Unofficial tally has 119 off-Islanders attending Mercer Island schools next year

Superintendent Gary Plano announced the latest open enrollment numbers during last Thursday’s School Board meeting. As of May 29, 119 applications had been accepted for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. This number, however, is not yet official and will most likely change over the coming months.

Although 119 acceptance letters have been sent to the parents of these off-Island students, there is still a chance that the families could turn down the invitation. Yet administrators, basing their observations off past experience and demand, doubt they will see many declines.

The students were chosen based on class availability, along with some other budgetary and curricular factors.

Second grade will see the highest number of off-Island students, with 14 new students at Island Park.

“Second grade has the highest number because we added a teacher at Island Park,” said Plano.

With the exception of Island Park, class size will not be affected by the additional students. Administrators carefully examine the population of each grade when considering how many off-Island students to welcome.

“The number accepted was specifically designed not to disrupt class size,” Plano said.

Many people in the community are under the false impression that open-enrollment and maintaining small class sizes are competing interests. The School Board discussed this issue for some time, specifically mentioning the need to educate the public on the financial motivation behind inviting off-Island students to the district.

“Some believe that if our district shrinks, we should lower class size. This is a big problem,” said School Board member Adair Dingle.

After the Class of 2008 graduates, Mercer Island will see its enrollment numbers drop consistently. Next year, the district expects to lose approximately 100 students. Each student lost means less money from the state. Therefore, administrators are pressed to open their schools to off-Island students.

This district has projected a budget deficit of $830,000 for next year. Open enrollment is a way of easing this cost through the generation of additional revenue in lieu of cutting academic programs. Based on the current number of off-Island students accepted to MISD, administrators expect about $400,000 in revenue.

A detailed list of where the off-Island students will be placed is available on the district Web site. So far, 36 students will enroll at Mercer Island High School, 14 at Islander Middle School and 69 students will attend one of the Island’s three elementary schools.

The students come from both public and private schools covering a range of districts from Bellevue to North Kitsap. Twenty-six children of district staff members are also included on the list.

Last year, Mercer Island accepted 55 nonresident students, bringing in approximately $220,000. If these students wanted to continue their enrollment within the district, their parents had to re-apply. But according to Plano, not one of these students has been denied re-admission.

“We want to maintain a continuity of school experience. So we give these kids priority,” he said.

For the most recent open-enrollment count, visit:

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