yes.  Told over and over that one bad decision could ruin their lives, as well as others, permanently.

Each year, Snoqualmie Police simulate a drinking and driving crash right before prom.  It moves kids.  It scares them.  It should.  But this, this horrific tragedy in Ravenna, in the midst of a sunny day spring day, it’s not a simulation.  It’s real life.

I told my teenagers about it.  I watched tears come to one’s eyes.  I heard one say they didn’t want to hear about it.  But I continued regardless, because this is what drinking and driving can do.  And as hard as it is to hear, they need to.

Do I want them to be fearful of the world?  No.  Do I want them to be scared to death of drinking and driving – so that they never do it? Yes. That’s my choice as a parent.

18-years ago this month, I walked the streets of Seattle, Alki Beach, with a new baby in my arms –sometimes with family members.  Somewhere just 30 miles away, on Monday afternoon, a new father got a call that no person should ever receive.

If even the slightest good can materialize from tragedy, I hope it would be that more drivers might call a cab; that more teen drivers are scared straight by the real life (not just simulated) consequences of DUI.

There are donation funds set up to help the family of the information visit Ravenna Blog.

 

March 4th, 2013, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

HOME BUILDING AND VALLEY SCHOOLS:  TIME TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT HOW WE GOT HERE AND FOCUS ON THE FUTURE?

There is a 100-unit market rate rental townhome development planned for the corner of Snoqualmie Parkway and Swenson Drive – and it’s leading to some debate in the neighborhood. 

The worry for some Deer Park residents is the traffic at the nearby intersection and the impact on schools in our fast-growing district.  There is also contention because a residential zoning modification that paved the way for the development wasn’t well communicated to residents of nearby homes.

The issues surrounding the new apartments stem from a modification to the original zoning of land parcel S-11.  In the Snoqualmie Ridge Final Mixed-Use Plan, this parcel was zoned retail or residential.  If residential, it was to be 4-9 dwelling units per acre to include single family (SF) and single-family (SF) detached homes or up to 6-unit multiplex housing.

The Snoqualmie Ridge II land developer wasn’t able to successfully market the land as retail so in 2011 they requested a modification of the original residential zoning for denser dwellings per acre and to include multifamily housing beyond the original 6-unit multiplex maximum designation.

The modification was granted in June 2011.   Later this year, a 100-unit rental housing development will begin construction.  Some say the Snoqualmie rental units are needed for those who can’t afford to buy homes and others say the complex will bring more negatives than positives.

Beyond how the development came to exist, though, is the worry of how this multi-family housing development will impact Snoqualmie Valley Schools.  I am told this issue is included in a petition possible being presented to Snoqualmie City Council to delay the development.

So the question remains, will Snoqualmie Valley schools see fewer new students by keeping this land parcel designated for single-family residences? In a nutshell, it appears the answer is no. 

For planning purposes, the Snoqualmie Valley School District uses an average student generation factor based on data from some neighboring districts. This yearly number is used to project the number of new students the district might see from newly constructed single and multi-family housing.

This year’s average generational number for single-family homes (based on the Issaquah, Kent, Auburn and Lake Washington School Districts) is .707 and for multi-family housing it is .275.  Basically this means the Snoqualmie Valley School District anticipates a new single-family home to generate approximately .707 new student(s) and new multi-family housing to generate about .275 new student(s). 

The two numbers point to more pressure being put on school facilities from single-family homes than from multi-family housing.  This number also points to why school district impact fees are larger for single-family homes versus multi-family.

Based on the .275 average number for multi-family housing, our district could see about 28 new students from the proposed 100-unit rental townhome development.

If the 11-acre land parcel was developed for 6 single-family homes per acre (about average for Snoqualmie Ridge and in the middle of the parcel’s original 4-9 unit designation), the 66 new homes might generate 46 new students for our school district, though.

There is no doubt our school district needs to pass a school construction bond to ultimately solve capacity issues.  The only SVSD elementary school capacity left is outside of Snoqualmie and is why new housing developments on Snoqualmie Ridge attend school in Fall City and North Bend.  But it looks like a new elementary school located in Snoqualmie will be on the next school bond.

Yes, our middle schools will be overcrowded next year because Snoqualmie Middle School is being closed and converted to a 9th grade campus.  It’s important to remember, though, that our middle schools are being overcrowded by design.  When the freshman campus opens next year, the building that houses it will be under capacity. 

When the 9th graders are moved out of Mount Si High School next year, it too will be under capacity.  Mount Si, with the installation of the 2009 new portables and the addition of Wildcat Court, increased its capacity to over 1600.  Currently Mount Si has about 1560 (full-time equivalent) students and next year it might have around 1200 students.

Yes, we’re growing. Yes, we need more permanent school space. If we want growth in our school district to slow, it seems single-family home building has the most impact.  Is building going to stop, though?  I doubt it.  I don’t see the land developer kindly halting construction until we pass a school bond.  Especially since we’re finally coming out of the housing recession.

I think instead of fighting what’s being built and where, we should focus on passing the next school bond and finally solving the capacity issue at hand – and focus on educating our kids for jobs of the future.

The Snoqualmie Valley School District has known for almost 10 years home many homes and new students are possible in Snoqualmie Ridge Division II.   SVSD was involved in the planning process along the way.  All this building isn’t coming as a shock to them.

Since 2007, the district has tried 5 times to pass bonds for a long-term capacity solution.  I think it’s time we pass one and stop pointing fingers and pondering the could-of, the should-of.  It’s been 10 years (May 2003) since we passed a bond that built a much-needed school. 

It’s time… time to invest in our district, our schools and our kids.

 

February 14, 2013, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

RIP SNOQUALMIE MIDDLE SCHOOL

Last week Snoqualmie Middle School (SMS) teachers were presented with a list of open teaching positions at Twin Falls and Chief Kanim Middle Schools for the 2013-14 school year.  The list represented reality; reality that this June their school is REALLY closing to become the district’s Freshman Campus.

SMS teaching teams may part ways after this school year.  Some core teachers may instruct a different grade level next year.  Some may move from teaching one subject to teaching multiple subjects – and some may not teach at the middle school level next year. 

Change is hard.  Feelings get hurt.  The jobs of one group of middle school teachers and staff appear more directly impacted than others.  It feels a bit unfair.

A colleague reminded me that this is how most employees feel when their company is the subject of a takeover.  For lack of a better explanation, those most impacted feel like they are getting a raw deal, with no sympathy expressed.   But is public education the same as corporate business?

The teachers at Snoqualmie Middle School are like a family – and they’re being split up.  They aren’t the divorcing parents who have a voice in setting forth their future.  The teachers and staff involved are more like the children of divorce – or a family  experiencing a loss.

The loss in this case is the glue that holds the SMS family together – the building, their “teaching house.”  Another family of teachers will soon call it home; make a new life in it.

But in the meantime, the teachers who instruct many Snoqualmie children (and countless others over the years) are going through big changes. Their “home” is needed for a different purpose.  Their loss, a building, is expendable in the name of education.

That may be the case, but don’t forget about the family that currently resides in that home.  Ask yourself how you’d feel, empathize and remember the people inside that building who are about to lose it.

Some teachers at Fall City Elementary did just that yesterday.  They sent over treats, pick-me-ups, to fill the workroom at Snoqualmie Middle School.  A small act of kindness symbolizing a morale booster – empathy baked up in edible treats. 

The Snoqualmie Middle School teachers are deserving of that empathy.  They will be okay in the end. They will still have jobs, but their home and family will forever be changed.

All this change is necessary, right?  That debate seems to linger even today.  I guess only time will tell…

 

January 30, 2013, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

Let the Conversation Begin: Where Do 9th Graders Belong?

The SVSD School Board is meeting in a work session Saturday morning for an important “facilities planning”  discussion.

For those of you unfamiliar with the jargon, that means the board will discuss what facilities/buildings our district needs to meet the future capacity and educational needs of students . Once those facilities are determined, the next step is usually running a bond to finance them.

A little history… in 2009/10, a Long Term Facilities Planning Committee came up with two top options to solve our district’s high school capacity problem.  This committee was formed to find a new capacity solution after 3 bond failures to fund the district’s original one – building a second high school.

Slowing enrollment reduced the need for a second high school.  So the two solutions that made the committee’s short list were: 1) using Snoqualmie Middle School as part of the high school (and building a replacement middle school) or 2) modernizing and expanding Mount Si High School.  The cheaper of the two options made it to the 2011 bond ballot.

Unfortunately, the 2011 bond to build that replacement middle school failed – twice. Even without a replacement for it, Snoqualmie Middle School is closing at the end of this school year and transitioning to a Freshman camps.  Its space will meet the high school capacity needs. Its students will move to Chief Kanim and Twin Falls Middle Schools.

Last March the school board agreed to run a future school bond that would return our district to its three middle school educational model – leaving most residents expecting a third try at replacement middle school bond – and a permanent freshman campus.

Over the past 6 months, though, something shifted.  The board began discussing the Freshman Campus being temporary, and that a comprehensive high school is grades 9-12, not 10-12.  Having 9th graders on the Mount Si campus provides expanded programming for all grades.  Separate freshman campuses can limit programming available to 9th graders.

For educational reasons, the board began discussing ultimately returning 9th graders to the Mount Si campus, and in the future returning Snoqualmie Middle School to 6-8th graders.

An architectural feasibility study of Mount Si was ordered to determine what improvements, expansion were actually possible on the site, taking into account building codes and floodway issues.  That work is complete. Although expensive, the aging high school can be fixed, flood-proofed, remodeled and expanded.

All that is left if for the board to determine the long-term educational model of our high school.  And it all seems hinged on deciding where 9th graders ultimately belong – on a separate campus or on a traditional 9-12th campus.

What Saturday’s work session may provide is an opportunity for an important conversation about 9th grade and high school education.  For an optimal high school educational model, should freshman be on the same campus as 10-12th graders?

For me, this has been the missing component to past facilities discussions.  Determining and solving our district’s capacity needs is about more than building structures. Education is paramount and reflected by those buildings.

In this case, the discussion is centered on where (ultimately) 9th graders should be educated and the reasons why. What’s best for education in the valley, not just where should we put freshman because of a capacity problem – and then look for the silver lining and tout reasons why it will be great.

Remember, our district didn’t decide to separate freshmen only for educational reasons. A Mount Si capacity need led to the 9th grade campus concept.  Mount Si’s growing enrollment was a real problem and a solution was needed.  But is it the best, long-term solution when it comes to education?  It’s time to have that conversation.

Once the discussion occurs, a long-term facilities solution can be set forth.  If it’s best for education to bring 9th graders back to Mount Si, then a bond might reflect that priority.  If it’s determined better for education to separate freshmen on their own campus, then a bond might reflect that.

Discussing where 9th graders ultimately belong and what is best for long-term high school education is like the missing puzzle piece. The public needs to understand its importance and the role it plays in shaping facility needs and in the end, school bonds.

Is it easier to run a replacement middle school bond for a third time and permanently separate 9th graders?  Maybe. Is it what’s best for the long-term?  It’s a discussion that hasn’t happened yet.  But the research is out there.  Three area high schools have used Freshman campuses as capacity solutions and then moved 9th graders back.  What can we learn from these districts?

I look forward to hearing the board have this discussion.  Only then can a plan be determined and we can move forward with our next school bond.

The Work Session is Saturday, February 2nd, 8AM-12PM in the Snoqualmie City Council Chambers.

 

 

November 30th, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

I keep thinking how people are different.  Yet sometimes it’s these differences that combine to make the greatest whole.  In reality that’s what makes our Snoqualmie Valley community what it is.

 I witnessed that personally this past month.  I met people I didn’t know well, but with whom I happened to share a common goal.  We all listened to each other; worked together; emulated community – no matter what valley town we called home.

Sometimes it takes many different people to create something great, whole, complete.  You need a researcher, a speaker, a writer, an organizer, an advisor, an outspoken one, a philosopher, a worrier, a comedian.  

You need one of everything and a lot of common ground, appreciation and respect.

If you combine that with openness, cooperation, patience and a willingness to incorporate change in pursuit of an outcome possibly even greater than you first imagined… well, great things can happen.

It’s called compromise.  It might not be what you wanted; what you thought was best or first imagined; but it can be the middle ground that pulls two sides together.

A freshman campus is just a place; a place for our kids and their education. It’s a place our district arrived at out of what some might view as turmoil, un-passed school bonds, controversy.

Yet, here we are.  

In the end, the education of our children at this freshman campus place is what brought many different people together – to make that education the best it can be for all students; students from a large, vast geographical Snoqualmie Valley School District.

There was a positive feeling after Thursday’s school board meeting.  Community and parents came together.  A principal and district listened and acted.

 It feels like momentum.  Maybe a momentum that will lead us toward passing a future school bond that ultimately solves the long-term capacity and educational needs of a growing and diverse school district.

If we keep working together anything is possible.  Only time will tell.  Until then, thank you to everyone.

 

November 23rd, Letter to Editor:

It’s been just weeks since the 2012 elections, and I imagine many of you welcome the reprieve from campaign advertising.  You may have been disappointed regarding the ballot box results. However, I encourage you accept the voice of the people and to become more engaged in the process. Washington elected to retain single-party rule for at least another term. It remains to be seen, though, if our new elected leaders will change course from a path that brought us declining quality of public education and fiscal uncertainty. In representative government, we must articulate the citizens’ priorities to our leaders. That task knows no rest, both in and out of election season.
 
Leadership in Olympia must steer another course and place governing ahead of games. Rather than managing Washington’s citizens, the new governor and legislature should strive to serve the people. Private enterprise must have the confidence to invest and hire employees, and it’s time for elected leaders to take this seriously. That must be immediately followed by fully-funding our public education system with the already-existing dollars in the budget. While speaking of education, I am pleased that public education leaders will be charged with bringing more flexibility to our system with the implementation of charter schools.
 
Finally, the legislature must honor the voters’ wishes in requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. This necessitates bi-partisan support for future budgets and requires government to live within its means. If Olympia tries an end-run, we must hold them accountable.
 
In the aftermath of an election like 2012, it would be easy for cynicism to set it. It has been said that cynicism is full of naïve disappointments that cause people to disengage from government and politics. But we can ill afford the citizenry’s decoupling from its government. There are still millions of people in Washington State who believe as you do. So now is not the time to succumb to doubt. Rather, it is time to remain both involved and informed so that you can speak with a reasoned voice.
 
I am committed to work shoulder to shoulder with those who choose this route. I hope you are, too.
 
Thanks for reading,
 
Brad Toft
Snoqualmie, WA

 

November 5th, Letter to Editor:

Dear Editor,

It has been my privilege and a joy to be in this race for the 5th District Senate seat in 2012. Last November, getting to this point may have seemed like a long-shot, but your increasing support has made a victory likely today. And as the flurry of events have unfolded in this race, you’ve helped me remain focused on the reason why I started in the first place; our families need for jobs, and our responsibility to provide our children the best possible education we can give them.

The politics of diversion run rampant in our day. Claims that have arisen during the campaign have served as distractions from our most pressing challenges. This is why it remains incumbent on political leaders to show the way to a better future. I believe this means fostering a more effective partnership between the public and private sector rather than the central planner’s futile attempts at managing us. And it also means renewing our promise to educating our children, which includes trusting voters with the truth about funding and ceasing the attacks on those who call for reform.

The Jobs

In order to solve the crisis of getting our families back to work, we must improve the small business climate in Washington State. A stable state budget combined with tax and regulatory reform should be the first priorities in order to make this happen. Organizations like the Association of Washington Business, and the National Federation of Independent Business are committed to bringing prosperity back to our state, and they have endorsed me as the one who understands the needs of the business climate in Washington .

The Education Funding

We must follow the directive of our state constitution and utilize the first dollars of the budget to fund our education system. The money is in the budget to fully fund public education right now, but over the past decade the legislature has siphoned off this money for other non-essential services. We must reward districts that keep administrative overhead low and get the most money to the classrooms. There are districts in our state that are pushing seventy cents of every dollar spent to the classroom; this must be among the legislature’s adopted metrics for effective funding of education.

The Leadership

During this election season, I have taken the initiative to publish my views in this newsletter and in our local blogs so that you, the voter can be informed about your choices. I paired this with a defined commitment to draw distinctions with my opponent on policy views, but refrain from impugning his character. Doing this was intended to bring clarity on issues, and encourage you to hold me accountable for how my campaign is run. I have taken on my own party against a sitting incumbent and withstood vicious attacks on both me and my family. I have been asked why I would do this, in the age of diversion politics. My answer is this: Participating in the process that will shape the future for our children is worth the sacrifice to me. I know it is to you as well.

You are asking leaders to seek the public good over party influence and migrate away from single party-rule in Olympia. I have done my best to heed your call by standing up to both my own party and the Democratic establishment. It has not been easy. This is the last letter before Election Day. I hope that I will be able to continue them as more than a candidate. Jill and I are grateful for your support: it will be an honor to serve you as the next Senator from the 5th District, and so it is with sincere enthusiasm that I ask for your vote.

Thanks for reading,

Brad Toft

 

November 2nd, Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor:

Revelations of corruption have bubbled up over the past two weeks in the 5th Legislative District. Prominent Democrats and Republicans alike have called for an investigation of the questionable arrangement between Gov. Chris Gregoire, former Sen. Cheryl Pflug and their chosen beneficiary, Mark Mullet.

For years we have worked and lived in the district. We are mothers, business people, volunteer leaders and voters. We participate in the electoral process, and we teach our children to do the same. Until now, this district has had the benefit of solid representation in Olympia. Now, this equilibrium is threatened by ill-conceived and unwanted political shenanigans. All of our representatives in the legislature serve publicly with the consent and approval of the voters. In exchange for this public trust, we look for them to follow strict ethical guidelines that uphold both the letter and spirit of the law. It appears that there has been a breach of one or both of these in this scandal.

Mark Mullet has been implicated several times in the bribery allegations. He has refused to distance himself from former Sen. Pflug’s resignation and appointment, even as potential Senate colleagues from both parties call this arrangement into question. He has continued to use the former Senator in his television commercials. We are concerned that he does not comprehend the seriousness of the allegations and that he has taken them too lightly. Our leaders must fight both the appearance and existence of corruption. In this, we believe Mr. Mullet has shown he is not up to the task. 

Mark Mullet was questioned about his knowledge of the bribe at the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum. His answer was meandering and at one point he even laughed at the claim. We are left to conclude that he is either naïve about the politics of the state, or that he is ambivalent about corruption. In another opportunity to respond to the allegations on this very blog, Mr. Mullet chose to attack his opponent rather than attempt to inform the voters with a credible answer.

True leaders honestly address tough issues and shed light on murky dealings. It seems that Mr. Mullet is content to let this matter remain clouded with the hopes that he can still win an election.  So, after considerable thought and discernment, we have reluctantly reached the conclusion that Mark Mullet does not deserve to serve us in the state Senate.  We urge your vote for Brad Toft.

Sincerely,

Erin McCallum                                                           Lee Keller

North Bend, WA                                                        Carnation, WA

 

 

October 16th, Living Snoqualmie Editorial:

I have spent a great deal of time trying to be neutral as Living Snoqualmie has grown this year, but figure every once in a while I can say how I feel.  People ask me how I feel about the middle school boundary change and new Freshman Campus so here’s my answer.  This doesn’t mean anything will change, but here goes….

 

Boundary Change, Boundary Change, Boundary Change – Enough!  I Surrender.

There’s nothing like a school boundary change to bring out the emotion in parents.  And it’s happening yet again in Snoqualmie, only 2 years after the last boundary change plucked out the growing community of Deer Park (my own neighborhood) and set it in the North Bend Elementary School boundaries.  A school located 7 miles and one city away.

Boundary changes are never easy.  Admittedly, the last one was probably harder on me than my then 3rd grader.  But we both made it.  Was it my preferred choice?  No. But we made it.  Was it easy?  No.  But we made it. 

In retrospect, moving to NBE opened me up to parts of the valley I missed once Cascade View opened and we became a “bubble-ized” family –  parts of the valley I used to be more connected to before infrastructure came to the Ridge – back in our Ridge “pioneer days” when you traveled to North Bend for everything.

There was a time when Snoqualmie Ridge had no restaurants, no grocery store, no doctor or dentist.  My first 4 years in Snoqualmie we had one school elementary school.  Snoqualmie Ridge students also tried to fit in Snoqualmie’s one middle school, but around 2004 we just couldn’t and Ridge children were moved to Chief Kanim Middle School – and it was a hot button issue even then.

I am beaten down by boundary changes.  My oldest child attended CKMS for two years until Twin Falls opened and then our neighborhood was moved back to Snoqualmie Middle School.  At the time my younger kids were at Cascade View and the population there busted through its seams, just two years after opening, resulting in 150 elementary kids being moved out of CVES to Snoqualmie Elementary.

Snoqualmie’s two elementary schools survived another couple years before the next boundary change.  This time the move was further – to the open space at North Bend and Fall City Elementary.  So students from Snoqualmie and North Bend were shifted this time.  As a result, Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhoods now feed four elementary schools – only two of them in Snoqualmie – and Deer Park now accounts for almost half of NBE’s population, with about 100 more neighborhood homes still to build.

During these boundary changes from 2004 to present, our district passed ONE school bond.  That was in 2009.  Before that it was 2003.  Between 2007 – 2011, five other bonds were tried but failed.  All the while I have known each boundary change was absolutely necessary.  You could be emotional about it, but you knew it was the pragmatic solution

I cannot say that about this latest middle school boundary change.  I wish I could, but I don’t believe it’s absolutely necessary – YET.  In my opinion, our district has time to find a long-term solution that doesn’t involve disrupting our middle school students like we are about to do.

Enrollment projections at Mount Si slowed from the 2011 bond literature estimates, giving us a gift of time. Take 450 kids out of MSHS next year and those new, 2009 portables could sit empty.  But somewhere along the line the administration said it was going to do this 9th grade campus in 2013.  When enrollment projections declined, what started as a capacity solution morphed into a programming solution.

We’ve been told programming benefits to next year’s 9th graders (and 10-12th graders on the main MSHS) will outweigh the disruption to our middle schools.  We were also told middle school programming might expand by reducing to two middle schools, making overcrowding and long bus routes worth it.

We’ve been told a lot of things, and I just want to say that I am ready to see them.  I’ve had faith for a year.  I am ready to see the proof.  A community is being divided yet again; this time, on a promise of better and greater things for middle and high school education. 

Our school board is readying a 2013 school bond. Regardless of what that bond contains, a new middle school or expanded/modernized high school, it is a long-term solution for the increasing high school population. 

If that bond passes, this latest boundary change, the conversion of Snoqualmie Middle School to a 9th grade campus and its approximate $4 million price tag (for work at SMS and portables at CKMS and TFMS),  is only temporary.

$4 million is a lot of money for a temporary (possible 2 year) solution.  Not to mention, a lot of disruption to nearly 1,500 middle schoolers and their high-functioning and high-achieving schools.  Additionally, running the new freshman campus will add about $350,000 annually to the general operating budget.

In 11 years this is the first time I’ve been left feeling like a boundary change wasn’t absolutely necessary; it wasn’t a last resort.  Yes, maybe in a couple years, but not now.  Not when a bond is looming that could offer a permanent solution without the temporary and expensive sacrifice.

This is a boundary change for programming – a promise of programming.  I encourage everyone to attend Thursday’s School Board Work Session on the future Freshman Campus and find out more about the programming, curriculum, the costs, budget impact and the logistics.  The meeting starts at 5PM in the District Office.

Find out if it’s worth it or if you would ask your school board to delay until after the next bond attempt, giving the public a chance to weigh in on the issue of whether the benefits to high school programming really do outweigh the costs to the our middle schools.