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Northshore School District weighing options to address overcrowding
The recession had a big impact on development in northeast Bothell. Permits were taken out, plans were drawn up and land was cleared in many areas around Canyon Creek and Canyon Park in 2008.
Then nothing but silence as capital dried up and home sales plummeted.
But the area is now recovering at an exponential rate. As of spring 2011, the Northshore School District (NSD) predicted more than 3,300 new housing units in various stages of completion. And with development comes more students to already overcrowded schools.
“We have this area of the district that has very high growth,” said Northshore School District Superintendent Larry Francois. “And we have schools that are well beyond capacity.”
The district is looking at putting up a bond measure in February 2014 to build a new elementary or high school to deal with the issue. If passed, it could mean higher property taxes for residents in the NSD, including Bothell and Kenmore residents.
Francois said that he understands the district has to demonstrate the need, but that might be the easy part.
Canyon Creek Elementary’s attendance is larger than three of the district’s six junior high schools. It was built to accommodate 550 kids and currently has 772. The district has run out of room for portables on the Crystal Springs Elementary School site and Fernwood and Kokanee elementaries will exceed 700 students during the next couple years. Overall, the area, including Skyview Junior High, has 200 more kids enrolled in 2012 than in 2011.
The district is looking at adding more portables where it is possible, limiting attendance waivers and relocating programs to conserve space in the overcrowded areas of northeast Bothell, but NSD officials are running out of ideas.
“When all the other options have been exhausted we are down to busing and that is not desirable,” Francois said.
The superintendent said the issue is not compromising the students’ education at this point.
“Once we get these kids in the classroom it is the same as other schools in the district,” Francois said. “But it is how much time we lose moving kids from point A to point B.”
Currently, the overcrowding in the common areas are of big concern.
Overall, the district’s enrollment is down from a high point in 2005, but it has been trending upwards since 2008. The most conservative estimates show that the NSD area will add more than 15,000 residents by 2020. The 2010 census showed 122,684 residents within the district’s boundaries.
The district’s Enrollment Demographics Task Force (EDTF) began studying the issue two years ago. The EDTF is a 15-member task force, which includes six superintendent-appointed and six school board-appointed parents, community members and staff. The members’ preferred recommendation is to reconfigure grade levels to K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 and build a new high school. An alternate recommendation is to maintain the current grade configuration and build a new elementary. Either option would include boundary adjustments. The School Board is actively reviewing the EDTF recommendations to identify a preferred option by the end of October.
But Francois said that while the elementary may be cheaper in the short term, a new high school would eventually be needed and cause less disruption over time.
“As students move through the system it is like a bubble through a snake,” said Francois. “And we will need another high school when they reach that point.”
The building of a new high school would also fix another growing issue.
“The junior high kids (in ninth grade) have to be bused to the high schools to get higher classes,” said Francois.
A new high school at 250,000 square feet would hold an estimated 1,600-1,800 students at a price tag of approximately $120 million. A new elementary school of 50,000 square feet would hold about 550 kids, costing roughly $40 million. The high school option is much more costly as it also involves the construction of fields and other amenities.
The disruption to changing school boundaries, uncertainty of what high school a child may eventually attend and even the cultural impact of adding a new high school to an area, a place that most identify with during the duration of their life, are also big issues that the district is considering.
After the school board makes a decision on what type of school to build then the district will focus on the design.
Once a decision is made and the bond measure is placed on the ballot, Francois knows that the district will have to convince voters that schools in another city are important for residents in places such as Kenmore.
But he makes the argument that the district impacts even those without kids and the local housing market still recovering from four years of losses.
“We have demonstrated over time that we use bonds well and this community values education,” said Francois. “Well-funded education has a positive impact on property values. Any flier for a home sale mentions that it is in the Northshore School District.”
Additional information and a copy of the EDTF report can be found online at www.nsd.org/edtf.