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Letter | Principal and PTA officers urge YES vote
Dear Mercer Island community,
I am writing this letter to you, along with Debbie Hanson and Jennifer McLellan to share our support for the Mercer Island School District Bond. Please know, we are all writing this on our own time from home, as community members who believe in the need for this important funding program. As our community engages in the very important bond discussions, the three of us want to share our thoughts with you regarding this critical issue. After reviewing the facts and considering the challenges, we each completely support this bond without hesitation. We urge you to seek out the facts and join the growing list of supporters in voting ‘Yes!’
With much rumor and misinformation circulating, we have provided many links below, which outline facts and dispel rumors. We find it disheartening to see district and community leaders unfairly accused in public and in the media. Over the last four years, we have witnessed these same individuals making conscientious and careful decisions regarding our school campuses. We feel compelled to write this letter as we find ourselves in the unique position of possessing a greater understanding of the extensive efforts that went into this bond proposal – we know the people involved, the depth of the research, and the tremendous consideration surrounding the final decisions. We can assure you that this proposal did not come easily and that some who made the final recommendations were initially “nay-sayers” who are now in full support of the bond. The community had multiple opportunities to meet and hear from this dedicated team of professionals over the last two years, yet sadly many citizens are only now taking notice of their extensive work in the 11th hour. Please know that the decisions and recommendations from this team have not come lightly. They were made with the well being of our children and the wider Mercer Island community in mind.
The bond addresses the educational needs of today, along with those of the future. The need for more classroom space is critical now. There are many examples of overcrowding within our MI schools already and it will be tough to lose additional playground space this summer at two of our elementary schools to additional portables as recently announced. Soon portables will not be an option, and rising class sizes will be inevitable in schools throughout our district if we do not provide more space for classrooms.
Our MI schools also need to be updated to support the type of learning we want for our 21st century kids. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” The learning opportunities we can offer our children with updated spaces are enormous – from new science and technology programs to better opportunities for individualized learning. Many school districts around us have already built 21st century schools. A MI education is still on top today; however students in other districts may soon begin to challenge and outperform our kids because they have access to the kinds of programs that new facilities provide.
Another issue concerns the decision to rebuild vs. remodel. While remodeling might seem most sensible, the cost is nearly the same and we would significantly limit our ability to create the 21st education spaces our teachers and students need.
We hear many questioning the proposed plan because they fear the scope of the project will exceed the budget and timeline. Our MISD Superintendent, Dr. Gary Plano and our MISD CFO, Mr. Dean Mack have expressed full confidence that this will not be the case and we urge you to trust their judgment. Mr. Mack has 40 years of school finance experience and has built 20 schools, on-time and on-budget in three other districts, including Issaquah. The cost of the proposed plan has been created in partnership with the Robinson Company (see link below), an expert in school construction cost estimating. We are fortunate to have this company working on behalf of the Mercer Island School District.
Tax load is another concern. Again, our district leaders are acutely aware of keeping the tax load on our citizens as low and as even as possible. A single large bond up front, like this one, causes the lowest possible tax and provides the greatest flexibility to spread that cost over time. As we experienced with our remodel bonds in the 1990s, splitting the large bond into three smaller bonds actually cost our citizens 5 million dollars more and gave us less overall (for example, a new Lakeridge school was taken off the table).
Last, we want to address the Stevenson property controversy. After listening to concerns of the community, the school district recently announced that a new school will not be built on this site. This large parcel, one of the last of its kind on Mercer Island, now has the chance to potentially be open space and/or fields. The original bidder on that property was proposing building 20+ homes on the site. The Mercer Island School District will continue to discuss, have open meetings, ask neighbors, and consider all options before any land use decisions will be made on this property.
As you review your ballots, we again strongly urge you to make an informed decision. Please consider your decision as an important opportunity for our students of today and tomorrow, and never hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns. When you cast your ‘Yes’ vote you will be joining a rapidly growing list of supporters including Mary Grady, Mercer Island Reporter’s Editor who recently stated, “Everyone can agree that the face of education is changing faster than ever. What students will need to meet the cognitive and social challenges in the coming years will not be met within the existing school buildings here. Within the uncertainty of the economic landscape, our duty is to make sure our students — no matter what their abilities — have the tools and skills they need for what lies ahead.”
Please vote ‘Yes.’
Dr. Nancy Loorem
Island Park Elementary Principal, writing as a concerned community member on personal time from home
Island Park PTA President
Former Island Park PTA President and Current Co-President of MI PTA Council