Opinion

Vote yes for Mercer Island Schools on March 11

Frank Morrison
Island Forum

On March 11, 2008, the Mercer Island School District has an important issue on the “ballot,” the renewal of our district’s capital maintenance and technology levy. I co-chair the Committee for Mercer Island Public Schools with Terry Pottmeyer. Our challenge, as the community volunteer group supporting schools on the Island, is to fairly present the issues to the voters and to garner your support. We’ve both done it more than 10 times since 1990. But in this election, we face the reality that changes in voting rules and election timing have accelerated our need to get information out to our voters in a timely manner. It is a serious challenge.

Voters will soon receive information from the Committee and the School District. We will call households. We will do all that we can to gain your approval.

What we ask is that you be an informed voter. Take the time to consider the issues presented. Make a wise choice! We are confident that if you do, you will vote YES on the district’s Capital Facilities Levy by mail or at the polls.

The School District’s proposals require renewal and affirmation by the voters of our capital facilities plan and our technology plan.

Neither component, maintenance or tech, is merely a shopping list, to see what may fly with the voters. Both components have been adopted with strong community participation and a desire of both the current and previous school boards to stick to the plan.

What are the plans?

In the mid-1990s, we remodeled all our 1950s schools. In that process, the district adopted a capital maintenance plan, which essentially required that we maintain our buildings with a 30-year life. Major maintenance items: paint, roofs, carpets, belts and bearings, whatever, were scheduled. Since then, all school boards and the voters have reaffirmed this commitment by not deferring maintenance (it only gets more expensive and raises health and safety issues to defer, as some of our neighboring districts are learning). 30 percent of the current levy proposal continues this commitment.

This four-year levy is higher than the 2004 levy. We have exterior painting this cycle; we had lower cost interior painting in 2004. It is what it is. Four or eight years from now, we’ll have to pay for roofs. So be it. Our support as a community, each four-year period, should not vary.

The technology component of this levy has five elements. Two are continuation of earlier approved levies, replacing/upgrading equipment on a schedule and completing/upgrading our network. The third element, due to a change in state law, allows us to include tech support and teacher costs, formerly operating costs not includable in a capital levy. This may be new to the taxpayer, but it is not new to the school’s community, as we have previously used private fundraising to meet these needs. We have an opportunity to keep the “public” in “public education.”

Two are new. Both represent a shift from prior objectives under the plan. Instead of just teaching students to learn to use technology, technology will be used to teach students to learn. The 2004 levy included pilot project funding for these initiatives. Changes in state law permit us to approve using capital funds to continue to develop curriculum, instructional programs and to train our teachers to use them, the fourth element. This levy provides the funds to do so and includes the tools to deliver the instruction needed, the fifth element, the tools of engagement, digital cameras, LCD projectors, and some of the interactive whiteboards we need, proven in our pilots as being needed to deliver instruction.

This levy only brings us close to parity with our neighboring and comparable districts, based on their 2006 funding for technology per student. Our expiring levy spent $191 per student per year on technology. All of our neighbors, since 2006, spent more than $400 per student. We could do better (approve more!), but we will actually do better by following a plan, not throwing money at the problem.

Please support this reasonable levy.

Take the time to fairly consider the district’s proposal. Stick to the plans.

Schools drive our property values. It is an investment. Invest in the time to vote “YES” on March 11th, or any time before!

Frank Morrison is the co-chair of the Committee for Mercer Island Public Schools.

Hope for democracy, an Islander’s account of Caucus day

By George Lewandowski
Island Forum/Special to the Reporter

What I saw at the Mercer Island Democratic caucuses left me with my jaw hanging wide open last Saturday.

Before my wife and I went, we had looked online to find which tiny telephone booth had been reserved for Mercer Island’s two or three Democrats to hold their brief chat. To my surprise, the ever-hopeful Dems had reserved a whole school gymnasium! This seemed strange, since it made little sense to open a school for a few people to huddle in one cold little corner.

We only got two blocks from home before the Democrats’ wishful thinking started to look more like good planning. Traffic on Island Crest came to a screeching halt, about a half mile from Island Park School. At first I thought that there might be an accident, but no, this was converging caucus traffic!

We had to park a couple of blocks away, at a baseball field, and walk back to the school. The Dems, expecting a record turnout, had rented a large gym space, but it turned out to be way too small. They needed two gyms, not one. The line, waiting to get in, snaked across the parking lot. The tables inside were nearly useless because there wasn’t sufficient space for the standing crowd, much less a seated crowd. Eventually, to escape the stifling heat generated by so many bodies, and to get some oxygen, our precinct and several others voted to adjourn to the parking lot outside.

Once we got outside, into the fresh air, things went more smoothly. On the first ballot, the neighbors in my precinct voted 43 of us for Obama, 13 for Clinton, and one undecided. I was particularly impressed by the number of very young participants. One young man asked if he could legally participate in Saturday’s voting, if his 18th birthday wouldn’t occur until sometime between now and Nov. 4 (yes).

Apparently, some Mercer Island youngsters have finally figured out that we old coots fully intend to leave them with a debauched government, trillions of dollars of debt defaults, a dead economy, a 100-year war (this happy prognosis courtesy of John McCain), an international reputation for moral bankruptcy, and an ecologically tortured planet.

One youth from my neighborhood informally polled his precinct. He asked how many of us were attending for the first time (three-fourths), and how many of those new recruits were Obama supporters (all but one or two). fear that Obama will let us all down, but perhaps the new generation won’t give up like my generation did, after a half-hearted attempt at real democracy.

Perhaps they will come back mad in two years, demanding real change based on sound principles. Perhaps.

The desire for some kind of “change” seemed strong. There were so many Obama supporters that the precinct chairwoman had to cut off the Obama speakers in order to give Clinton’s folks a chance to speak. Clinton’s supporters were pretty unanimous in praising her “effectiveness” in Congress, her “experience” in government, and her rough and tumble fighting skills. They were no more specific about these qualities than that vague summary that I just regurgitated.

After the caucus, I spent the rest of the afternoon sipping decaf at the South end Starbucks. This popular coffee house had the atmosphere of an English pub, with everyone eavesdropping and chiming in on the various political discussions around the fireplace. It seemed quite festive, and this time, with no official business to conduct, I dove in, volunteering my six decades of accumulated wisdom to a good-natured crowd, including my Republican tablemates.

I think that people who complain about the “inefficiency” of caucuses miss the point of people coming together to try out their rhetorical muscles on each other, in safe surroundings. Conversations launched at the caucuses continued for hours. This is a good sign.

By nightfall, it was obvious to me that other Americans, even here on Mercer Island, are finally hungry for some real political discourse, something meatier than the bland pet food pate’ tossed about by the trained seals on the “boob-tube news”. Perhaps in a few years, some of the younger folks from Saturday’s caucus will have developed the critical thinking skills and sufficient confidence to move us old timers aside. Hopefully our replacements will offer coherent arguments for serious change. It wouldn’t take much to improve upon the Lawrence Welk generation’s recitals of memorized “talking point” scripts about this or that candidate’s “effectiveness” and “experience”.

I’m glad that I finally took the time to attend a caucus. The fresh faces and energy of the youngsters seemed to infect the older crowd with a sense of optimism. We will need a great deal of that optimism to survive what’s in store for us in the coming decade.

Perhaps the talk of democracy being dead and buried in a shallow grave under worn-out sound bites is premature. Maybe the seeds of real political life lie dormant in the coffee houses and corner cafes just outside the tight social confinements of the “Eyewitness News” amusement park.

This piece was edited for length.

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