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Letter | Letter about schools not entirely correct
While I had considerable reservations about the arguments from all sides in this school bond campaign, I have great concern about the letter from Steve Strong, printed in the April 25 issue of the Mercer Island Reporter.
Mr. Strong states “...in the 1990s rebuilding plan, the school buildings were intentionally rebuilt too small for the school population.”
Unsupported nonsense. I don’t know who Steve Strong is, but he was not around or active with us in the ’90s.
I served on the Facilities Committee, then the Joint Fiscal Facilities Committee, in the early ’90s, the citizens’ group which made the final recommendation to the board for the remodels of all five of our schools. I was also a member of the demographics study sub-committee. I did co-chair all three remodel bond issues and made or heard all the public statements made in the course of the successful campaigns. Never was there ever a single representation that the elementary schools were “underbuilt on purpose.” They were designed for 500 students, above our current and then foreseeable enrollment.
The board, administration and advisory committees at that time confronted too many portables and other realities of our old, flat-roofed schools. Our goal was to house all the students in remodeled schools with appropriately sized common areas. The existing population, including students in portables, was 450 per elementary school at that time. We added a 10 percent growth factor, more or less, and adopted a planned capacity of 500 students per school, well above the then current populations and foreseeable needs. That was approved by the board in submitting the bond issue, and fairly presented to the Island. It was approved by the voters and accomplished by the district. These buildings have been well maintained by the district since. They are just overcrowded, three abbreviated lunch periods, not enough gym/PE space, library space, common areas in general, etc., etc...
There were several other incorrect charges made by others in the course of the campaign, including the allegation that the district misrepresented the design capacity of the schools. More nonsense!
Much has changed in the nearly 20 years since we addressed these remodels. Shortly after the remodels, the voters of the state approved the reduced class size initiative. Without changing the physical plant, it reduced the effective capacity. Additional special program requirements, including the class size reductions, have been adopted, embraced and supported by the Island, often with private fundraising support, even as state funding has varied or disappeared. All of it further reduced the effective capacity, not the design capacity. To claim some misrepresentation, you must not have been paying attention.
The district had to make its current proposal based on current effective capacity, not design capacity. It did so. There should be no controversy, unless, as Mr. Strong does, you just want to throw stones.
One of our elementary schools is approaching 700 students, with an original design capacity of 500 students, a further reduced effective capacity, and common areas now completely undersized.
The overcrowding today is real. As a community, we will have to deal with it. Ignore the stones, focus on the facts, insist on cooperation of the city and district, look for more detailed planning. It must come. It will.
Frank R. Morrison Jr.
15-year CMIPS (Committee for Mercer Island Public Schools) chair, co-chair, now retired