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February 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Seattle schools construction levy remains vital

The objective of the Seattle Public Schools’ $695 million construction levy is better facilities designed to meet growing enrollment and 21st century learning needs.

Seattle voters should bear in mind that nothing has challenged the levy’s vital mission, not even a smart Times analysis that found higher costs for rebuilding or replacing the district’s  elementary schools than for similar school projects around Washington.

Higher costs revolve in part around the district’s so-called soft costs, spending on planning and design, for example. This is a valid area for further discussion. Plans for the current six-year levy proposal, which would repair or replace 17 aging buildings, include impressive architecture but not the schoolhouse equivalent of the Taj Mahal.

Seattle’s levy proposal deserves support in Tuesday’s special election. Seattle schools are rebounding for all sorts of reasons. But with enrollment up, overcrowding has become common. Overreliance on classroom portables and students tutored in busy hallways are manifestations of the problem.

It makes sense then that Seattle plans to build elementary schools far larger than nearby districts with similar elementary-school enrollment.

A wide spectrum of students means accommodating various learners and programs, for example, special education. The district’s special education enrollment is up, currently about 14% of the student body.  Physically bigger classrooms doesn’t necessarily mean cramming in more students, but rather offering a space that could accommodate a range of learners and teaching aides. The district’s vision for special education is to have a level of specialized services in every community. Larger buildings can better accommodate special education serves that require space, including physical and occupational speech or physical therapy. Add to the mix other important educational offerings, from sports to the arts.

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