School leaders optimistic despite deep budget cuts

In the face of historic budget cuts, a feeling of optimism to meet the challenge facing schools has settled over the Island.

The Mercer Island School District is contending with a $2 million budget shortfall next year, equal to cuts seen in the district between 2006 and 2009 combined. $2 million in cuts equates to roughly $500 less per student in the district.

But even as Superintendent Gary Plano and his administrative team outlined how cuts would affect teachers, classrooms and programs around the district, parents and faculty seemed willing to step up to the plate.

“The good news is we are going to get through this,” said Mercer Island High School Principal John Harrison.

“I’m hopeful,” said Andrea Fitz-Williams, a parent with three children in elementary school. “Even though it’s a difficult time, I think people will make the extra effort and dig deep into their pockets. Really, [MISD] benefits everyone; it is what draws people here.”

The district is recommending that anyone interested in making monetary donations goes through the Mercer Island Schools Foundation. Gifts directly to the district are possible, but usually come from either the MISF or the PTA groups.

Parents said the Island’s traditionally good schools pull people to the community and keeping up with that standard is close to everyone’s hearts.

“I think the community can pull together for the kids. We moved here for the schools and the community, and we’ve been very happy. It’s a benefit to everybody,” said elementary parent Laura Mansfield. “It’s nice to see everyone sharing ideas, so hopefully we don’t have to lose the great teachers we have.”

A few students from MIHS who attended the community meeting said they also did not want to see teachers go. MIHS sophomore Will Goodwin said he had mixed feelings about the reduction plan, worrying mostly about losing programs he participates in.

“It’s unfortunate we have to see some teachers go,” he said. “I’m concerned about specific programs being cut.”

He said that as a participant in debate, leadership class and the ASB, he and fellow students Aaron Poor and Samyukta Lanka were worried about how changes may affect the groups which they take part in. Harrison said that the school would have to make reductions, but administrators hope to keep all current programs intact.

Dawson Stoops, another parent who attended the meeting, said the overall amount that the district is looking to cut is not as much as he had originally expected.

“I’m optimistic about getting I-728 funds to help supplement. I think the community can step in, and I’m really optimistic we can do it,” said Stoops. Initial reports out of the legislature, working on the final operating budget, suggest that I-728 will be cut by almost two-thirds. MISD receives approximately $1.8 million from I-728.

“Somehow, we have to all buckle down to make it work,” said Jeff Kelly, a parent in the district. “No one thing stands out as an excess, and I think cuts will have to come from lots of little places.”

Overwhelmingly, parents at the meeting said they want restoration of teaching positions to be the district’s top priority once money starts to flow again.

Information on how to donate directly to MISD can be found at

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