Second high school could be back on South Kitsap’s table

South Kitsap School District superintendent Michelle Reid told the audience at Thursday’s Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce luncheon that it is “time” for a second high school. - File Photo

The construction of a second high school is once again on the agenda for the South Kitsap School District.

Superintendent Michelle Reid revealed that during her presentation Thursday at the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce luncheon at McCormick Woods.

Kt Arthur, a local real-estate agent, posed the question about the possibility of building another high school. South Kitsap, which has more than 1,900 students, is the largest high school in the state.

Arthur told Reid that she pulled her children out of SKHS years ago because of its size.

Reid responded that the district’s “long-range capital facilities committee” likely will recommend that SKSD place a bond issue before voters to construct a new high school. The last time the district did that was 2007. At that time, district officials asked for a $163.2 million capital-facilities bond that would have paid for a new high school, rebuilt South Colby Elementary and improved technology infrastructure, roofing, heating and cooling systems, and physical education and athletic programs. It failed by about eight-percentage points of the required 60 percent to pass.

“I think we have to go bold and go do it,” said Reid, adding that the neighboring Peninsula School District has two high schools even though its district-wide student enrollment is 1,000 less than SKSD. “It’s time.”

Just not as bold as eight years ago.

Reid believes the figure then was too much for locals. She estimated that a new capital-facilities bond in the coming years could be in the $95 million range to construct a new high school on the 56-acre plot near the intersection of Old Clifton and Feigley roads that was purchased in 2003.

REID’S ACADEMIC INITIATIVES

While a new high school is a future prospect, Reid also discussed several academic initiatives that are underway. Reid, who earned her bachelor’s degree in natural science/chemistry in 1980 from the University of Puget Sound, spent 28 years in various teaching and administrative roles in the Port Angeles School District before she was hired July 1, 2013, to lead SKSD. Upon her hiring, Reid used her analytical background to review statistical data within the district — and noticed some negative trends.

According to Reid, 60 percent of high-school graduates in Washington “successfully enter post-secondary education,” which she said means being “career and college ready.” She said SKSD’s average was 46 percent upon her arrival and has increased to 51 percent. For the Class of 2020, Reid wants that number at 80 percent.

That meant making strategic changes within the district. According to research she has read, Reid said eighth-grade students who take Algebra are “twice as likely” to attend college as those who do not. In an effort to encourage that, seventh-graders now can take Algebra.

In addition to that, SKSD has increased the number of Advanced Placement courses offered. In September, South Kitsap High School added 13 Advanced Placement courses, while the district’s junior highs now offer Advanced Placement Human Geography and Environmental Science for freshmen. Reid said the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses in the district has increased to 1,055 this school year from 377 in 2013-14.

“We’re encouraging students to step up,” she said. “We want them to be amazing future leaders.”

Reid said the district must continue to evolve for that to occur. In an effort to guide that process, Reid posted a questionnaire during the winter through a Thoughtexchange survey on SKSD’s website. Through that, Reid said 3,319 participants contributed 8,978 thoughts and provided 192,961 priorities. She said participation was led by parents (42 percent), followed by students (35), staff (19), community (3) and others (1).

She said one of the most significant positive takeaways was the participants feelings toward the district’s staff.

“That makes me feel really proud,” Reid said.

It also highlighted areas where SKSD can improve. Reid said many expressed frustration about scheduling conflicts, where students might have to forego taking a preferred elective because they must take a class to meet graduation requirements. Reid said the district will work on those issues.

Reid said school safety was another concern, which she believes stems from several highly publicized school shootings during the last several years.

“At times, we are such a welcoming school district,” she said. “I think there are some concerns that we are too accessible.”

ADDRESSING CONCERNS

Other significant concerns were related to class size and the condition of schools. Reid believes the former issue will be somewhat mitigated by the district’s Boundary Review Committee, which last month proposed to shift some elementary and junior-high students for the 2015-16 school year, which interim assistant superintendent Bev Cheney said was designed to address “enrollment imbalance.” Those recommendations will go to the school board for approval May 5.

The subject of school condition might be a greater challenge. East Port Orchard Elementary, which reopened in 1991, is the newest building in SKSD. In September 2012, the district had a building condition assessment completed by the Education Service District 112 Construction Services Group, which is required every six years by the state. SKSD’s average building score was 58.74. According to the assessment paperwork, a new building rated excellent receives a score of 100. A rating of 60 is regarded as fair, while 30 or less is poor.

“We’ve spent a lot of money maintaining buildings because they’re so old,” Reid said.

And not just the structures.

“We just replaced the dishwasher at Olalla Elementary School that was 47 years old — and we bought it used,” Reid said.

She said the district has made significant progress in other areas since her arrival. Reid said some of the aforementioned academic initiatives, along with others such as adding free, all-day kindergarten throughout the district by the 2016-17 school year, have helped reverse some negative enrollment trends. Reid said SKSD’s enrollment gains from 2013-14 were the first in 16 years.

Tracy Patterson, assistant superintendent for business and operations, said the district receives about $5,700 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student in state funding. SKSD had 8,458.71 FTE enrolled through March.

Patterson also said in March that district officials have a “target” of $8.9 million for that account when SKSD’s financial year ends Aug. 31.

The district has not had that large of a fund balance since it was more than $8.6 million in 2009-10. But that number decreased to about $4.9 million in 2012-13, which led Reid to consult with Debra Aungst, a former Puyallup School District administrator, to perform a review of SKSD’s finances in August 2013.

Aungst’s report stated that the district’s “current financial condition clearly calls for immediate attention.” She was referring to a specific category state education officials use to measure each district’s financial health. Using the state’s matrix, SKSD was three steps away from a financial warning. Among the state’s 295 school districts, 270 were in better financial shape than SKSD.

“I think that was our darkest time,” Reid said. “A great deal of our financial issues were related to enrollment.”

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