Schools vote set for April

The Mercer Island School District will go to voters in April to ask for millions of dollars to rebuild the Island’s crowded and aging schools.

But before the School Board has decided what amount is needed for the issue, it decided when it will send the vote to Islanders.

The first step was to settle on the date. The choices were February, April, August or November.

The board voted 4 to 1 to set the time for April 17 for the vote. Dave Myerson voted no, saying the board was not ready to make the timing decision.

Timing is crucial to both establishing the intent and ensuring passage of the bonds.

Trevor Carlson with Seattle-Northwest Securities, an underwriter who specializes in school bond issues, spoke to the board about the efficacy of the election dates available.

Statewide data suggests that the earlier in the year a vote occurs, the better the chances that the measure will pass, Carlson said. However, Mercer Island voters — with just a few exceptions — have passed similar funding measures regardless.

The environment for selling bonds at this point in time is advantageous, Carlson and schools finance director Dean Mack said.

“Interest rates are low and the bidding will be competitive.”

The amount of the bonds, to be acquired over a period of five to seven years, is expected to range between $100 and $200 million.

The bonds will be specifically for the construction of new education facilities.

Discussions to embark on a large-scale effort to revamp both teaching and the physical setting for learning in Island public schools began more than two years ago. The School Board and Superintendent Gary Plano began a process to establish what students will need to be successful in the coming decades. Named the “2020 Vision,” the board put together a list of not only what skills and knowledge will be required, but also what kinds of tools and facilities the school district will need to provide for students to meet those goals. The board summarized these goals under the “2020 Vision” banner as “Successfully preparing students for cognitive, global and digital world.”

Next, the board and staff studied the shift from declining enrollment growth assumed 10 years ago, to an expectation of more students coming over the next several years. The growing number of students has already led to overcrowding. More than 600 students are now housed in portables. Most dramatic is the number of students at West Mercer Elementary housed in portable buildings. That school, along with Islander Middle School, now holds three lunch periods.

Finally, the school district asked members of the community with expertise in many areas to evaluate these needs and goals within the context of existing resources in the school district. Named the 21st Century Schools Committee, they have come up with several options for the School Board to consider in the next several weeks and months to establish how district facilities will be changed, rebuilt and phased in, and at what cost. The School Board has set several meetings over the next several weeks to finalize the amount to be placed on the April 17 ballot.

School Board president Pat Braman said the amount of the bonds will be set by the end of January.


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