Letter | School Board member explains his position on bond vote
April 3, 2012 · 11:56 AM
The Mercer Island School Board recently voted 4 to 1 to put a $196 million school bond issue before the voters in April. Mine was the dissenting vote, and I wish to explain here why.
First, the current bond is attached to a proposal to increase Mercer Island elementary school sizes far beyond what educational research has shown to be optimal. As a physician and medical researcher, I rely upon well done medical research to guide my professional work. So as a school board member, I made an extensive review of 50 years of educational research regarding school size. This research clearly shows important student advantages to elementary schools with under 500 students (e.g.: Leithwood, 2009). The average Eastside elementary enrolls 509, and yet with this bond we are proposing to have Mercer Island elementary schools enrolling 650 students, with capacity for up to 725. Surely this is not the path to maintaining educational excellence here.
Second, I was concerned that the proposal to rebuild all three elementary schools seemed driven largely by the odd assumption that "equity" requires that all elementary students attend an equally new school. While overcrowding needs immediate remediation, the building of three new schools will take years. Where is the equity in delaying relief to our current students?
A far more reasonable and prompt solution to our overcrowded elementary schools would seem to be the building of a new school at the north end, where most MI population growth is occurring. (Yes, there are non-imaginary, non-park, non-school sites that could potentially be utilized.) Building a fourth 500 student school would immediately solve the overcrowding problem. It would moreover give our community the opportunity to evaluate the merits of the "21st Century School" plan as implemented in that fourth school and use that experience to determine the best ways to upgrade, or eventually replace, the other three elementary schools.
My vote against putting the current bond on the ballot was NOT a vote to make do with what we currently have. It was a vote to generate a better, more detailed, more research-informed, more community responsive, and more transparent plan for upgrading and expanding our school system. Our community will soon decide by ballot whether they want to proceed with the current plan, or send us back to the drawing board.
Mercer Island School Director
(speaking for himself and not the School Board)