The annual voters forum, held at Islander Middle School last Tuesday, brought together candidates for the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors and the City Council. Held in the Islander Middle School library, 150 attended.
Dave Myerson and Adair Dingle, both running unopposed for their seats, are fairly fresh from their recent vote to place a second, greatly reduced and revised bond proposal to renovate and expand schools. The $98.8 million bond issue is about half of the first bond proposal that was soundly defeated by voters last spring.
Myerson said that he feels the new bond proposal is the correct way to upgrade schools and reduce overcrowding in Island schools.
The new proposal is a “reasonable response” to the needs of the school district after the first bond was defeated, he said.
Dingle, running for her third term, said that in considering whether or not to run for another term on the board, she was motivated by two factors.
The first was the clear message that voters sent when they defeated the first bond issues and next, that expectations for student performance was so much higher.
She said that she, too, is confident that the new proposal is the right one and urged all to support it.
The public process around the costs and designs brought real results, she said.
Dingle noted that those with doubts can educate themselves and consider taking a more active role in the School Board’s deliberations on any topic.
“There are many ways that people can be more involved in the process,” she said. People can watch meetings live, or online, as the School Board now meets in the City Council chambers, where the meetings are on television. There are newsletters and updates on the school district website, she said.
Myerson also told Islanders that the cost to educate a student in Mercer Island is approximately $12,000 per student — significantly less than some neighboring school districts, where the average cost per student is as high as $16,000 or $17,000. The cost is less here because the buildings are already paid for, he said.
All candidates were asked how they viewed the approach taken by the present Council to preventing tolling on I-90. Most agreed that the present approach was best, yet Kevin Scheid chided the Council for being ready to compromise too soon.
Scheid, who is running against Council incumbent Dan Grausz, said that even appearing to be willing to negotiate any kind of deal was the wrong approach. Benson Wong, running against Rich Erwin for Pos. 6, the only other contested open seat on the Council, said that he believed the Council had done pretty much everything right in its approach to the issue by hiring a top law firm to push for the EIS. He praised the approach of banding together with other communities in the region.
Rich Erwin, Wong’s opponent, and Scheid explained that they, too, were in favor of bringing together all of the communities affected into the discussion. Wong and Grausz emphasized that the most important way to defeat tolling was to encourage the passage of the comprehensive funding package for state transportation. Tana Senn, running unopposed for her position, agreed, adding that the many steps already taken have brought together neighboring communities in the discussion about how to pay for finishing SR-520 and maintaining I-90.
Erwin added, to that end, that the city needs to be aware of the fact that at least two positions will be open on the Puget Sound Regional Council, the body that has a key role in transportation planning for the region.
“It is very important for our position on tolling,” he said, to have a Mercer Island person on the Council.
As for the Town Center and, in particular, the issue of the empty storefronts in the newer apartment buildings, Senn said that the City Council is mulling the formation of an economic development group to help bring ideas and possible tenants to the spaces.
Scheid was critical of what he described as a deal made with the developer to allow less parking for the Legacy project. He lamented that the new apartment buildings are not attractive and the town looks like a “cornfield.”