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Mercer Island School Board and legislators commiserate on school funding, 2011 Legislative session

The Mercer Island School District Board of Directors held their annual session with 41st District Legislators to discuss the coming session and the need for increasing funding for education.

Senator Randy Gordon, in the Senate race too close to call with Steve Litzow, were both present at the meeting along with representatives Marcie Maxwell and Judy Clibborn. They all seemed to agree that the legislative session will be "triage" for education.

School Board member Pat Braman described the meeting with the legislators as "depressing." Braman and superintendent Gary Plano are considering with getting a regional discussion going with King and Pierce County School board directors to create a collective voice with a statement to legislators.

"Things will be done in this session that will be painful," Gordon said. He also expressed concern for how to fund early childhood education, community colleges and the University of Washington.

With the impressive amount of money brought in by the Mercer Island School Foundation and the local PTA, the district has been able to fund projects that otherwise would not have survived. Between the annual phone-a-thon, community and business leader's breakfast and the "Bridge the Gap" drive last year, $1.5 million was raised for Mercer Island schools.

Susan Hamp, a music teacher at Island Park Elementary said money from the Bridge the Gap campaign made a huge difference in the classroom.

Yet, despite the influx of cash from the community through the Schools Foundation, the district faces challenges regarding cuts and allocating scarcer resources.

"We're very concerned with equity," said school board president Adair Dingle. "Different parts of the district have different needs. "

The district also wants to keep an amount of money in reserve.

Beyond the funds needed to operate schools, the school board is looking ahead to building new schools.

Demographic trends and projections point to the possible need for another elementary school on the Island perhaps as soon as two years. Estimates show that by 2020 the Islands schools will need to house 4,800 students up from 4200 this year.

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