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Letter | School bond, vote no
The Mercer Island Schools Board has just approved a bond issue to be placed on the April 17 ballot. It will authorize, if it does appear and is approved by voters, spending nearly 200 million dollars to tear down and rebuild all three of our elementary schools and Islander Middle School.
For someone owning a house valued at $800,000, for example, the bond issue will result in a net property tax increase of $744 per year for 25 years. This takes into account that existing bonds will be paid off during the period. The tax rate will go from $2.52 to $3.45.
The middle and elementary schools do have serious overcrowding problems, and this is what the School Board is trying to address. About 650 students are currently housed in portable classrooms at these schools. However, it is not necessary to replace these schools. After all, the Island schools were all extensively remodeled in the mid-1990s.
Building a fourth elementary school will relieve the overcrowding at that level. At the middle school, a new wing that provides additional classroom and other learning spaces could be added immediately to the west of the current building, where the portables are currently located.
The board is having difficulty locating a privately owned property on the Island that is suitable for an elementary school. However, it should not be necessary to build an entirely new school. The North Mercer school, currently not used by the district but leased to tenants that operate preschools, could be remodeled to bring that campus up to current safety codes.
The board does not want another school at that location (in the high school mega-block), citing the need for space when the high school is eventually rebuilt, 20-25 years from now. However, it should be possible to work around this issue, for example, by rebuilding the high school in stages.
I urge everyone to vote against this bond issue. If the bond fails, the School Board will return with a more cost-effective proposal that does not involve tearing down our schools, which have years of life left in them.
We all know the board wants what is best for our children and our schools. However, they have been insufficiently mindful of getting the best value for the tax dollars they are asking us to pay.