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Pressed for Time, School Board Leans Toward Phased Bond Issue

Trying to deliver a bond measure to April's ballot, the Mercer Island School Board is leaning towards a smaller bond measure on rebuilding at least one school — while sorting out if it should add another elementary school to the district.

Pressed for Time, School Board Leans Toward Phased Bond Issue

The final details still remain undecided, but a cautious Mercer Island School Board appeared on Jan. 5 to be leaning toward a phased approach  — the first in April of this year for rebuilding at least one school, followed by a second bond in 2013 for several more school buildings.

Working to come up with a plan at a public meeting at , the  is seeking to expand the capacity and update the design of all their existing schools as enrollment has steadily risen over the past several years. But the Mercer Island School Board — perhaps concerned that local voters might follow a similar pattern 30 years ago when a large construction bond failed — seems interested in a go-it-slow approach.

The  (21CPFC) had recommended the school board to adopt a larger bond for rebuilding all K-8 schools because the relative annual costs to local taxpayers between rebuilding four or five schools or just one or two could be as small as $0.20 per $1,000 of property assessed value. But instead of rebuilding three larger elementary schools — an idea that may be cheaper and one that other school board members still want to consider. 

"Everyone has issues around the number of schools," said school board president Janet Frohnmayer later on in the meeting.

"A two-phased approach would allow us more time to make those decisions and present voters with a clear package." 

Director Dave Myerson said the phased bond discussion was misplaced because the board hadn't yet decided to stay with three elementary schools or increase the number to four.

"It all comes down to finding a fourth site," he said. "We've got to find a fourth site. We should be having our discussion on that topic."

School Board Director Brian Emanuels said the board had reached a consensus on at least the act of building schools, but dividing the bond in two was a wise move because it would give them time to find land for a potential fourth elementary school and get local voters more detailed information about the planned schools.

"Breaking this into a couple of pieces," he said, "is a very good way to go to the voters."

Directors Adair Dingle and Pat Braman voiced skepticism over the plan to split the bond measure into smaller pieces, fearing that might delay the construction of new schools.

"There is no specific advantage in speed," MISD Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano said. "The question is political one. Will voters be open to one bond or two?"

The board members appeared to all agree that must be rebuilt, and money should be spent on at least planning for three elementary schools, modernizing and purchasing land near as a new school bus yard. Plano said if a phased approach was its decision, he recommended the second bond focus only on school construction.

It may not have been intentional, but the crowd gathered at the meeting in the small library of West Mercer Elementary School — home to roughly 680 students — seemed to be making a point of its own: Not enough space, and we need to do something about it now.

Some members of the audience, concerned with the sequencing of the additional projects the board was asked to consider, told the school board to focus on solving the problem of overcrowding first.

"I'm surprised that these issues haven't come up before and there was no planning for growth," said Jolene Cook, a recent transplant from California whose son is a second grader at West Mercer Elementary. "Think about the kids. Without this bond you won't be able to do anything"

"I support the new buildings for my kids," said Kendra Hubbell, a mother of two school-aged children. "I see how portables are great solution but also has challenges."

"Where is your money going if it's not about the schools?" asked Cindy Goetzmann. She added that her experience with the West Mercer PTA taught her not to barrage local residents with too many requests for funding. "You may know the political climate better, but from my perspective, it's tough to do the two asks."

Local Bond Project Proposals

The initial proposed bond could include a combination of any of the following projects:

  • Rebuild Islander Middle School
  • Land acquisition for a new elementary school
  • Land purchase price of new MISD school bus yard location (contracted for $2,550,000)
  • Planning funds for three elementary schools and MIHS classroom modernization (6-12 classrooms)
  • Rebuild three elementary schools and MIHS classroom modernization (6-12 classrooms)
  • Islander Stadium upgrade
  • Mary Wayte Pool modernization
  • Master plan for North Campus & site playfields

How Bonds Work

Because the money provided to school districts from the state includes little money for construction, educational technology, or repair, districts generally seek bonds specifically as a way to fund capital projects—renovating and building new schools or repairing facilities.

School bonds are decided in elections, and require a supermajority (60 percent) of voter approval to pass.

If the bond measure is passed, when a district is ready to get to work on a construction project funded through a bond measure, it sells a bond for the amount of the project to financers; the district taxpayers pay back the amount of the bond with interest to the financers over the next several years (much like a typical bank loan).

The exact amount of money each taxpayer owes for the bond depends on their assessed property valuation. The tax rate for a bond is expressed as a certain dollar amount per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For example, a tax rate of $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation means that the owner of a $500,000 home would pay $500 per year for the bond measure.

The Mercer Island School District , which helps keep the cost of financing construction projects down. The district says less than one percent of school districts nationwide hold a triple A rating from Moody’s.

What's Next

The school board has committed to a decision on the bond by Jan. 26. Its next opportunity for the school board to decide on what to place on the April ballot is during their next regular meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 12.  The board meets again on Jan. 17 for a performance review of MISD Superintendent Plano, and then meets for a retreat at the on Jan. 19.

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