Divided school board approves freshman campus
March 9, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
The Snoqualmie Valley School Board approved on a split vote the 2013 creation of a freshman learning center on the campus of Snoqualmie Middle School.
In a March 8 meeting as long as it was contentious, the five-member board also voted 5-0 to return a bond measure to a ballot no later than February 2013. The bond would pay for a new middle school.
Nevertheless, the school board’s 3-2 decision on the freshman campus means that for at least two years, the district will have two middle schools.
If the February 2013 bond passes, the new Snoqualmie Middle School would open in 2015.
Parents and teachers packed the Snoqualmie Valley School Districts offices and seemed as split on the issue as the board members themselves.
In an hourlong session before the official meeting, the community spoke with equal passion in favor and against the board’s idea. (See sidebar.)
Then, during the meeting, the temperature rose as school board members clung to their points of view, eliciting cheers and jeers from the crowd.
“If you have a sixth grader at SMS,” said board member Geoff Doy, one of the two ‘no’ votes, “you will change schools four times over five years.”
Carolyn Simpson, the other ‘no’ vote, said the board should spend more time talking to the community.
“I’ve been here 10-and-a-half years, and this is by far the most important decision I have seen this board make,” she said. “We need to dot our i’s and cross our t’s.”
Board President Dan Popp said the school board had already done that.
“Is it optimal?” he asked. “No. But I have sufficient information.”
Simpson retorted, “I’m glad you have sufficient information. I do not.”
Simpson and Doy said they liked the freshman campus concept, but objected to two middle schools with 700-plus students each.
Popp noted that all five board members had said they liked a freshman campus. He then asked what was needed to make it a reality.
Doy said, “a third middle school.”
Popp asked Doy if it was needed before a freshman campus opened. When Doy said yes, Popp said, “That just overwhelms me.”
School board member Marci Busby said she supported the freshman learning center and trusted that education would not plummet for the two years that the district would have two middle schools.
“Chief Kanim and Twin Falls are excellent schools,” she said. “I don’t think they will stop preparing students for high school.”
Busby said the district should not wait in making a decision. Board member Scott Hodgins agreed.
“Can we wait three years to improve high school education?” Hodgins asked.
Valley Superintendent of Schools Joel Aune said the district would do well with two middle schools.
“We have the staff, and we have the leadership to make it go,” he said.
During the meeting, Mount Si High School Principal John Belcher defended the creation of the center, saying that many of the things people feared about it would not occur.
“One of the things I’ve heard is that we won’t offer world languages,” he said. “That’s just not factual.”
The freshman learning center would aid the social development of middle-schoolers, he added.
“Right now, students go from big-dog-on-campus to invisible,” he said. “With the freshman center, they would then go from big-dog-on-campus to very-big-dog, and we can’t do that in the current format.”
Just before the vote, Simpson cited the information Belcher and district finances director Ryan Stokes offered as a reason to wait on creating the freshman campus.
She termed receiving new information at 6 p.m. and voting on it at 11 p.m. highly inappropriate, noting how the vote on it may affect thousands of children.
Popp replied he did not want to wait. He added he did not believe waiting any longer would change Simpson’s mind.
“I don’t want to wait, not because I’m being disrespectful,” he said. “I just don’t think you would ever move forward.”
At 11:50 p.m., the board cast its votes, unanimous on the new middle school, divided on the freshman learning center.
The long discussion and vote had done little to calm the waters, though. “I still have more questions,” Simpson said. “And the public deserves to have these questions answered.”
Others had no questions in their minds as to what had happened.
“Your headline needs to read, ‘School board goes against the public sentiment of three middle schools and a freshman campus in favor of two large middle schools,’” SMS parent Sal Passantino said. “We are all in favor of a freshman campus, but at what expense?”