For the first time since settling on three options, the Mercer Island School District heard straight from community members at a Mercer Island Rotary lunch on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
During the district’s first large group presentation of the options for a new school, done by Bob Wheeler with Triangle Associates, the audience heard why it has become so important to ease overcrowding and what the district is considering to do.
Following a breakdown of the various options and why they were considered, the audience was given the chance to ask questions and provide input.
One woman asked if the teachers and principals had any concerns about a possible change to the fifth-eighth grade configuration, and if that would possibly hurt the district’s ability to recruit teachers.
“We asked the principals that question,” said MISD Superintendent Gary Plano. “They like having larger elementary [schools], but that option didn’t pass. They have said this would work, and have also said they are open to having four elementary schools.”
He added that teachers and principals at the high school are already working on educational specs for the STEM addition, which would add classrooms for math and science labs.
“We recruit [teachers] well in large part because of our small class sizes,” said Plano. “That’s part of the reason why we need more space.”
Plano answered another question concerning the grade configuration and what the other districts that use it have found.
“There’s very little research about what configurations are best,” said Plano. “The upside is students are at the middle school for an extra year; they can take electives, and if it’s a two-story school, the first floor could be for 5/6 and the second for 7/8.” He added the districts that do have it, such as a district outside Chicago, love it.
One commenter said he felt the School Board still wasn’t listening to the community, based on the presented options, because it’s still for a lot of money and the economy still hasn’t fully recovered.
Another said it’s one thing to put the pool and stadium renovations on the list, but perhaps focusing on schools first is a better way to go, and then come back to those items later on.
John Naye, a member of the Rotary Club, wanted to know what happens if nothing changes.
“There is another option, and that is to do nothing,” said Naye. “If you do nothing, what are those issues?”
Plano said with 900 students in portables, some are taking up playground space at the elementary schools, which could be better used as play space.
“The power grid at some of our buildings can’t support more classrooms,” said Plano. “We could continue to buy more portables and buy more infrastructure, but the board doesn’t believe that’s a prudent use of taxpayers’ dollars.”
With many new developments either currently being constructed or in the planning phase in the Town Center, an audience member asked if developers are being charged more, which could help with a new school.
“The fee has increased for new projects,” said Plano. He said the mitigation fee is now higher than it used to be, but that it would not be high enough on its own to pay for a new school.
More information is available at www.engagemercerislandschools.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/engagemercerislandschools.
School Board to meet in City Council Chambers
In early December the Mercer Island School Board will meet in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.
The move will allow the public either to attend School Board sessions in person or watch them on television on public access channel 21.
Having the meetings at City Hall will give a wider audience of Islanders the ability to follow the actions of the School Board as they come to a decision about changes to school district facilities and a bond issue to be set in the next few months.
The school’s use of the Council Chamber will not include all features now used by the Council. Certain things such as linking documents to the video will not be implemented, at least not right way. The school district will not pay any rent to the city, but will have to pay the hourly charges for video services.
According to Rich Conrad, city manager, the arrangement will remain relatively simple for the next six months, then be reviewed for any additional services needed or cost reimbursement.
The meetings are set to begin the week of Dec. 10.
MISD town hall meetings
Several town hall meetings have been scheduled to present the school district’s options.
Meetings are scheduled:
• Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. at PEAK
• Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Islander Middle School
• Thursday, Nov. 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Crest