News

Most say yes: Build the middle school

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Of the hundred-odd Federal Way voters who attended Monday’s public forum on whether to build the 1999 voter-approved, $17 million bond-funded middle school, the majority had a resounding message: Yes.

And although their tones varied — from outraged and shrill to pleading and soft — most of the approximately 28 speakers argued that the School Board had an obligation to honor voters’ original wish to see the middle school built by September 2005.

Of the handful of speakers who said “no” to the middle school, most argued there’s been insufficient research and urged the board to conduct more fact-finding. Some encouraged the board to postpone the selling of the bonds — and possibly reconsider the final destination of the $17 million.

But the decision date of Feb. 10 is quickly approaching, right on the heels of a Feb. 3 ballot featuring two levies to fund education operations and technology.

While board member Charles Hoff said he supports building the middle school for the slated fall 2005 opening, he added the money would be best spent in creating a specialty school out of the middle school blueprints.

The creation of a K-8 program, a math and science specialty school, a music and arts school or another Public Academy are possibilities he suggested.

“We have to get better at this (educating students) because the state and the feds said so,” Hoff said.

He argued that the district’s six middle schools are ineffective in preparing students to meet government standards, including the WASL.

Pam Glaser, whose 13-year-old attends Public Academy, argued that the projected housing and apartment units slated to be built in the city within the next few years point to the need for a new school.

But, she added, “it doesn’t have to be a traditional school,” espousing Hoff’s specialty schools argument.

While a few parents agreed with Hoff, others criticized him.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, ” Lakeland Elementary mother Jeanette Haffner told Hoff. “K-8 is crazy. Teachers already have enough to deal with.”

Tom O’Brien beseeched the board not to build the school. He said the population projections in the district’s research were incorrect.

“If you don’t need something, don’t do it. Give the taxpayers their money back,” he said.

Board member Earl VanDorien Jr. noted voters in 1999 “said ‘build it,’ so we need to build it.”

He added that although Public Academy is an excellent college prep specialty school –– which his own son attends — he’ll stand with the voters’ wish.

“We need to keep our commitment to Federal Way voters,” VanDorien said.

But to voter Dick Benata, the din and confusion of the clashing board voices was irrelevant. For him, only one person’s opinion mattered: That of Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy.

“The recommendation from me to the board has been to build this new middle school,” Murphy said in response to Benata’s question.

Murphy added that to date, the district had spent at least $1 million in the design of the middle school, intended to support smaller classes which in turn would foster higher academic performance in state and federal tests.

Benata said he heard the answer he wanted to hear. And to him, it was game over.

“The issue is moot,” Benata said, walking out of the auditorium at Saghalie Middle School after listening to Murphy’s statement.

City Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge urged the board to vote to build the middle school.

“I voted for this bond,” Burbidge said. She also said economic development is the key to supporting the new middle school and sustaining the viability of the city.

Board member Evelyn Castellar, who argued in previous board meetings that the board owed it to voters to re-examine the middle school question, was out of the country and unable to attend Monday’s forum.

Board member Bob Millen reiterated his support for the original middle school plan, arguing that he has not yet heard a better alternative for using the bond money.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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