School Board readies $7.6 million levy package for 2008

During a special work study session last week, the Mercer Island School Board discussed the preliminary 2008 Capital Facilities Levy, which is set for a vote early next year.

At present, the four-year draft levy adds up to more than $7.6 million. Of this amount, $6 million makes up newly defined needs and $1.5 million is the total scheduled capital replacement. However, the School Board is currently re-evaluating these numbers according to district needs.

Led by Associate Superintendent of Business Services Liz Dodd, board members went over each of the items listed on the 2008 Facilities Maintenance and Replacement Plan.

The needs ranged from a district-wide security alarm upgrade ($248,000) to additional parking for the administration building ($150,000) to individual renovation projects at each Mercer Island school. The “necessary” improvements were marked with an asterisk, while less crucial expenditures were circled for further review.

Over the next two weeks, Dodd will re-examine the budget and re-evaluate the facilities plan before establishing a concrete levy number with the School Board.

“Remember that the tech levy is the other piece of this,” Dodd told the board, adding that a percentage of the technology funds would go toward educating teachers on using new computer equipment.

Every few years, the Mercer Island School District goes to voters with its Capital Facilities Levy. If approved by the electorate, all of the funds will go toward upgrading school facilities and technology. The last facilities levy, which cost tax-payers $4.8 million, was passed in 2004.

According to the preliminary 2008 capital levy, Mercer Island High School will absorb the majority of funds, with an estimated $3.7 million in facility improvements. However, this number will most likely be cut by some $2 million if the board decides against adding a black box theater, improving the tennis court lighting and renegotiates a price for remodeling the stadium press box.

As for the elementary schools, Island Park is in greatest need for repair, with an estimated cost of more than $1 million. Although this number is not yet official, all of the improvements listed were marked by the board as priority needs. Most of this money will go toward a new Island Park playfield and critical irrigation needs.

Repairs at West Mercer are also estimated to cost $1 million. This number, however, is set for re-negotiation and will most likely drop.

“$732,000 for revising the upper [West Mercer] parking lot is way too much money,” board member John DeVleming pointed out, asking Dodd to renegotiate a smaller number. The rest of the board agreed.

The preliminary levy estimates that Lakeridge Elementary School will need nearly $100,000 in funds and Islander Middle School as well. Together, the maintenance and operations building, administration building, Crest Learning Center, and North Mercer building could make up around $500,000.

Mercer Island has the lowest tax rate among districts in the Puget Sound region, an average $1.66 lower than the rest, Dodd pointed out. She also mentioned that the construction economy cost index had escalated over the past five years.

After revising the Maintenance and Replacement Plan numbers, Dodd will present a final proposal to the board in November.

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