After forwarding my blog about the Yelm High School expansion to the YHS Principal Pete Diklich, I received this response from Yelm Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Burke which I post here unabridged for the community to read and understand. Thanks to Dr. Burke for this thorough explanation for our community.
Pete Diklich passed your email to me with questions about YHS construction. Thanks for your inquiry. Please feel free to post this on your blog site. What follows covers more that what you requested, but I believe contextual information is important when considering issues surrounding growth and school construction.
First, the school construction formula used by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is based upon “unhoused” students determined by a so-called cohort survival method. Basically, this means that when a school district requests matching funds from the state, officials at OSPI look at the cohort survival number for Yelm,
determine a number for unhoused students, and then calculate how much of the square footage in the proposed building will be matched by state monies. Roughly, the state now funds one-third of projects and local taxpayers pay two-thirds. For the YHS project the total costs of construction are approximately $31,000,000 of which just over $13,000,000 is paid by the state through the match.
The big problem is that the state formula really is much more aligned to a “let’s-count-who-is-here-today” concept than to a projected growth model. Consequently, growing communities like Yelm are always behind when it comes to housing students. For the YHS project, state match was determined in August of 2004, meaning that the funding formula was fixed before a shovel was turned on the construction site. Also, the state approved both Ridgeline Middle School and Yelm High School for matching monies, but only with cohort numbers for grades 7 – 9 and 10 – 12. Basically, this meant that we originally qualified for match on a 1270 student high school (the 1200 figure quoted in the newspaper was understated–my error), even though, when we open YHS this fall, the enrollment picture will be much different than it was in 2004. All of this explains why, in Washington, it is common for new schools to open with portable classrooms.
To counteract problems with inadequate state enrollment projections, and to prepare for future growth, we emphasized infrastructure and common spaces in the YHS project. The gyms, commons (lunchroom), and performing arts center are meant to accommodate up to 2000 students. We didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of 30 years ago when common spaces at the current YHS were built for 700 students and quickly became overcrowded when more and more students came to the school. In this project, we planned for fewer classrooms knowing that we can use our existing stock of portables to provide classroom space. We also have built portable pads that, for now, can be used to install more portables, and, in the future, can provide space to build a new, two-story classroom unit if and when a future bond is passed by taxpayers.
Assuming that current growth rates remain constant over the next three years, we should be able to accommodate student growth K-12 with our current facilities, current portables, and perhaps the purchase of more portables. (For your information, a double classroom portable unit typically costs approximately $100,000 installed. Most of the money for portable purchases comes from mitigation fees collected from developers, now $2650 per home.)
Certainly, assuming that Yelm keeps growing, we will need to ask the voters to approve a school construction bond sometime between 2009 and 2013. That request will come at the time that the school board decides that the pace of growth, the state calculation of unhoused students (and therefore the potential amount of state match money available), and overcrowded conditions create a situation where the community can and will support new taxes for new schools.