Photo by Shane Harms
Kathi Snyder with son Lewis at NWKC.

Ballard families face trouble finding care after NW Kids Center loses lease

Northwest Kids Center (NWKC), a childcare center proving early learning for children with and without disabilities in Queen Anne, has been told by Seattle School District to vacate their building at 2919 First Ave. W. in six months.

NWKC have been a tenant there at the Seattle Public School property for 28 years, and has had a termination clause in their lease since they moved there in 1987.

SSD will be displacing NWKC in order to provide a building for Cascade Parent Partnership, a SSD program that offers alternative and homeschool teaching strategies for children with learning disabilities and other learning needs. Students enroll in CPP are counted in the enrollment report that determines educational funding from the State and are eventually enrolled into SPS high schools. The program currently uses the Wilson Pacific building in Licton Springs, but the building will be torn down in order to make a new school that will better accommodates SPS’s growing needs.

CPP principle, Treena Sterk, said that the Queen Anne location will be a good fit for their program’s needs. Sterk said that although CPP the enrollment does not all meet at the same time, the Queen Anne building will provide the space and amenities they need, as opposed to other considered options like community centers. She said that most of the students come from the North Seattle area, however some come from the South and Central areas. Moreover, Sterk said some of her students come from the NWKC program and that they have similar caring strategies.

What is NWKC

Originally starting in 1965, NWKC has been called an iconic institution devoted to alternative and thoughtful forms of “all inclusive care” and started by parents who were disappointed with SSD’s policies. They were especially frustrated with SDD not enrolling developmentally disabled children, and so they started their own program to pick up the slack and to also emphasize alternative methods of care.

The Seattle Times reported that the same parents that started the school, lobbied State Reps. to enact the 1971 Education for All Act, which was later adopted into federal law, and requires equal opportunity for enrollment of developmentally disabled students.

“The founders were pioneers. The 60’s were a volatile time and things were changing, and these very loving and active parents took action. They opened a facility that basically cared for children that the Seattle Public School system couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of,” said Tom Everill, president and CEO o f NWKC.

CPP will move their entire enrollment of 184 students to the building as early next school year, but SDD needs NWKC out by June so they can begin making repairs.

“I don’t want to get in the battle of which kids deserve what; they are all our children and they deserve to be taken care of and SDD needs to remember that. …The time they have set for us absurd,” said Everill

Did SDD have plans a year before?

The decision comes as a surprise to Everill. He claims that he was assured by SDD that not only did the District not have any designs on the building, but that there was no money available if they did and it would take at least 18-months to pass a levy to raise the funds for any action. So Everill was assured he would be notified way before any plans for moving would take place.

Moreover, last year NWKC received a $250,000 NAIOP grant, which was put toward renovating the building. A point of contention with Everill is that SDD is reclaiming the school after all these renovations occurred, and that it means less of a financial burden when moving a public school there and may have acted as an incentive to take the school.

SSD Chief Communications Officer, Lesley Rogers said that they had no idea the renovations occurred, and that in the NWKC lease there is a clause that mandates disclosure of any work done to the building. She said there was no notification on behalf of NWKC.

However, from a collection of over 1600 SPS staff emails obtained through a public disclosure action by NWSC parents, there is evidence that SPS staff recommended NWKC as a good candidate for the grant. Moreover, in March of 2013 emails reveal staff members discussing NWKC being considered for the grant and that if they received it that would mean fewer repairs if they take the school back.

Meanwhile, NWKC has six months to find a new location for the center that cares for 110 children. Everill is disappointed and shocked that SSD did not notify him sooner, especially when he had repeatedly asked them to in the years leading up to now. He said that the first notification he received was from Dr. Lester Herndon, SSD Assistant Superintendent, in December. Everill said that Herndon called him after he had realized that SSD staff had not notified Everill of the move. Then in January NWKC received official notification via letter.

Rodgers said that the reason NWKC was not notified until January was because they were waiting for the district growth boundary decisions to be determined.

Furthermore, on Saturday, January 25th, SSD Board member Cheryl Peaslee stated publicly at her constituent meeting that she was surprised that NWKC was just made aware of the termination because they (the District) “had been talking about the this for the past year.”

SSD has offered the Van Asselt building in Beacon Hill as a potential replacement. SPS said that the state department viewed the building to determine child-care licensing recently, and is confident that the licensing process would be streamlined. However, they are still looking for a better replacement.

“SDD has to make decisions with public buildings and we have to make sure students have a safe place to learn. We empathize with families who attend NWKC and know that it’s a tough situation. But, we are still looking for other locations that will satisfy their needs. The superintendent has said to leave no stone unturned and we are trying to create a win win situation. “ said Rogers.

Still, Everill contends that six months is too short of a notice and that as a 28 year tenant and as a program that provides before and after school benefits to the SDD, NWKC should have more time.

“To uproot a community at such short notice is unacceptable. We deserve more,” said Everill.

Trouble for Ballard Parents

More over, parents are deeply concerned with the idea of traveling 10 miles to Beacon Hill. Much of the CWKC parents live in the North Seattle Area, and especially Ballard.

“Parents already have it tough, but the parents of children with disabilities have an especially hard time finding adequate facilities -- and not to mention the financial difficulty they endure,” said Everill.

Kathi Snyder of Ballard sends her one-year-old-son, Lewis, to NWKC and she said that because of high demand for care, parents today face waiting lists for preschool and day care programs that take over a year to even be considered which is hardly enough time for her to find a replacement for Lewis. She said she waited 13 months for her son’s application to be viewed. What’s more is that she works at SPU and does not own a car, and so going all the way to Beacon Hill and back twice a day wont work for her.

Katie Curnutte, also of Ballard, said that she has one son enrolled in the program and is pregnant and expected her second child this month. She said that she too has her unborn child on numerous waiting lists in order to have enough time to even be considered for care when the time comes.

Additionally, Barbara Barrilleaux, also from Ballard, has two children enrolled and said that NWKC is the only program that provides inclusive care where typical children are cared for along side disabled children and that the things they learn from each other are invaluable and unique to NWKC.

“This decisions is counter intuitive to the City’s Preschool For All program. There’s a disconnect in what’s happening and the overall goals of the city,” said Barrilleaux

City's Preschool Plan

Incidently, the SDD decision comes en lieu of a September 2013 resolution for the Preschool For All program, which sets the goals and outlines the City's plan toward making high quality preschool affordable and accessible for all.

The goals are to “achieve positive long-term social / emotional and academic outcomes for children, make the best use of public resources and offer incentives to providers to develop and deliver high-quality programs.”

In the meantime, Everill is trying to start a dialogue with SDD about the timeline.

“I’m really just asking for a conversation so we can sort this out to where everyone wins. So far that has not happened but if we open a meaningful dialogue I know we can figure it out,” said Everill

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