Kent city, school officials meet to discuss community issues

Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts, left, and Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke

In hopes of working together to better serve the community, the Kent City Council and Kent School Board met last week in the first of what officials hope will become regular meetings.

City Council President Bill Boyce, who served 17 years on the school board before joining the council in 2012, said the council and school board got together once about 10 years ago but have not met regularly.

“I would like us to do this twice a year where we get together and stick together and start building that relationship,” Boyce said. “We would like to have that relationship already built and not just when we need something from each other.”

Topics at the March 29 meeting included a new elementary school in the Kent Valley, parking issues at several elementary schools, marijuana, strategic plans for the city and school district and immigration/refugee issues.

New elementary school in the valley

Voters in the Kent School District last November approved a $252 million bond measure which includes the construction of two elementary schools.

The first is a new Covington Elementary School to replace the aging existing building at 17070 SE Wax Road. Groundbreaking on the new facility, near 156th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 256th Street, is set for May 5, Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts said.

The second is an additional elementary school to help accommodate the growing population in the Kent Valley, which could open by 2022. While a site has not been selected, school district officials hope to break ground in the next couple of years.

Two of the sites under consideration are the Kent Valley Early Learning Center, formerly Kent Elementary, at 317 Fourth Ave. S., and Kent Mountain View Academy, 22420 Military Road South in SeaTac – a choice school serving students in third through 12th grade.

“The sites currently have programs that are operating to support the needs of our students,” Watts said. “Relocating those programs are a consideration.”

The district is also looking at other properties in the area, although no specific sites were named.

“Kent School District will continue to explore in the next six months to nine months other potential sites in the valley, and those are very limited as we know we are landlocked in many areas,” Watts said. “While we have typically used a one-story model to build that takes a great deal of land typically 6 to 10 acres. We are now even considering building up which would take fewer acres.”

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke asked the district to look at including a community space in the new school. The Kent Parks Community Center is housed in the Kent Phoenix Academy on the East Hill.

“With what is happening so rapidly within our society with the need for adult learning that we not exclude that component as well I think there is pent up demand within many of our adults of this community to have a safe place for them to learn more whether it is about culture or computers or whatever,” Cooke said.

Parking problems at schools

As more parents choose to drive their children to schools, parking has become an issue at several of the district’s elementary schools.

The city has been contacted about parking problems at several schools, including Daniel, East Hill, Martin Sortun, Sunrise, Neely-O’Brien and Springbrook elementaries, said Kelly Peterson, a special projects manager for Kent’s Public Works Department.

Elementary students who live within 1.25 miles of their school are not provided transportation.

“It is quite a distance, so sometimes parents have some concerns with their students getting to school, so we believe as a result of that we are starting to see more parents drive their students to school,” Peterson said.

At the March 29 meeting, Peter addressed the situations at Panther Lake Elementary, 10200 SE 216th St., and Soos Creek Elementary, 2651 SE 218th Place.

“The interesting thing that happens here is about 25 minutes, 30 minutes before the p.m. school bell, this parking lot fills up,” Peterson said about Panther Lake. “After the parking lot fills up with parent waiting to pick up their students, the parents will stop in the westbound lane (of 216th Street) and they will line up for quite a period of time.”

There are similar concerns at Soos Creek.

“If we have an emergency situation wether it is at the school, whether it is at the neighborhood – could be police, could be fire, could be medical, it is a concern,” Peterson said. “We have an issue here that we need to figure out.”

Parking used to be an issue at Daniel Elementary, 11310 SE 248th St., Peterson said.

“In this particular case we have a church to the east and a church to the west, so rather than have all the students come in here, he (Kent Police Sgt. Mike Schanbacher) said let’s work with the principal to try and talk to the churches and say, ‘Hey all the parents that are going this direction can they queue up here?’ and they said yes,” Peterson said. “On this side, everybody going to the west, can they queue up there? Right now that problem is solved.”

Councilwoman Tina Budell suggested have students walk in supervised groups to churches near Panther Lake Elementary where their parents would be waiting to pick them up.

“Instead of having 300 cars in and out of that school, stage them in different areas and have kids walk and let them learn that you don’t walk in an unmarked area for your safety because you are going to get hit by a bus,” Budell said.

Marijuana challenges

Since Washington state voters made it legal in 2012 for adults 21 and older to purchase recreational marijuana, schools face new challenges dealing with the perception of the drug.

“We have not seen any major spikes of what would be considered negative impact,” Watts said. “We have seen an uptick in bringing marijuana paraphernalia to our schools in the form of candy, brownies and cookies and that is obviously coming from home.”

The city of Kent has a ban against the sale and production of recreational and medical marijuana, but it is sold legally in bordering cities.

Coucilwoman Dana Ralph, who is also chair of the Kent Drug Free Coalition, said educating youth about dangers of marijuana is paramount.

“We legalized marijuana and we saw it on the news everyday as a really good thing and you saw at Hempfsest officers passing out Doritos and everyone having a good time,” she said. “In the data I have been able to look at that has transferred to our students. Take away the stigma and it now becomes an acceptable piece of our culture.”

The coalition has grant money for education program but it is difficult to get in the schools.

“We struggle with finding building principals that are willing to have the programs, teachers having the time to take the training,” she said. “We would love to expand that relationship. This is one of those rare cases where I can say there is some money available and we would love to spend it.”

Councilman Jim Berrios said the community needs to come together on the education piece.

“What are we doing from an education standpoint to really address that?” he said. “I think we have an opportunity not just to put the burden on the schools but to work together and do a better job of educating. Like a drum beat you’re hearing it at the schools, you’re hearing it outside of the schools in our parks or wherever.”

School board member Russ Hanscom said he thinks it will only be a matter of time before the City Council will change its stance on the sale of marijuana in the city.

“Looking at the whole picture the city is giving plenty of revenue to the surrounding cities,” he said. “I think there is a real opportunity to legalize it in the city as far as the sale and take the opportunity to really educate our youth. We know their brains aren’t done developing until they are 25 years old and marijuana can severely impair development of the brain.”