Island Forum | Support the Schools Foundation to mitigate state cuts

Janet Frohnmayer and Ellie Gittelman
Island Forum

Now, more than ever, the Mercer Island School District needs your support. By now, you have heard that due to the state budget crisis, the district is forced to cut up to $2 million from our $39 million budget. This comes after four years of budget cuts, including $800,000 last year. Until this year, we have been able to keep reductions away from our classrooms, so you may not have noticed the district tightening its belt. 

This year is different. These cuts will be evident to all of you, in the form of fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and reductions in programs — many of the things we care deeply about as a community. With deeper community support, the Schools Foundation’s annual “Breakfast of Champions” fundraiser will help bridge the gap.

To put these cuts into perspective, Washington state already ranks 45th in the nation in education funding per student and 46th in class size, so we aren’t starting from a position of strength. And much of what we regard in our community as basic education isn’t even funded by our state — things such as the sixth and seventh period at our high school, help for struggling learners, technology, most of our teacher training and the full costs of special education, to name a few. As an example, if we relied solely on state dollars, we could only update our curriculum once every 18 years. Our community has levy dollars and the Schools Foundation to thank for enabling our district to deliver on the well-beyond-basic expectations of our community.

We are poised and eager to do even more, thanks to our 2020 Vision, the culmination of 18 months of in-depth conversations and community meetings. Our vision acknowledges that to succeed, Mercer Island schools must embrace change. We are an academic leader by current standards, but we know that standardized tests don’t necessarily measure the skills which our students need. As President Obama recently said: “[We can’t] simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.”

Cuts of this magnitude — approximately $500 per student — threaten our district’s ability to continue to deliver on our community’s expectation for excellence and our desire to prepare our students to thrive in the 21st century.

You can learn more from our administration team at a community meeting, 7 p.m., Thursday, April 23, in the Islander Middle School library. Our school leaders have been working diligently to create a reduction plan that meets the anticipated $2 million shortfall and best supports our students. You will have a chance to ask questions and offer your ideas.

Please join us and our important business sponsors at the Breakfast of Champions on Tuesday, April 28, from 7 to 8:30 a.m. at Mercer Island High School. Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano will speak about the 2020 Vision and the budget challenge. If you want more teachers, lower class sizes, restored programs and more student-centered learning experiences, this is your first chance to make a difference. Reservations are required; call (206) 275-2550.

If you can’t make it to the Breakfast, attend a “Coffee and Conversation” event at your school. You will hear more about these events in the weeks ahead.

We are facing this crisis with so many assets — motivated students, committed teachers, involved parents and an inspiring 2020 Vision — let’s build on these assets and work together to create a brighter future for our students.

Janet Frohnmayer is a Mercer Island School Board member and Ellie Gittelman is a Mercer Island Schools Foundation Board member.

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