This June the Leavenworth Unified School District will be seeking the community’s consideration of a no tax-increase bond issue of $36.7 million for facility improvements. The proposal that will be put forth to registered voters (May 25 ballots mailed, due June 15) was developed in collaboration with school families, staff members, district leadership, and representatives from the community-at-large. While the primary needs addressed through this bond issue would help to relieve capacity issues at multiple school buildings, we are also confident that this would improve safety and security throughout the district, enhance the teaching and learning environment for our students, and provide long-term boundary stabilization. The decision to move forward with a bond issue was not taken lightly, and neither was the number of options that were discussed and evaluated prior to making a final recommendation.
The scope of the proposed bond includes:
- Earl Lawson Elementary School: Conversion to a modernized Early Childhood Center for our Pre-K and Kindergarten students, with a sustained focus on active learning spaces and Kindergarten Readiness.
- Anthony, David Brewer, and Henry Leavenworth Elementary Schools: Educational collaboration space renovations and capital improvements.
- Richard Warren Middle School: Additions and renovations to convert the building to a fifth – eighth grade center (including storm shelters), with fifth and sixth grade students in a new, dedicated area; leaving the current space for our seventh and eighth grade student population.
- Leavenworth High School: Addition of a new secure entry and welcome center, collaboration space renovation, and other capital improvements.
Throughout the last several years, we have been watching closely as our student population has drifted to the far southwest of our district boundary. In January 2014, the district completed a Long Range Facilities Plan as a way to assess enrollment trends and facility usage. Since then, there has been a steady decline in the number of residential rooftops in the Earl Lawson Elementary attendance area, and an increase of homes within the Henry Leavenworth Elementary attendance area. From an ideal educational design capacity, Henry Leavenworth is occupied at a 131% rate (568 students); with Lawson occupied at an 82% rate (270 students). Anthony Elementary and David Brewer Elementary operate between 91-94% of educational design capacity. These conditions limit our ability to simply move students or shift grade levels within existing facilities without the risk of increased class sizes. Class sizes are higher at Henry (and also David Brewer and Anthony) than they are at Earl Lawson, as are traffic conditions during the start and end of the school day at those locations. Additionally, Henry Leavenworth does not offer Pre-K services due to a lack of space in the building.
Richard Warren Middle School was untouched during the last bond issue passed in 2008, and remains in need of a storm shelter. In the summer of 2014, classrooms were added in open spaces at Warren to accommodate the addition of 6th grade students. Similar to Henry Leavenworth, the middle school is operating over an ideal education capacity (128% of capacity; 704 students).
In August 2018, the Leavenworth Board of Education approved the district to consult with the DLR Group, an architectural design firm that specializes in K-12 educational facilities, to assess facility needs of the entire district, and to engage community members, staff, school leaders, and board members in thoughtful discussions related to this topic. This work included physical site assessments and review of historic student enrollment trends. During this process, the district has maintained a desire to remain within the community’s current investment in educational facilities, rather than explore any options that would result in increased local taxes. A visioning process was conducted with groups of community members, site council participants, business owners, staff, and building administration who agreed upon the following priorities: fiscally responsible solutions; kindergarten readiness; strengthened relationships at the middle secondary; address overcrowding issues and equalize classroom sizes; and create collaborative learning spaces.
One of the ideas that was conceived and explored thru stakeholder meetings, is an expansion project that would add on to the Warren campus to serve the educational needs of the district’s 5th and 6th graders, leaving the current space dedicated to 7th and 8th grade programming. The four grades would realize efficiencies by sharing a kitchen and various support services. Removing 5th grades from the elementary schools would provide relief, specifically at Henry Leavenworth, David Brewer, and Anthony Elementary.
The idea of an Early Childhood Center also emerged through the visioning process. The purpose of this facility would be dedicated to Pre-K and Kindergarten students, with a sustained focus on Kindergarten Readiness. In Leavenworth, like many area schools, not all of our students arrive on campus with the same social, emotional, or academic skill sets. An Early Childhood Center would allow flexible programming and student groupings to deliver services specific to the individual needs of our youngest students, and best prepare them for success as they move on to first grade and beyond. The Board of Education reviewed a number of potential sites for the construction of such a facility, but ultimately preferred the option to renovate Lawson Elementary to serve as this location. This would mean that future Lawson 1st thru 4th graders would be redistributed to the three remaining elementary schools.
Concurrently, district leadership has also worked to identify and assess potential cost-neutral solutions to address our demographic shift and capacity issues, by re-drawing the boundaries of the district’s four elementary buildings. In Spring of 2017, our Board of Education convened a work session specific to the topic of elementary boundary adjustments. While no specific redistricting plan has been formalized or approved to date, this is the likely outcome if the community does not support the proposed bond issue. In short, USD 453 would reduce the footprint of the Henry Leavenworth Elementary (to net less students), and enlarge the boundary for Earl Lawson Elementary (to gain more students). Currently enrolled students would be ‘grandfathered’ to allow them to remain in the elementary school where they were initially enrolled, however, younger siblings who are not yet school age would be impacted based on adjusted boundaries conditions at the time of their future enrollment.
A boundary adjustment would likely be phased in, meaning that the elementary schools would take several years to be right-sized. However, this action alone would not address any of the safety and capacity issues at Richard Warren Middle School. The district is also mindful that while redistricting the four elementary schools is a viable option, it could cause dissatisfaction and disruption for those families who feel negatively impacted by future changes.
As stated previously, the district’s goal is that any recommended action would not result in increased local taxes. Our students deserve to receive the best education possible in safe and secure facilities that accommodate next generation learning. Consideration of the proposed solutions and enhancements in this bond issue could provide a reason for individuals to choose to move to our community to raise their children, while providing long-term boundary stabilization to existing families without increasing their tax load.
Decisions related to the investment of local tax dollars are not taken lightly, and we remain grateful and appreciative for the ongoing support of public education and consideration of our students and staff. Community members are encouraged to inform themselves on this issue by contacting our office to request a facility tour, ask questions related to the proposed bond issue, or visit our web site www.usd453.org
and Facebook page “Leavenworth USD 453.” Regardless of final outcomes, we welcome the continued community conversation as it relates to preparing our students for success in every classroom, every day.
With Pioneer Pride,
Superintendent of Schools