Letters to the Editor

Letter | I-90 tolling: From Mercer Island School District to WSDOT

Editors note: The version of this letter which was published on page 11 of this week's Mercer Island Reporter, was not the final version. Below is the updated and final version of the letter which was sent to the WSDOT from MISD.

Thank you again to you and your colleagues for coming to our meeting to update our board on the I-90 Tolling project and giving us the opportunity to provide input as to the impact tolling I-90 would have on our district.

Because of Mercer Island's unique position as the only community for which I-90 provides the sole means of ingress and egress, tolling I-90 would affect our school district in several profound and adverse ways.

The Mercer Island School District currently employs 491 full-time employees. Of those, only 158, or 32.2% live on Mercer Island itself, with the rest to commute here via I-90. Of those, 152 (31%) commute Westbound to Mercer Island, and 181 (36.8%) commute Eastbound to Mercer Island. Assuming 180 trips at current 520 tolling rates of $7.18 per rush-hour round trip with a Good-To-Go pass, the annual cost for each off-island employee would be approximately $1,300. This would be an untenable burden to the majority of our staff and would significantly impede our ability to recruit and retain a quality workforce. For example,

• A beginning teacher currently earns $40,454 annually, so tolling would reduce their net, before-tax earnings by more than 3%.

• An assistant coach for most sports earns $3,075 per season, and requires approximately 60 trips on and off the island. Again, assuming a round trip toll of $7,18, this would total over $430 dollars, or more than 14% of these employees' total before-tax compensation.

• The impact of a $7.18 toll on employees such as referees, tutors or coaches of extra-curricular activities such as chess club, who typically earn approximately $25 to come here to work at an after school activity or athletic contest, would amount to over 30% of their earnings, making it impractical for anyone to come from off-island without a substantial increase in compensation.

We cannot fill our staffing needs with qualified workers without substantially increasing our compensation to offset the added expense of tolling. Tolling would have a negative impact beyond the classroom as notice in the addendum written by the high school staff.

We estimate the aggregate financial impact to the district of offsetting the cost of tolling on our employees to be approximately $500,000 per year. Because our revenues are fixed by statute and staff salaries are set statewide without regard to the cost of living, this cost would have to come out of existing operations, which would mean direct reductions in instructional support - specifically the loss of approximately 7 of our 250 teaching positions.

In addition to direct operational costs to the district, the impact of tolling I-90 would also severely jeopardize our ability to obtain voter approval for school construction bonds and to renew our maintenance and operations levy. Last year, Mercer Island voters rejected a proposed school construction bond to relieve severe overcrowding in our schools. The proposed bond would have replaced 4 of our 5 schools with brand new buildings at a total cost per household of approximately $1280 per year; however the bond was overwhelmingly defeated by the voters who cited the cost as the #1 reason for voting against it. As a result, we are in the process of formulating a new, less-expensive bond proposal to present to voters in early 2014.

In addition, our maintenance and operations levy, which provides 26% of our current operating funds, expires in 2014 and will also need to be re-authorized by voters. We are greatly concerned with the impact tolling may have on our ability to obtain voter approval for these levies. If one makes the very conservative assumption that each Mercer Island household would make one peak-hour round-trip commute each weekday, and one round trip each weekend, that alone would cost each household approximately $40 per week, or over $2,000 per year, which is nearly double what the cost to taxpayers would be for a new school construction bond and renewal for our operations and maintenance levy.

For these reasons, we do not support tolling I-90. It is critically important to us that any proposal for tolling I-90 mitigate the impact on students, school district employees and Mercer Island taxpayers. The cost of tolling should not be borne uniquely and disproportionately by the Mercer Island School District out of all the districts in Washington State, and if implemented compensation should be provided. We are further asking for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the social, demographic, cultural, and financial impact on the people of Mercer Island including those who work for the school district, taxpayers, parents and students.

Thank you again for your consideration.


Board of Directors

Mercer Island School District #400

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