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SPS Project a Model for Developing Community Partnerships
Big dreams, shared visions, and a win-win for Spokane
Kristy Mylroie
Communications Specialist, Spokane PS
Evaluation Criteria: Managing Resources, Engaging Families & Communities
Dare to dream. It’s what we tell our students, but is not as frequently encouraged in principals. And yet, a dream can be a cause to rally around, and a great way to connect with community partners. In 2018, Spokane Public Schools’ dream took the form of a $495.3 million bond, the largest by far in the district’s history. It included building three new middle schools on city-owned property, replacing three existing middle schools, expanding three additional schools, building a multi-use stadium in downtown Spokane, as well as upgrading safety and technology districtwide. The bond relied heavily on a unique partnership with City of Spokane officials. With an eye on future expansion, SPS administrators had long been coveting several vacant properties owned by the city. The Legislature’s lower class size mandate would necessitate a districtwide switch to 6-8 middle schools from the current K-6 elementary and 7-8 middle school configurations. This, in turn, would require building new middle schools. At the same time, City of Spokane officials had been talking about ways to reimagine libraries for the future. When Gavin Cooley, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, learned of the Legislature’s plan to reduce the amount school districts could tax for school levies – and the resulting tax rate drop – he saw an opportunity for the two entities to do something big together. SPS administrators started meeting weekly with city officials for informal talks and wonderings. What if we gave you that property and you gave us something in return? What would a library without books even look like? “We really became like colleagues, though from two different organizations,” said Dr. Mark Anderson, then-associate superintendent for SPS. “As these relationships became more established, we were able to really dream together. What can we do to benefit kids? How can our organizations benefit each other and the community?”
Successful partnerships start with a commitment to each other. It’s not always easy, and it does take time, but the result can bring benefits no one could have predicted.
It’s finding this shared sense of purpose that can really solidify a partnership. As discussions continued, SPS officials realized that in addition to needing three new middle schools, several existing ones needed to be replaced. “Could we really do six middle schools?” Anderson remembers wondering. “With the city, that became doable, as we were able to use each other’s land to save the taxpayers money.” In addition, the new Shaw Middle School now shares a campus with the city’s new Hillyard Library. Shaw’s library is equipped with Spokane Public Library automated book return kiosks, so school librarians can focus more on helping students rather than restocking books. Sharing resources has created unique opportunities and resulted in unexpected dividends for everyone. “We worked together to create a shared goal,” said Anderson. Similarly, relationships with members of the Spokane Public Facilities District (PFD) led to a reimagined plan for a new multi-use stadium in downtown Spokane. The 2018 bond contained a non-binding advisory vote regarding whether to rebuild the stadium on its current site northwest of downtown, or to build a new facility more centrally located in downtown Spokane. At the time, the stadium proposal contained many question marks, so most people voted to rebuild on the existing site. Knowing that the window of opportunity could be reopened with new stadium information, members of the downtown business community came to the SPS School Board in March 2021 with a new proposal that included specific details and benefits to the school district that were not available and/or defined in 2018. Having the PFD operate and run the stadium would capitalize on its experience managing large venues for sports, arts, and entertainment. It also aligned with their mission, saved the taxpayers money, and created a venue for more types of entertainment. After hundreds of emails, several public forums, a ThoughtExchange survey, and many spirited discussions with community members, the School Board decided to build a new stadium downtown. While SPS retains full ownership rights, the PFD is responsible for maintenance and operations costs, in addition to additional building costs beyond what was budgeted for. “Successful partnerships start with a commitment to each other,” said Anderson. “It’s not always easy, and it does take time, but the result can bring benefits no one could have predicted.”
A successful public partnership will enhance the partners’ impact and effectiveness by:
  • Combining resources
  • Combining competencies (strengths, knowledge, expertise)
  • Promoting innovation
  • Building community alliance and trust
  • Shared risk/control/credit
  • Promoting collaboration and communication
(From partnership norms developed by the City of Spokane and Spokane Public Schools.) Questions about the project?
Dr. Mark Anderson Senior Advisor Spokane Public Schools (509) 999-0276 – cell
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Washington Principal | Volume 2– 2021-22