Close The Schools, Dig The Tunnel Redux

As expected, the Seattle School Board rolled over last night and approved the District’s closure plan.  (Mary Bass, who voted against the closure plan and had proposed amendments to keep central cluster schools open, is my new hero.)  As I ranted about before, it is beyond belief that our wealthy, over-educated, politically progressive city continues to be so inept at running the public schools in a way that refects how important they are for livable, sustainable urban communities. 

Completing my thought, Clark at Sightline brilliantly reveals our priorities in the graphic below, which shows the estimated cost of a deep-bore tunnel on the left, and the cost savings associated with the school closure plan on the right:  

      

[ Left bar:  estimated cost of deep-bore tunnel;  Right bar:  savings associated with Seattle school closure plan, via Sightline. ]

16 Responses to “Close The Schools, Dig The Tunnel Redux”

  1. Gary Manca

    This is a useful chart. Of course, many people tell me that these sorts of comparisons are false because the money comes from different places and go into different pots, and the money in those pots can be used only for specific things. In other words, gas-tax money can be used only on roads, not schools. But that line of reasoning obscures the choices we’re making. If the government is taking money out of taxpayers’ wallets for roads, then those wallets are going to have far less money in them when the government comes asking for money for schools. So how will taxpayers react? Feeling their budgets pinched, they’re more likely to say not to tax measures to fund basic education–or transit. The more of our public treasure that we invest in highways, the less we have for other priorities. It’s a shame.

  2. Matt the Engineer

    “gas-tax money can be used only on roads, not schools”

    Under our current state constitution (amendment 18, passed in the 40’s), this is true. But we have a democracy here – there’s no “can’t” in a democracy, there’s just “don’t want to”. Let’s just remove the amendment.

    I don’t know of a better time to remove amendment 18 – our state budget is in crisis mode, yet we have piles of road money we can’t touch. The tunnel wouldn’t help as a stimulus at all since it’s years away – yet we’re eliminating school jobs right now.

  3. reality based commute

    This is a stupid comparison. We are closing schools because our enrollment has gone from 85,000 to around 40,000 in the city in the last ten years. We do need to better fund education and reduce what we spend on roads, agreed. But most Seattleites ignore the state legislature so I don’t know where this magical change of priorities is supposed to come from. This kind of apples and oranges comparison is fine as a Harper’s Index kind of factoid, but nowhere approaches “brilliant”.

  4. dan bertolet

    RBC@3, you’re enrollment numbers are wrong: In 1993 the head count was 44,000, similar to today’s (this is as far back as the online records go). You’d have to go back several decades to see enrollment near 85,000 — it peaked at 99,000 in 1962. No, we are closing schools because our priorities are fucked up. Maybe we should start by asking why enrollment is so low, and why Seattle has among the highest percentage of kids going to private school in the nation? And maybe we should recognize that while the closure plan might save a relatively small amount of money in the short term, it’s overall effect will be to further erode confidence in the Seattle public schools and drive even more families away from them. And maybe the first step in doing a better job with our public schools is to show people how much they cost compared to other expenses, just like that chart does so dramatically.

  5. reality based commute

    I stand corrected on the numbers. I am a parent of two Seattle Schools children and I agree with much of what you say about the schools. I still think we need to close some buildings, but they have handled it very poorly. And I agree that we should fund schools better, far better.

    But this chart doesn’t impress me. You could probably come up with some fantastical number for how much money Seattleites spend on bottled water every year and compare it to the school closures. Would that inform the debate on either school funding or a tunnel?

  6. joshuadf

    DanB is correct, the numbers are at http://www.seattleschools.org/area/siso/enroll/enroll.xml for anyone to look at.

  7. serial catowner

    My dad used to tell me that what Jack told him about Paul told him more about Jack than it did about Paul. I’d have to think this post falls into that category.

    But I’ll take this opportunity to toss this stone into the soup and you can watch it sink without a trace because it’s some kind of new-fangled thinking:

    Schools should be in integrated campuses that provide education for all ages and also include dining facilities for meal programs, libraries, clinics, transit stops, mini police stations, social welfare offices, public restrooms, parks, and low-income housing.

    These campuses should be fairly busy for 18 hours a day and comfortable and safe 24 hours a day. Instead of regarding schools as a sort of prison in which children are segregated from society, schools should be regarded as a core value to which we all return throughout our lives.

    Naturally, you might hope to see some synergy here, with older people helping in the classrooms before dinner, transit serving riders of all ages, and younger people sampling vocational training, such as cooking or facility maintenance, while in high school.

    Almost all of the activities listed are already funded, but geographically dispersed, increasing transportation costs, and located in older buildings that are not energy efficient. And there’s no time like the present! The largest population cohort we’ve ever known is beginning to retire and looking to trade that family lifestyle for some serious empty-nester living.

    You may now resume your regularly scheduled tunnel hating.

  8. Deb Eddy

    There are people on this website that I’d really like to meet. SCO and RBC being two. Good posts.

  9. serial catowner

    Why, thank you, Deb Eddy. An even more sincere form of flattery would be if someone would dreamscape that vision. For some reason, it strikes most everyone as just another impossible dream, but I think we have the technology….

  10. Deb Eddy

    Excellent point. But I’m not at all sure that I’m mentally ready for an avatar … you are talking about the vZone virtual reality, I hope.

  11. joshuadf

    I find your idea very thought-provoking, but am I wrong in thinking that a “campus” describes a complete walkable neighborhood?

  12. dan cortland

    serialc: did you hear Peter Newman’s recent talk at City Hall? He mentioned some ways that Europeans are liberating their children physically and psychologically by getting them out of cars. You might check out his books if you haven’t already. (google “resilient cities” to start.)

  13. GW

    Dan,

    I’m still trying to get a hard number on that private school pullout rate for you, but the original source is keeping mum so far. However, simply from my own anecdotal experience, I can reasonably predict that public school enrollment in Seattle is going to start increasing soon.

    The reason why Seattle has had such a high private school enrollment is not at all mysterious. It’s because the Seattle public schools mostly suck, seeming to be systemically incapable of performing their core mission, and most people who have the choice flee from the public system as they can.

    It’s not a funding issue either. The public school system in Seattle is roughly at parity with private schools for funding levels per student. The problem runs far deeper than just money.

  14. Matt the Engineer

    [GW], Malcom Gladwell has a few ideas about what’s wrong with our schools. The podcast is worth a listen.

    How would I fix our schools? I’d start by listening to [serial], then I’d end summer school (gasp), I’d give children actual textbooks, and I’d work on changing attitudes.

  15. The Deep-Bore Tunnel Is A Done Deal (Just Like The Monorail Was) | hugeasscity

    [...] the record, here’s why whiners like me and McGinn won’t shut up, and aren’t ready to concede that the tunnel is a done [...]

  16. Still Not Digging The Tunnel | citytank

    [...] 01.30.09: Close the Schools, Dig The Tunnel Redux [...]

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