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Bond survey reveals views about schools

The results are in from a survey commissioned by the Mercer Island School District to find out why the $196 million bond issue to rebuild Island schools was so resoundly turned down.

The survey, conducted by EMC Research, interviewed a random sample of 300 people on the Island by telephone. Calls were made between May 30 and June 5.

The survey was composed of 58 questions in a variety of formats.

The School District Board of Directors intends to look closely at the data as it considers what to do next.

Of the respondents who voted, 45 percent said they had voted yes, 50 percent voted no, and 5 percent declined to say how they voted.

Of the respondents, 52 percent were female and 48 percent were male.

The overwhelming majority of respondents, or 77 percent,  were over 45 years old; 42 percent were older than 60. Just 20 percent or respondents were between the ages of 25 to 44.

Sixteen percent of respondents did not vote.

The survey included data on how non-voting respondents might have voted if they had chosen to do so.

Overall, the survey shows that the community believes that  Mercer Island schools are doing well overall in educating students, with 83 percent rating the district between good to excellent. It appears that much of the credit is given to teachers, with 77 percent saying that teachers are doing a good to excellent job. The school district administration was given lower marks with half or less of respondents giving a good to excellent rating for ‘handling of budgets and finances’ along with ‘future planning’ and ‘using tax dollars responsibly.’

The majority of all respondents indicated that they understood what they were voting for. The bond issue was to pay for the rebuilding of Island schools.

Yet, well over half of all respondents ranked the physical condition of existing school buildings as good or better.

For those who voted to reject the bond issue, the reasons given  indicated that they felt the amount of money was too much; they were also concerned about timing because of the economy and that it would raise taxes. Next, ‘no’ voters indicated they thought the existing buildings are fine, and that additional construction was wasteful.

Finally, ‘no’ voters indicated they believed the planning by the school district was ‘poor’ and there was “a lack of information about the proposal” and it was “too ambitious.”

For respondents who voted to approve the bond, 21 percent said that the construction was necessary; that there is a need to improve and update the buildings. The same number voiced that they always vote to “support education, children and … the community.” Another 18 percent said additional buildings or improvements would eliminate overcrowding.

Just 11 percent who voted yes, said that they had or will have children in the schools.

When asked if there was any other reason they voted ‘yes,’ 27 percent said they believed it would “provide for a good/quality of education,” followed by 16 percent who said it would eliminate overcrowding.

Finally, when all respondents were asked to rate the reasons for why the measure failed on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the most significant, 55 percent said “cost” was the most important reason, with 33 percent who said that the option for rebuilding or renovating was the major reason for the ‘no’ votes.

Other data detailed respondents’ beliefs about the shape of Island school buildings, overcrowding and their design.

More than two-thirds said they believed that enrollment is increasing. Half agreed the schools were crowded and that it was affecting learning. Fifty-seven percent said that Island schools are falling behind those at other school districts.

Respondents were split on the idea that newer school buildings would help teachers improve student learning; with 43 percent saying yes, and 51 percent who said no.

When asked about the condition of the present school buildings, more than 70 percent said they should be made to last as long as possible.

The results are available through both the School District website and the City Council page on the City of Mercer Island website.

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