What a great first few weeks of school it has been! We’ve been bowling with our school friends. Out to the pumpkin patch with our school friends. Camping with school friends. To dinner and impromptu dance parties with our school friends. We have dropped off and picked up and played on the playgrounds with our school friends.
Wow, too bad our school is closing! So much fun, friendship, learning, attention, community, and accountability. All being thrown away like trash.
But who cares about that? Certainly not our own school board or district officials.
I’ve posted a few Facebook updates regarding my stance on the Bellingham School District’s bond proposal, which is coming up for a vote soon. Although I am a lifelong attendant and proponent of our public schools, I am voting NO on this particular bond. If you want some specifics about the bond and why many of us are opposed to it, please visit the Vote No on the Bellingham School District Bond Facebook page right here. You can also click here to read informed letters from citizens in the Whatcom Watch.
Otherwise, here are some of my personal thoughts.
This bond will create larger elementary schools, increased class sizes, more busing, higher administrative costs, and less community cohesion. The Bellingham School District plans to increase all neighborhood schools to 450 students, despite contrary input from community members, Bellingham’s comprehensive plan, and educational research.
Our city still owes $59 million from the 2007 bond; we’ve paid off less than 12% of this. Yet, the district wants another $160 million ($220 million with interest) for new buildings, including $10 million for a new central office, $5 million for football turf and $10 million for new administrative offices.
These are unaffordable luxuries that leave basic student needs unmet.
Just a few years ago, the school board approved a $1.5 million overhaul of Larrabee Elementary. Last May, the school board voted to close Larrabee Elementary. How is that $1.5 million going to benefit Bellingham students now? To be honest, I no longer trust our school board with my children or my money.
While several of our schools and facilities could use improvement, our buildings are not falling apart, as evidenced by the District’s own facilities report. Renovating, instead of replacing existing structures, is a smarter choice economically and environmentally.
The current Bellingham public school leadership movement rejects the idea of small neighborhood schools. Our superintendent stated at the May 9, 2013 school board meeting that the new model for schools is 400 students and five acres. It totally rejects a model of smaller schools serving families within our existing neighborhoods.
Our school board, contrary to the appearance of 300 community members at a public meeting and 35 speakers held in high regard, all of whom were in favor of keeping Larrabee open, voted to close Larrabee.
“I don’t need any more information,” one board member said. “I got all the information I needed during lunch with the superintendent today.”
Really? WOW! What a surprise.
Another one of the board members, currently up for re-election, Smith, said he would “sleep well that night” following his vote to close Larrabee. He was cold and arrogant in response to questions by citizens.
I am not voting for Smith in the school board race.
Question….How does one vote to close a school before a new school has even been built to accommodate the students of the school being closed? And how do you close a school that rates higher than the school you’re allowing to remain open? And is it okay with our school board for our students to be shoved into portables for the next five years while a “new” school is or is not being built? What was wrong with leaving our children comfortably and happily where they were until all of this bureaucratic mess was worked out? And how can one man do whatever he wants with our schools without any accountability to the communities he hurts in the process?
Here are a few of the District’s arguments for closing our smallest and most historical public school in spite of valid community protest:
“Three schools within a mile of each other don’t make sense.”
Really? Why don’t small schools to which families can safely walk and actually know each other make sense?
“We can’t afford to keep Larrabee Elementary open.”
Seriously? But spending 60% of a $160 million bond on a new school in one neighborhood for an extra 200 students makes sense? Wow. And where is the hard proof that keeping a tiny elementary school open is not affordable?
“Furthermore, if rebuilding Happy Valley is approved as part of of bond this November, the new school can be be built next to the old building….and for Larrabee students and families to be part of the design and new school visioning process.”
Oh, right. Just like how the first and only public hearing regarding closure of Larrabee on May 8, 2013, when 300 community members attended, and 100% of all speakers spoke in favor of saving Larrabee, made zero impact on our school board. Hmm.
The speakers involved at the public meeting regarding Larrabee included current and retired teachers from the Bellingham School District, professors from WWU, Happy Valley Neighborhood Association members, attorneys, City Council members, and otherwise. Too bad they were all ignored in favor of a “Facilities Planning Task Force” that included district employees and family of district employees as its members. Larrabee and Southside families were all but ignored throughout the entire “closing” process…if in fact, “process” is what you want to call it. I call it bulldozing and bullying.
Less than 24 hours after the public meeting about Larrabee, the school board met and voted to close Larrabee Elementary without any thought, discussion, or consideration of the meeting the night before. As stated earlier in this post, one board member remarked that she had no questions or need for clarification; all of her “questions” were answered by our superintendent during lunch that very afternoon.
Going forward, why would this group of officials ask for or value any input from families regarding the future of any new Southside school? They’ve already shown they could not care less about what Southside families think.
“Larrabee students who currently walk to school will be able to continue to walk to Happy Valley and Lowell.”
Really? We can safely walk on these roads without sidewalks, among heavy city bus traffic, college shuttles, apartment congestion, mobile home traffic, school buses, and SUV school traffic jams? Awesome. When you figure out how we can safely walk to these schools, let us know.
“The process that began in the fall of 2012 to consider retiring Larrabee lead to a recommendation from the Facilities Planning Task Force. During this process, a Think Tank met to evaluate different timing scenarios.”
Oh, yes. The same “Task Force” that included district employees and spouses of district employees? Interesting. And I know people who were on the “Think Tank.” They were not listened to nor validated. Again, nothing but a facade.
A NO vote on the bond simply sends our school district members back to the drawing board to write a better bond. It is NOT an anti-public school vote, as some would have you believe. There are reasonable and valid parts of this bond. However, the reasonable portions are being overshadowed by the greediness of the bulk of the bond. For specifics click here.
A bond that looks less like a Santa Claus wish list, and more like a bond appropriate for our students and community, is what we need.
I’m voting NO on this specific bond to encourage the district leadership to write a more reasonable bond without unnecessary frills.
When community Democrats, Republicans, Independents, PTA board members, teachers, and parents join together peacefully for a non-partisan cause, you know it’s serious. Please, pay attention. We are not opposed to a smart, focused, right-sized bond. Unfortunately, this bond fails to meet those standards. We need a bond proposal that tells us exactly what we will gain from its expenditures in terms of improving student learning rather than just a bunch of new buildings.
If you want to retain small classes and respect for community and teachers, keep neighborhood schools alive, and send a message to our superintendent and school board members, vote NO on the bond.
We can do a lot better.
For more reading from citizens against this bond and further insights into the “Facilities Planning Task Force,” please click here to read informed letters in the Whatcom Watch.