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Pressured By Overcrowding And Hungry Crows, Eastside Schools Hope Bond Passes

Students at Margaret Mead Elementary in Sammamish load their lunch trays beneath a canopy of bird netting. The school is so crowded that children line up for lunch outside.
KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld
Students at Margaret Mead Elementary in Sammamish load their lunch trays beneath a canopy of bird netting. The school is so crowded that children line up for lunch outside.

School funding measures tend to pass easily in Seattle.

Not so across the lake, where Lake Washington School District is trying to pass a bond measure – for the fourth time.

At Margaret Mead Elementary in Sammamish, the school is so overcrowded that students eat in their classrooms. They line up for lunch in the school courtyard – not a cafeteria – as crows lurk overhead.

“As you can see here, because it’s a delicious salad bar it’s very attractive to our neighborhood crows and other little animals and birds,” Principal Sandy Klein explains. “So we’ve had to put a crow net because keeping the crows out was almost impossible.”

Klein says students eat in their classrooms because the school has no cafeteria, and the gym is constantly in use by P.E. classes.

It’s just one of the many compromises the school makes to find space for all of these little bodies.

Lake Washington School District includes nearly 28,000 students in Redmond, Kirkland and parts of Sammamish and Bellevue.

The number of students has grown by 15 percent in just the past few years.

Superintendent Traci Pierce says the district’s nearly $400 million bond proposal is critical in order to make room for the huge influx of children.

“We want to provide our students with the learning environments and classroom space that they deserve,” Pierce said.

The bond would pay for three new schools and rebuild and enlarge three more – including Mead Elementary.

“Through this bond measure, we’ll be able to create space for 3,000 students,” she said.

Pierce hopes voters will be more enthusiastic about this plan than they were the last three times the district tried to pass bond measures.

Efforts in 2010 and 2014 fell shy of the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass a bond measure in this state.

So why did Lake Washington fail to pass its school bonds when Seattle easily passes its measures?

Voters on the Eastside tend to be more conservative.

Many considered the last bond measures to be extravagant.

Pierce says another important difference is the background of many of the new families in the area.

“We have high-tech companies in our area that attract people from all over the world,” she said. “They pay property tax, they would like to be able to vote, but they are not citizens so they are not able to.”

In 2014, this district had nearly twice as many non-citizens of voting age as Seattle.

So this year, the district is going to voters with a much smaller bond proposal.

Unlike past measures, this one would not increase the tax rate because it would replace expiring bonds.

But Susan Wilkins, who has four children in the district, is not impressed.

“The idea that 60 percent of this will go to tearing down three schools and then rebuilding them – that will add not a lot of space for the students – is poorly thought-out,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins sat on the task force to plan the latest bond.

“What we really need to do is analyze how many new schools we need to hold all of the students that are arriving and then build those schools,” she said. “After that, then it would make a lot of sense to remodel if funding is available.”

The district says this proposal is the most cost-effective way to increase space for the time being.

But portables will remain at many schools.

To make more room for the growing student population, more bond measures are planned in 2018 – and 2022 – and 2026.

Clarification, 9:35 a.m., 4/18/16: Two bond measures by the Lake Washington School District failed in 2014 and one failed in 2010, making this the district's fourth attempt in recent years. A previous version of this story omitted one attempt.

Year started with KUOW: 2008