- Danielle Henderson
The Northwest Center school is still being evicted, and people are pissed off.
The Northwest Center understands that they may have to move, but is asking for more time to find a suitable location for their developmentally and physically disabled students, many of whom require a facility that will accommodate their specific needs. SPS spokesperson Teresa Wippel told me that the old Van Asselt school has been offered to the Northwest Center, but Northwest Center President and CEO Tom Everill says, "There is no offer of Van Asselt on the table—no planning or site analysis has been done, and there are no applications for construction permits or licensing."
When I contacted the Department of Early Learning, who handles all applications for building licenses, Celestine McClary told me that the process can take from 6 months to a year:
First [NWC] would send an application, then we give it to the licenser and submit a request to the fire marshal. If the site is approved, then a health specialist comes out to see the space set up as if children were coming in that day—we do measurements for class sizes and check everything. The process can take up to 90 days.
What if the occupants need to make changes to the building to accommodate their students, as the Northwest Center would need to do?
That can take from 6 months up to a year—it depends on the Department of Planning and Development.
Teresa Wippel let me know that the Van Asselt building meets ADA standards per SPS specifications, but that doesn't mean the building is equipped to handle the needs of the Northwest Center. Cascade Parent Partnership Program, the school that will be moving into the North Queen Anne location was also offered the Van Asselt building; when I asked principle Treena Sterk why they didn't accept the offer, she told me it was because the school was too far away:
It's 13 miles south of where we are now. The families said they have no bussing service, and location is very important to our families. Being that far south is just too far.
No one is pitting these two schools or their students against each other—everyone wants a safe and fair solution for all of the families and students involved, and both camps have said that they are eager to make sure the focus stays on the students affected by this move. But the options presented by SPS don't work for either of these programs. The Cascade Parent Partnership Program has allegedly only been offered the North Queen Anne location for two years, so the move to the new location wouldn't be permanent, meaning these students would again be uprooted to make way for their growing population.
I can't help but wonder—does Seattle Public Schools have a longterm plan or have any idea how to manage their demographics?
Representative Reuven Carlyle doesn't think so.
Rep. Carlyle met with over 75 people in the Ballard Library on February 9 to hear their concerns about the Seattle Public Schools' (SPS) decision to evict the school from their North Queen Anne Location. When I spoke to him today, he credited the community with raising a lot of awareness about this crisis, and thinks that the city-wide discussion about universal pre-k indicates how much people want to invest in early learning. He acknowledges that the district is facing a crisis of facilities because of overcrowding, but when it comes to SPS' treatment of the Northwest Center he gives them a failing grade:
It’s been an F- when it comes to open, transparent community engagement and communications.
This is largely in part to the fact that Superintendent Banda has only met with Tom Everill once, and the Northwest Center has been kept almost entirely in the dark since they received their eviction notice. Rep. Carlyle had a meeting with the superintendent, and "prodded him to heighten his sensitivity to the importance of community outrage," saying that the SPS' apparent stonewalling of the Northwest Center is "not the Seattle way, and we have to call them on that." Tom Everill agrees:
Van Asselt is a red herring dangled by the communications officer at SPS whenever she wants to shift attention from the real issue, which is SPS' lack of transparency and duplicity in not working with us on the North Queen Anne facility.
The legislative delegation had approved and then rescinded a $10 million capital budget request to renovate the North Queen Anne location once they found out how the funds were going to be used:
We originally jumped on board to do the work not realizing that the community foundation had not been laid with the existing Northwest Center program, and did not realize the extent to which they were using that request as a stopgap to move the Cascade program there temporarily. I assumed it was directly linked to overcrowding, but it wasn't. There was not a longterm strategic approach to what Cascade or the Northwest Center needs, and this is a stopgap measure.
Rep. Carlyle and the legislative delegation are instead asking for $20 million to refurbish and reopen the Magnolia school, which can handle 400-500 students and help with the growing population, and an additional $5 million for an additional school building. "We’d rather invest $20 million in a very large, important vacant building that can be part of longterm 20 year plan than invest $10 million in a short term, stopgap facility that doesn’t help."
Rep. Carlyle realizes the struggle the district is facing and commends them for trying to find a solution, saying "No one is criticizing their stress around managing an explosion of growth—that's a hard job. The question is are they going into this with a sense of community engagement that our city demands?" He also urges for a strategic approach, which Seattle Public Schools doesn't appear to have right now. Carlyle says the issue is the system, not the buildings currently being contested. "The district has unbelievable turnover, and the management of the demographics has been subpar."
Overall, this is a community issue, and a symbolic one at that. Historically, the Northwest Center was started by parents who wanted a quality education for their children when the school district refused to educate them because of their disability. It started to serve high need children. Forty years later, these parents are still fighting. This is a symbolic journey, and a community issue that we have to address. Representative Carlyle asks, "Are we one community? Are we going to handle the needs of children and family?"