The Lake Washington School District School board unanimously passed all recommended levies and one controversial bond measure at an emotionally charged board meeting on Monday, which even led to one man’s outburst.
The taxes, which will go before voters next February, would help the district accommodate the estimated 4,200 extra students by expanding, modernizing and building new schools in Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish.
But because of financial constraints, the board was forced to exclude the Juanita High School pool, essentially proposing the end of the only all-year public pool in Kirkland.
“It’s important to highlight the committee is not anti-swimming or anti-pool,” said district Superintendent Traci Pierce to a boardroom full of people in orange shirts with a mission to save the pool. “The committee was charged with a difficult task of providing a recommendation that we believe meets the districts’ needs and will garner the support of the Lake Washington School District community at large, who are the taxpayers.”
The bond will include modernization of five phase three schools: Kamiakin Middle School built in 1974, Peter Kirk Elementary built in 1975, Margaret Mead Elementary built in 1979, Norman Rockewell Elementary built in 1981 and Evergreen Middle School built in 1983.
Three new elementary schools, a new middle school (or equivalent space), an east side international-focused choice school, a west side STEM-focused choice school, a modernized Juanita High School and an addition to Lake Washington High School also are included in the bond measure.
Modernization for the other phase three schools – Alcott, Smith and Wilder elementary schools – are scheduled for the next bond cycle in 2022.
Pierce said on top of issues of high cost to acquire new property for a pool, the $15 million to rebuild the pool and additional funds to run it, there was also an ethical side to the decision.
“The committee had to grapple with how do we justify adding scope to the bond for a pool over modernizing one of our elementary schools that was originally on the schedule for phase three modernization,” Pierce said. “In other words, how do we say to an Alcott parent, ‘We put a pool on the bond, but not your school’?”
The board also backed up their decision by revealing a poll that showed 62 percent of those surveyed favored the proposed bond measure, while 27 percent were opposed and 11 percent were undecided. Both the capital projects levies and the educational programs and operations levy also had a majority in favor.
But approximately 10 of 40 pool supporters who created the Facebook page “Save Juanita Pool” used the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting as a last attempt to sway the board members’ decisions to include the pool in the $755 million proposed bond measure.
“The district has stated repeatedly that the majority of the programs using the Juanita pool are community programs other than district programs,” said Malika Elkayssi, a swimmer from Lake Washington High School. “All the more reason to include the pool in the bond.”
Doug Raubacher, whose children go to Rose Hill Middle School and Mark Twain Elementary, also feels the bond will get little support if the Juanita pool facility is taken away.
“I have maybe one or two neighbors who have kids in public schools and the rest of them, over a dozen, go to private schools,” Raubacher said. “You need these people’s votes. You’re not gonna get their votes by building new Juanita High schools, you’re not gonna get these votes by getting more computers in the public schools. You are gonna get these votes by providing community services for them.”
Several high school swimmers emphasized the pools positive influence and explained the difficulties they would have if it were gone and they were forced to find another place to practice.
Others simply want more transparency from the district about the supposed city partnerships officials have touted in the past.
“The Lake Washington School District website indicates the district has talked with cities of Redmond, Sammamish and Kirkland about a partnership to operate Juanita pool or build a new pool,” said Kirkland resident Leland Crane. “We have found no mention of the Juanita pool or any proposed partnership with the [district] in any of the published meeting minutes in Sammamish, Kirkland or the city of Redmond.”
But board president Jackie Pendergrass assured those in attendance she spoke with three of the seven Kirkland City Council members. And board director Christopher Carlson urged the passionate “Save Juanita Pool” group to wash their orange shirts that night and show up at the Kirkland City Council meeting the next night.
“I agree with everyone here,” said Carlson, who is actively involved with the Kirkland Orcas swim team. “A community pool is necessary, it’s not an option.”
Nancy Bernard also gave an emotional testament to the community’s need for a pool, especially because of the high rate of drownings that occur at Lake Washington.
However, near the end of the night the board’s decision to not include a pool was seemingly buffered by a renewed spirit to look at including previous phase two levy funds for a new pool if the district could acquire a city partnership.
“This is gonna sound funny, but I was impressed by the board,” said Kirkland resident Jeff Grove after the meeting. “They all gave very passionate speeches and it’s clear that they care, they care about kids. They don’t take whatever they do lightly.”
Grove and his wife, who has already emailed Councilman Dave Asher, agree their next steps lay before the Kirkland City Council.