Letter | Vote 'no' on bond issue
March 7, 2012 · Updated 4:12 PM
I'm an Island resident and I’m for improving our schools, but against this bond issue. I respectfully urge voters to reject the bond as well. Here's why. The school district has taken the misguided step to buy property we may not need without focusing on the immediate needs to reduce overcrowding, accommodate growth and provide more modern facilities. Why even think about buying more property before we do the math on how to make the best use of space it already owns?
The school district has put an offer on the Stevenson property, which is ½ mile down Island Crest Way from the existing Island Park School. The Stevenson property is less than five acres and much smaller than the current 8.4-acre Island Park school property. Why are we trading down? The 21st Century Planning Committee has specified that any viable school property needs to be at least six acres. The school district indicated they were also in negotiation with the Redeemer Lutheran Church to acquire their adjacent land. However, Pastor Baade of the church wrote a response published on March 2 in the Mercer Island Patch website that the property is not currently for sale, nor is the church in any negotiations to sell. Even if they do end up acquiring the church property, the combined property is still significantly smaller than the existing Island Park school property. The school district has allocated $9 million to acquire property when they haven’t invested anything to evaluate how to make the best use of the properties it already owns. Acquiring property and building a new school does absolutely nothing to resolve the immediate issue of overcrowding, since a new school wouldn’t be online for several years. And $9 million can be better used for more classroom space, teachers, lab equipment, musical instruments, etc.
If the old Island Park school is used as a “swing school” for several years following the completion of a new IP school ½ mile away, can you imagine the gridlock from double the school traffic on that section of Island Crest Way? The school district states that moving Island Park school ½ mile to the south will improve traffic flow. Really? Where is the data to back up that assertion? The fact is, no traffic study has been done, nor has an environmental study. The only criteria that the Stevenson property has is that it is available. Does that alone make it the best option for our schools and our kids? I don’t think so.
A better option would be to study how to get more value from the 43-acre North Mercer mega-block, the 37-acre South Mercer campus and the stand-alone elementary school properties. The district says they are delaying any study of the North Mercer mega-block to maintain flexibility for future MIHS expansion. But, they also state that any high school remediation is 20-30 years away. Why allow that space to go underutilized for the next 20-30 years?
I have always supported the bond issues to improve the schools, but this is one that deserves much closer scrutiny. The 21st Century Planning Committee has come up with recommendations to rebuild the elementary and middle schools to improve overcrowding, accommodate growth and provide more modern facilities. I applaud most of the recommendations. However, the school district and board have jumped the gun and are about to waste taxpayer money on property that will not provide for any of our immediate needs. What are they thinking? And as for the $196 million amount. The total amount and time to deliver the improvements will surely cost us far more than advertised. When was the last time you saw a multi-year government contract come in on time and under budget? If you believe the school district won't be asking us in the near future for yet more money to complete their plans, then I've got a bridge to sell you. I urge voters to reject this approach and vote “no” on the bond issue to force the school district to come up with a more focused and cost-effective approach to solving the immediate needs of our children.
Thank you for listening.