Four-year-old Raiden Komardley is just learning what it means to be a student.
Raiden and his Head Start classmates start their day a half-hour before students at Thorndyke Elementary School, with a breakfast and, if necessary, a quick check of their blood-sugar levels.
Their future and the future of Tukwila’s roughly 3,000 students are at the heart of a critical election Feb. 9 to prepare Raiden and his classmates – and thousands of Tukwila’s kids – to take on the 21st century.
“You have an opportunity to really address the needs of every single family and child,” said Supt. Nancy Coogan. “And that’s what we aim to do with this bond and levies.”
Before Tukwila’s voters are three issues.
• A $99 million bond measure will build an early learning center for kids such as Raiden that will house the district’s preschool programs and all kindergartens and additions at Showalter Middle School and Foster High School for STEAM programs. There are millions of dollars for deferred maintenance throughout the district.
• The renewal of the four-year School Programs and Operations Levy would raise roughly $12 million in each year to cover the cost of school operations not paid for by the state.
• The renewal of the four-year Technology Levy will raise about $890,000 each year to upgrade and modernize the laptops students need to learn how to work in a 21st century economy.
Because the levies are renewals and the bond replaces an existing one, the school district estimates that the average levy rate that determines the property tax that property owners pay specifically for schools will not increase.
In more general terms, the measures add much-needed classroom space at all schools, improve school safety and ensure that the day-to-day operations of the school district don’t suffer.
No one wrote opposition statements to the three proposals for the election Voters Pamphlet.
There are no “bells and whistles,” in the proposal, says Supt. Nancy Coogan. In deciding how to spend the money, district officials, including the School Board, and a community-wide committee kept in mind that many Tukwila residents struggle to meet their own day-to-day needs.
“We have a community that doesn’t have a lot of dollars but they believe in education so strongly,” said Coogan. “So we need to make sure what we are asking for is essential and it also propels their students toward the futures that they want. Because that’s why they are here. That is why everybody is here.”
Tukwila’s voters were last asked to approve a facility bond measure in 1998, one for $23.5 million that was the last in a series of bond measures used to renovate schools.
In those roughly 20 years, the needs of Tukwila’s increasingly diverse families have changed dramatically, Coogan said.
“Looking at each individual family, how do we make sure that every child is prepared for kindergarten?” she asks. “How do we make sure that they have access to high-quality instruction in every classroom, every day.”
Besides bringing preschoolers and kindergartners together in a center specifically built and designed for their needs, the Birth to Five Center will open up classroom space at the district’s three crowded elementary school.
The district and community committee considered building a fourth elementary school, but that was more expensive than a learning center and finding land for one was an issue.
A location for the new early learning center hasn’t been found, but Judith Berry, the school district’s interim assistant superintendent of finance and operations, is working on different options.
Coogan can visualize places where the district could build an early learning center, preferably one near as many of Tukwila’s schools as possible, including Foster.
Tukwila Village or somewhere near it is a “logical place,” because she sees the “beauty” of the city’s senior citizens living in housing at Tukwila Village teaching the city’s youngest generation to read.
The King County Library System is building a new Tukwila Library at Tukwila Village, but the current library is too small for an early learning center – although Coogan says it’s a perfect spot for a center to welcome new families to Tukwila, in conjunction with the city.
Land also will become available on Tukwila International Boulevard once four motels are torn down. The city of Tukwila has its eye on that land, perhaps for a new emergency services complex. Coogan says all she wants is a “mere building.” She meets regularly with city officials to discuss such issues.
At the other end of the youthful age spectrum is Tukwila’s middle schoolers and high school students. The bond has something big for them, too.
The levy and bond are “all about services from when they are born until they graduate from high school,” Coogan said.
The bond measure would pay for new STEAM wings at Foster and Showalter, where it would go at Building B. The ideas for Foster’s STEAM wing would use space near the portables or the transportation building. Those decisions will be finalized if the bond is approved.
In any case parking will expand and the athletics fields aren’t affected.
The new STEAM wing also will help Foster’s overcrowding, built for 650 students and now home to about 850 students.
“This is an opportunity to get it right and to make our service to families and children the absolute best, because our goal is to cultivate 21st century leaders,” Coogan said. “That’s kind of what this bond is really about.”
The bond also will provide millions of dollars for what school officials describe as long-overdue maintenance of school district buildings, including the district’s newest, Foster, built in 1992, and Thorndyke and Tukwila elementary schools, built in 2000.
[There’s an extensive list of what’s proposed for each school on the school district’s website]
Liliana Cardenas, the school district’s director of maintenance and operations, recently discussed the maintenance needs at Thorndyke as an example of work planned districtwide.
“We haven’t had major maintenance or repairs in this building at all. There are no funds,” said Cardenas, adding the district has been waiting for the bond measure.
Inside, there is wear and tear on the floors, caused by the footsteps of hundreds of little feet.
On the outside, Cardenas pointed to the rotting siding, likely caused in part by the use of “bad materials” when the school was constructed. Window seals are failing, causing damage to the siding and to the school’s interior.
“I am really worried about water intrusion,” she said.
Similar problems are occurring at Tukwila Elementary and Foster.
Showalter’s fire system needs to be brought up to code and Cascade View needs a new roof, she said.
The district doesn’t have a maintenance cycle, something Cardenas is building. She’s been with the district since July 2014.
“Right now where I am at is crisis mode,” she said, with the district’s money going to address emergencies, such as leaky roofs and fire doors at Foster. “That’s happening all over the schools,” she said.
She wants to stop that.
“I want to do a preventive, where I can have a schedule of work for each building, instead of just reacting to problems,” she said.
The district’s two renewal four-year levies are key to what happens in Tukwila’s classrooms and its general operation and the availability of current technology for students to use.
“If you don’t pass your two levies, the way in which education happens changes immediately,” said Sara Niegowski, the district’s communications director. “To talk about 30 percent of your operations budget going away. What does that look like?”
For example, that money represents about 140 teachers, about half of the district’s teaching force. “It’s not that that’s where we would take it (the cuts),” Niegowski said. “But something has to give,” possibly bigger class size.
The state doesn’t pay anything to support a school district’s technology program, so all that cost is borne by a local community or other sources.
In 2010, when the Tukwila community approved the first technology levy, the district had about 400 “devices,” such as computers. Now that number is about 4,000, Niegowski said.
Jessica Paulsen teaches beginning technology and DigiTools at Showalter Middle School. There are some traditional classroom tools, such as an overhead projector, that she rarely uses.
“A lot of people don’t realize that technology standards all revolve around innovation and collaboration and creativity,” she said. Right now, career-oriented technology is more geared to Microsoft technologies, she said.
Her students are using a program called Tinkercad, which is a 3D design tool.
“We are trying to elevate the level of skill that they are getting and make it more collaborative, more inventive, and get the kids really talking to each other about their ideas,” she said, and then they use the technology to produce something.
“We need more collaborative opportunities and more advanced stations to help them do those things,” she said.
In order for the three measures to be approved, the Tukwila School Dis- trict must meet validation require- ments for turnout and “yes” vote. To validate the bond measure, at least 1,023 voters must cast ballots or 40 percent of the votes cast in the No- vember general election. AND, 614 of those voters must vote yes, which is 60 percent of the validation minimum.
The levies require a simple majority “yes” vote.
The King County Elections Division will mail ballots in the Feb. 9 election on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Voters must ensure their ballots are postmarked on or before Jan. 20. The Elections Division also will have drop-o locations. For more information about the election online, go to www.kingcounty.gov/depts/elections. Election information is also available by calling 206-296-8683.
There is extensive information about the three measures on the Tukwila School District website, www. tukwila.wednet.edu. There’s also explanatory information on the Elections Division website. On the home page, click on “learn about measures on the ballot” in the upper left-hand corner, then scroll down to the Tukwila School District.