Watershed year for Mercer Island schools

Students fill the hallway of Islander Middle School, one of the schools proposed to be rebuilt. - File Photo
Students fill the hallway of Islander Middle School, one of the schools proposed to be rebuilt.
— image credit: File Photo

The year started out with the Mercer Island High School’s Marching Band making the sojourn to London to participate in London’s New Year’s Day Parade. The honor was almost squelched by bad weather that caused flight delays, but the entire band made it by the skin of their teeth, and performed gloriously.

The district dealt with further budget cuts from the state as well as negotiating a new contract with the teachers’ union. The state legislature voted to lower state salary allocations by 1.9 percent, but it did not have to come out of teachers’ pockets. The district and the Mercer Island Education Association ratified an unprecedented three-year contract Aug. 31, the first day of the 2011-2012 academic year.

The budget cycle, which began Sept. 1, started with a  general fund balance of $4.2 million.

Revenue was projected at $44,312,802 — the lion’s share coming from state funding at $23,591,962, with the balance coming from local levy collections, federal funding, local fees, tuition, gifts and grants that include monies from the Mercer Island Schools Foundation’s “Bridge the Gap” campaign, and a sliver coming from other grants or agency funds.

The Mercer Island School Foundation’s “Bridge the Gap” campaign met its goal of raising $1.2 million for teachers and classroom size reduction in the spring. The foundation’s fall phone-a-thon raised $400,000 for books and other tangible classroom needs.

The district is now facing one of its largest challenges in years. Islander Middle School and all three of the elementary schools, Island Park, West Mercer and Lakeridge Elementary, are getting to the point where they need to be replaced since they were all built in the ’50s. The middle school and the elementary schools were remodeled in 1995, but an engineering study revealed that the schools would be damaged beyond repair in the event of an earthquake.

They also do not meet the criteria for 21st century learning as determined by the 21st Century Facilities Planning Committee, a committee made up of 20 people that represented a cross‐section of the community, with a broad set of backgrounds and variety in terms of their community involvement.

The committee met for a total of 120 hours before presenting their recommendations to the board.

The majority of the committee agrees that all four schools should be rebuilt on their present sites, but four members support building a fourth elementary school. Whatever the plan, the district’s Board of Directors will start presenting it to the community after the first of the year. In order for the district to place a bond proposition before the voters in April, they must file by March 2.

Also, the district has not acquired any new real estate since 1960, when they bought the property for West Mercer Elementary School.

But now, to free up space on the high school mega-block and move the transportation fleet off the mega-block, the district has identified property to purchase.

The Board of Directors authorized superintendent Gary Plano to sign a real estate contract to purchase the property at the Nov. 10 meeting of the School Board. The site that the district has identified is three separate but adjoining parcels, located at 3901 97th Ave. S.E., and 3809 97th Ave. S.E.

Two of the parcels are owned by the Estate of Clarence A. Cameron, and the other parcel is owned by the Valentine Living Trust.

According to the district’s resolution, Cameron and Valentine entered into an agreement for joint listing and sale of the real estate in February, for the sale of the three parcels in a single listing with no separation of the parcels.

The sales price of the 2.12 acres is $2,550,000. Presently, the district does not have funding, so a bond will have to be put before voters. The district has until late spring of 2013 to close on the property.

After the resignation of School Board president Lisa Eggers early in the year, and a lack of concensus by the board between the two original candidates to fill the open place on the board, the application process was re-opened in May.

Brian Emanuels was chosen to fill the vacant seat, and ran unopposed in the spring election. Board president Pat Braman, and board member Janet Frohnmayer, who were also up for re-election, also ran unopposed.

Also, after six years as principal at Mercer Island High School, John Harrison resigned in October to take an administrative position with the Bellevue School District. In the interim, Pat Blix, who served as an interim principal at West Mercer Elementary from 2006 to 2008, was chosen to be the high school’s principal until a permanent principal is hired.

Superintendent Gary Plano said the interview process will begin in February, with the selection of a new principal in March. The new principal will begin the transition in April, taking over from Blix in July.

Also, longtime Mercer Island High School drama teacher, Karen Campbell, retired at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year. She was replaced by Daniela Melgar. Campbell built a reputation for doing unusual productions that both entertained and challenged the status quo. She produced more than 40 plays — twice winning best director at the Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre Awards. She wrote original scripts, adapted classics and even produced an original soundtrack written by one of her students.

Campbell also designed and sewed almost every costume for almost every show — often making 20 to 30 elaborate costumes for each production. She would sew around the clock to get them finished by opening night.

Ending the year on a high note, the Mercer Island High School Marching Band will perform in the 123rd Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.,on Jan, 2. The band’s last appearance at the parade was in 2006 when it rained for the first time in 52 years. Band leader Parker Bixby is confident that the rain will not be a repeat this time around.

Go Islanders!


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