Mount Si as mega-school? Coalition fights school building options
By ALLISON ESPIRITU
Snoqualmie Valley Record Reporter
November 23, 2009 · Updated 1:34 PM
Former State Rep. candidate David Spring is gathering signatures in opposition to two long-term building plans in the Snoqualmie Valley School District.
Spring, a North Bend resident and director of the Fair School Funding Coalition, recently began circulating a petition against the two future models in the school district’s Long Term Facilities Plan.
A volunteer committee recently narrowed future building options down to two choices for consideration by the Snoqualmie Valley School Board. Options that made the cut included expanding Mount Si High School and creating a satellite high school campus at Snoqualmie Middle School.
Spring’s Fair School Funding Coalition began last summer as an effort to get national-average levels of school funding in Washington. The group weighed in against the district’s facilities options, claiming that they would be too costly and could impact students’ social learning. The coalition supports building a second high school in Snoqualmie.
Spring claims the current approach creates a mega-sized high school in the district. He said mega-schools were popular in the 1970s, but research showed that graduation rates in such schools plummeted compared to smaller schools, while crime, discipline problems and drop-out rates increased.
Basing their preferred choice on social connections, the coalition’s stance is that students in large schools don’t make the close-knit relationships found in a smaller school setting.
Spring said he was considered a radical by some for advocating a national-average student population, about 1,000 students, at Mount Si. He wants Snoqualmie Valley students to have the same experience as other students in the nation.
Expanding the capacity of Mount Si will not directly impact the student-teacher ratios, as those are determined by the number of students enrolled in school.
So, would Mount Si be a mega-school?
“Some believe that anything over a 500-student high school has been defined as ‘mega,’” said Don McConkey, a district assistant superintendent and chairman of the Long Term Facilities planning committee. “Yet, we know that, across the country, there are high schools with enrollments that exceed 2000 or more students.”
The expansion model for Mount Si High School is projected to add between 29 and 33 additional classrooms which would add capacity for another 800 to 900 students. Currently the capacity of the school is approximately 1,760 students. The expansion would increase the capacity to approximately 2,500 students.
Added capacity allows Mount Si High School to expand and add programs for students, McConkey said.
To Spring, several consecutive bond failures at the polls in recent years are due to the way the proposed new high school was designed.
“There was a tremendous opposition to a second stadium,” Spring said. He said many residents who spoke to him favored sharing a stadium with the existing high school.
“They were never given that option,” he said. “They wanted a middle-of-the-road high school that you add onto later.”
Besides unfavorable comments for athletic complexes at two high schools, district feedback from the community on why the 2006-2007 bond for a second high school did not pass included the overall cost of the bond, that two high schools would divide the community and uncertainty on where the high school would be located.
Including the cost of a remodel and expansion, upgrades to Mount Si would top out at about $100 million. Remodeling is a must to expand the building, McConkey said.
It would cost at least that much to construct a new high school, not including a land purchase. Operating costs for a new high school would also weigh heavily on the district’s budget, he said.
According to the coalition, a two-high-schools option is better socially and financially.
Spring raised concerns about costs of expansion in the high school’s current site, which is in the Snoqualmie River flood plain.
McConkey said the remodel would include raising a portion of Mount Si out of the floodway. The expansion would add a second story to the existing building, primarily staying within the current footprint of Mount Si.
Spring said the coalition, now about 1,000 members strong, plans to double in size in the months before the board makes a decision on construction.
Spring’s petition effort is aimed at getting school board members to consider his issues — and reconsider the current options.
“When you have a highly organized group of people like this, it will simply go down to defeat,” Spring said.Contact Snoqualmie Valley Record Reporter Allison Espiritu at aespiritu@valleyrecord,com or 425-888-2311.