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Show and tell | Editorial
The Mercer Island School District Board of Directors is right to conduct a survey to ask voters on what they think about the recent bond issue proposed to raise money to rebuild Island schools. No doubt Islanders will have a good deal to say. While we can guess at what those who voted no might say, it will be useful to ask them what might change their mind. And it will be helpful to find out who voted for each side. Was it just parents who voted yes and seniors who voted no? It won’t be that tidy. Each will have a different set of reasons for their vote.
We expect that some of the responses may reflect the fact that many voters wanted to vote yes, but simply had too many questions about the proposal that were left unanswered. After the focus shifted from building 21st century schools to coping with overcrowding, the proposal seemed to become more complex. The real reasons for upgrading schools was lost.
For many who remember voting for the school remodeling in the 1990s, it is too soon to discard the existing buildings. Others with knowledge about engineering and construction are critical about planning assumptions. Still others who just became aware of the plans for new schools are shocked by the scale of the plans. Just getting past the dollar figure involved — nearly $200 million — was too difficult for many. Despite endless public meetings over the past two or more years (and many stories in this newspaper), others believe the School Board has been less than transparent. Cautious, yes. Secretive, no.
Going forward, a comprehensive communication strategy is key. The district should put together a digital, print and voice campaign to reach everyone. It is not enough to say that schools have to be different now or who says what size of elementary schools is best. Supporters of this initiative need to show, not tell. Islanders need to see and feel what their schools look like, through videos on Channel 21, YouTube or through regularly scheduled tours through school buildings.
Such an approach might help bring the state of Island schools into sharper focus.