OP-ED + LETTER: Open letters to the Citizens of the Highline School District


[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post includes both an ‘Op-Ed,’ submitted by the Highline School Board, and an ‘Open Letter to the Community’ submitted by Highline School District Superintendent Susan Enfield. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The White Center Blog nor its staff:]

OP-ED: An Open Letter to the Citizens of Highline School District,

As members of the Highline School Board, we were heartened by our community’s overwhelming display of support in the November election, when more than 59 percent voted in favor of our capital bond measure. While we fell just 215 votes shy of the 60% we needed to gain approval, it is clear that citizens of Highline understand that we are facing major challenges, including severely overcrowded classrooms and aging buildings. Despite the failure of the bond, our challenges remain, and we must come together to solve them.

Since the November election, we have been seeking feedback from citizens across the district. We have heard from thousands of people through our telephone town hall, our online survey, and conversations in coffee shops and grocery stores. We are grateful for your feedback.

The input we have received has been extremely valuable in helping us shape a proposal that is fiscally responsible as well as adequate to address the challenges we face in 2015 and beyond. Wednesday night we decided to place a modified version of the capital construction bond on the February 10 ballot alongside renewal of the Educational Programs and Operations Levy.

Now we are asking for your support for these two essential measures to ensure that every child enrolled in Highline Public Schools has access to safe, modern buildings and the teachers and tools they need to experience a quality education.

Renewal of the Educational Programs and Operations Levy will provide critical funding for our students. Levy funds pay for basics not fully funded by the state, such as teachers’ salaries, support staff, bus transportation, textbooks, classroom materials, and maintenance of buildings and grounds. The levy makes up 21 percent of our district’s operating budget. Without these funds, our budget would be cut by one-fifth, resulting in lay-offs, reduced services, and a dramatic change in the quality of education our schools could provide. The levy is a renewal of an expiring levy, not a new tax.

Bonds fund capital projects, such as school construction and modernization. By law, they cannot pay for operating schools. The bond on the February ballot would fund capital projects that address two critical challenges facing our community.

First, many students attend school in buildings that are aging, do not meet today’s fire and earthquake codes, and need increasingly expensive repairs.

Second, elementary schools are overcrowded today, and enrollment is growing by several hundred students each year. Additional classrooms are necessary to provide lower class sizes and a high quality education for all students.

The bond would replace our two oldest schools, repair and renovate others, and construct two new schools to provide space for more students and lower class sizes.

If voters approve the $376 million bond, we will receive $78 million in matching funds, stretching our dollars and substantially increasing the return on our investment. The district has an exemplary track record for managing bond funds; every project funded by the past two bonds was completed on time and on budget.

You can learn more by going to www.highlineschools.org and clicking on levy and bond.

Time and again, citizens of our district have stepped up to meet the needs of our students — and our needs today could not be greater. Great schools are critical for a prosperous community, and it takes strong local support to make great schools. When you receive your ballot in the mail in February, please don’t forget to vote. Your ballot must be dropped off or postmarked by February 10.

Thank you for your continued commitment to the children of our community.

Highline School Board
Michael Spear, President
Tyrone Curry, Vice-President
Angelica Alvarez
Bernie Dorsey
Susan Goding

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

Open letter to the Highline Community:

As the Superintendent of Highline Public Schools and a resident of the Highline community, I feel compelled to write this open letter. I am grateful to those of you who supported our bond measure last month, which fell just short of the 60% supermajority needed for passage. For those of you who opposed the bond, I also appreciate that you took the time and effort to engage in the democratic process and express your views.

On December 17, the School Board approved placing another bond proposal on the February 10, 2015 ballot. We are taking this step because in order to best educate our children, we must replace aging buildings and relieve the crowding in our schools. The proposal includes some savings gained from, among other things, eliminating the need for middle school interim sites, thus ensuring that our middle school students will not have two transitions during their middle school years.

As we move forward we will engage in a community-wide conversation about this bond proposal, including multiple opportunities at schools and in the community to hear your concerns and answer your questions. During the last election there were significant inaccuracies and misstatements shared by those in opposition to the bond, and I welcome the opportunity to correct those errors.

I extend an invitation to all community members to engage in a conversation with me, Highline Public Schools Board members, and staff about how we will provide safe, up-to-date schools for our students and staff. We will be inviting those who opposed the bond in November to participate in these meetings so that we can have an open, public dialogue on these issues. Our first meeting will be in early January and we will post all the information on our website at Highlineschools.org.

I especially want to invite those who opposed the bond to participate in these public conversations so that we may hear and respond to your concerns. I strongly believe that we as adults must model for our children and young people what it means to be informed, engaged citizens and how to participate in the democratic process responsibly and respectfully.

Together we will build a better, stronger, Highline Public Schools—and deliver on our promise of knowing every student by name, strength and need.

– Susan Enfield

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