School leaders consider bond sales and construction scenarios for new schools

At the most recent meeting of the Mercer Island School District’s Board of Directors, the conversation about the bond proposal continued.

It was suggested by a couple of citizens that the district should provide detailed information regarding the bond proposal in an official King County voters’ pamphlet, which is distributed to all registered voters, explaining the bond proposal.

The board discussed it, and in a vote of 3-2, decided against it. Board members Dave Myerson and Brian Emanuels voted for the pamphlet.

A pamphlet would cost $3,000, a cost that the majority felt the district didn’t need to be indebted for, since they have not done so in recent elections.

Dean Mack, the Mercer Island School District's executive director of business services, presented the district’s board of directors with four different scenarios Thursday night, as to how the sales of bonds would be timed, as well as a construction schedule for the building of three new elementary schools and a new Islander Middle School.

The most aggressive schedule would have a new Island Park Elementary opening in August of 2015, with a new middle school and Lakeridge Elementary opening in August 2016, followed by the new West Mercer Elementary opening in August of 2017.

Given this scenario, if approved by voters, the bonds would be sold incrementally beginning this year,  and the tax rate will bump from the present $2.68 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, to $3.62, which will remain consistent until 2020 and beyond, assuming the maintenance and operations tax (M&O), and capital levies remain the same. The levies on the books now will pay off in 2015.

“The goal is to keep the tax rate as flat and as stable as possible,” said district superintendent Gary Plano.

The tax rate includes M&O, levy taxes, capital levies and the bond.

With the retirement of the old levies, the annual increase in taxes on a home valued at $1 million would be $700.

Mack said he has factored in some wiggle room in case interest rates go up, and he has built in two and one-half percent for inflation.

Public input was mixed, as it has been at all the School Board meetings so far this year. Resident Ira Appelman, who vehemently opposes the bond, had looked up all the board members’ addresses and researched their homes. His point was that all of their homes were older, with only board president Janet Frohnmayer undertaking a remodel in 2003.

Board member Pat Braman clarified that she remodeled late last year.

“You haven’t torn down your homes to live in a 21st century facility,” Appelman said.

Dick Benster, who was also on the 21st CFPC, thanked the board for sticking their necks out. He said the bar has been raised for educational facilities with the introduction of technology since these buildings were originally constructed in the ’50s and ’60s. He said there is a real need to develop the best schools possible, both to address overcrowding and to address the district’s antiquated facilities.

“It’s a very sound and prudent bond, and I support it,” Benster said.

Benster’s kids have grown, but CMIPS (Committee for Mercer Island Public Schools) member Lisa Spencer has young children in the district.

Spencer did some homework. She said the Mercer Island School District ranks 12th lowest out of 15 districts in the Puget Sound area in cumulative capital bond spending over the past 21 years, on a per student basis.

“Now, it’s time to invest again,” she said.

She pointed out that there are no schools on the Eastside, built before 1975. Gullstad had echoed that sentiment, saying that people are not going to want their children to go to school here, which could result in a decrease in property values.


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