For Whom the School Bell Tolls

school house

Who are Seattle’s kids counting on? demands the oversize glossy color brochure, illustrated with cute kiddie drawings, that arrived in my mailbox today. Renew Seattle School Levies–Vote YES!

The brochure is from Schools First, whose website describes the group as “the campaign organization that works to help pass Seattle School levies.”

Not that passing school levies is a cause that needs much help. They’ve gotten voter support regular as the rain here–including mine–in recession or boomtime. After all, what is more important than education, and who doesn’t want to help kids?

This time,  the school district wants money f0r a variety of things, including building six new schools–at a cost of $42 million per school.

That’s at least 20 percent higher than normal, according to the Seattle Times.

How can a school building cost that much? the Times asks. Larger schools, higher construction costs. (Why?) And then there’s this:

Finally, there are “soft costs,” for planning, design, permitting, taxes and reserves.

Seattle says its soft costs would be 51.75 percent of its construction costs, adding about $14 million.




I have a hard time with soft costs.

And I have a hard time with Magnolia Elementary, a school in my neighborhood that has sat vacant for 20 years and deteriorated so badly that it has lost most of its value and may be beyond repair. If you owned a building, would you let this happen?

If you live in Seattle, you do own it. Your taxes are paying for it, and for several other schools left to rot. Not sold when they were no longer needed, not rented, just left to rot. Now the same people who “managed” them want more money. The old schools are decaying because of their neglect, so they want to build new ones.


Still, I could almost shrug my shoulders and vote Yes anyway, after seeing the pathetic pictures of the speech therapist with no office and the hideous portable classrooms kids have to put up with.

Expensive? Well, why shouldn’t we spend a little more and give our kids nicer-than-average buildings? Too much bureaucracy and “soft costs”? Well, there’s bound to be some waste, nothing is perfect, and we shouldn’t punish our kids for the imperfections.

But what about this: a criminal investigation into Seattle Public Schools money that went to pay for work that was never done, at least not on school projects.

How much money are we talking about here?

Oh…$1.8 million or so. Give or take. Not that anyone at Seattle Public Schools is really counting. Arithmetic is a lesson you learn when you’re spending your own money. When it’s other people’s money, math skills tend to get weak, numbers fuzzy.

It’s my money they’re wasting and spending illegally.

That’s bad enough, but there’s something that bothers me even more, something that finally led me, after all these years, to vote No.

It’s not the money itself, but the values.

Should we open our pocketbooks unquestioningly to people who lie, cheat, and mismanage funds? Should we teach our kids that such behavior is OK, that the ends justify the means?

Who are Seattle’s kids counting on?

Let’s hope it’s not the people running the public schools.