Mercer Island School Board expresses mobility concerns to City Council

At its Dec. 2 special meeting, the Mercer Island School District’s Board of Directors sent a letter to the City Council outlining concerns with the ongoing negotiations on mobility mitigation measures.

The reconfiguration of Interstate 90 to accommodate light rail construction and operation could have a “major negative impact” on the Mercer Island community and its schools, according to the letter.

“As the largest public employer on Mercer Island, we are concerned about the approximately 70 percent of our nearly 500 teachers and staff who live off-Island,” according to the letter.

If commute times increase, it may be difficult for the district to attract and retain employees, the letter states.

“Potential negative impacts include closure and/or limited access to some Mercer Island on and off ramps, and discontinuation of Mercer Island traffic SOV access to HOV lanes,” in addition to the permanent closure of the I-90 center lanes, the letter states.

The state’s constraints on school funding also prevent the district from compensating its employees at a higher rate than those in the area that offer more affordable housing and commute options that are not restricted to a single corridor.

Teachers directly impact about 50 percent of Island residents (4,200 students and 6,000 parents), according to the letter.

“It is important for our district and community to continue to employ exemplary teachers,” it continues.

The board presented a few mitigation options that wouls assist the district, including allowing district employees to access the express lanes, providing a commute stipend or ORCA cards for district employees and planning “effective and timely last mile commute options to and from the Mercer Island Park and Ride and future light rail station, to the six MISD schools and the Administration Center.”

But the board wrote that its use of public money to solve these matters is currently restricted by both district funding as well as the capped local levy rate, and may be even more so by the McCleary case.

The board suggested that the MISD superintendent and city manager work together to vet solutions and keep the district informed with respect to the progress of the negotiations.