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Letter: MIHS 'Student's Opinion' on School Bond Measure

MIHS Junior Kyle Huber writes in a letter to the editor that the voices of students on the $196 million school construction bond issue are rarely heard, and outlines his opinion on why voters should reject it.

To My Fellow Mercer Island Residents,  

My name is Kyle and I am a junior at . I am inclined to write this letter because I've become very interested in , and from where I stand I have valuable insight from a high school student's perspective. As far as I know, there has not been a single student's opinion heard on whether the bond is the right thing for Mercer Island or not. When I realized that, I thought, how illogical is it that the people making decision haven't even considered getting the student body's opinion? Since the students are the most important, right? All right, so there are a few points I would like to make about the bond. 

First, according to the School Board, the schools have 10-15 more years left in them before they need to be torn down and reconstructed. That being said, the entire bond is based off trying to solve one problem: Overcrowding. Several more efficient and practical solutions are dismissed before the declaration came that the only way we can fix the problem is to demolish and rebuild four of the five schools on the island. The problem of overcrowding can be solved for a fraction of the price of the bond through adding portables (until the buildings actually need to be replaced), or even adding one elementary school somewhere else on the island. Both of these options are completely viable, and have been dismissed without proper justification. In addition, in case you didn't know already, there used to be 5 elementary schools and 2 middle schools on the island. Why can't we just add another school? Why can't we add portables either? I've been a student in the for 11 years now, and I have never once heard a student complain about not learning as well in a portable classroom. 

Secondly, there is a major flaw in the argument that we need to follow other school districts like Bellevue and Issaquah. For one, those cities have major shopping centers and consumer attractions that allow their school districts to receive huge amounts of money apart from purely homeowners' taxes. Also, if quality of education is determined by how new the facilities are, then I guess I've missed something. Shouldn't schools be judged on how well students perform and how much they learn in class? In my opinion it seems ridiculous to claim that to improve the learning in our schools we must demolish and rebuild 4 schools, spend $196M of taxpayers money, and give the MISD school board the power to change what the money is going to be spent on at any point within the 25 year period.

Third, don't consider this school bond an investment for your home value. That's a big leap. If you want to increase the value of your property then invest directly into home. Our schools achieve such high marks because parents on Mercer Island expertly guide and support their children, and teachers are excellent. Newcomers to the island are drawn to our district because of how schools achieve, not how they look. If you could pick a gilded new school, or the one that achieves highly regardless of how new the facilities are, then is there even a decision to make? 

I propose another addition to the ballot. Let's use our intelligence, put our heads together, and make reform to the actual learning that goes on in our school district. With respect to the bond, please, for the sake of our students vote no. The board plans on rebuilding four schools without using a swing school (temporary school) in 4-7 years. Meaning, elementary and middle school students will be even more cramped into smaller portions of the school while other parts are getting torn down and rebuilt. It's not realistic, that’s why the board included the clause stating they can alter the allocation of funds without a unanimous vote. Can you imagine the learning environment of a school experiencing total reconstruction? It will be overcrowding and insanity for an entire year. Not to mention the danger of sending K-5th graders out on the playground with heavy machinery and hard-hat zones separated from the playground by a chain link fence. 

Islanders, the point is, we are all in this together. We have amazing students, parents, PTA, School Board, staff, and faculty here in the MISD. I wrote this letter for the purpose of pushing a high school student's opinion out there, and taking responsibility for my education and for the education of those around me. Let’s improve the education that goes on in the classroom, because teachers and students do the learning, not the facilities around us. Let's reform education and be a leader for other communities to follow. We are very blessed to have the resources and capabilities to spark real change, now it's our chance to take advantage of that. 

Sincerely, 

Kyle Huber

MIHS Junior

Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 06, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Kyle has written a most thoughtful and well reasoned letter above. I appreciate it- not only because I agree with its sensible sentiments so well expressed, but it shows what a good job our schools are doing for our community. J-
Claus Jensen April 06, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Kyle, you are to be complimented on your thoughtful comments. As you said, the students have not been heard on this issue until now, and your calm and factual rebuttal of the arguments provided by the bond supporters should be emulated by all "adults" participating in the current debate! Kudos to you Kyle!
Justin Rorem April 07, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Kyle, this is an opinion many students including myself support and we are with you all the way. Great article my man. -JR
Anonathaniel April 07, 2012 at 07:42 AM
The fact that it is $196 million dollars should be enough to veto it. Don't you think there is something better we could be doing with that money....
Blair Destro April 07, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Thank you Kyle for standing to the opposition as it's not the popular option to vocalize, but the smartest. It is a testament to current educational standards. Pointing out that the only option presented to the voters is empty and spendy while other ideas are more appropriate and practical to our community shows that you have taken the time to educate yourself about this Bond and didn't just latch onto the idea of something new and exciting. Many are not allowing themselves to see beyond the images presented giving the board way too much to play with .
David de Yarza April 07, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Kyle, Fantastically stated. I am lucky enough to be involved with the UW's School of the built environment, and the Construction Management program. It has been my privilege for the last three years to sit in on a panel critiquing student work, and it never fails to amaze me what creative solutions the students come up with when unincumbered by the constraints of "how it is supposed to be". You clearly exhibit the same creative spirit and approach to problem solving. This community would be well served to listen to you and your peers. Thank you for voicing this unpopular stance.
Robert T. Brown April 07, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Wonderful letter, Mr. Huber! Many Mercer Island students across the grade spectrum share the same perspective, from talking to them. It is good to know that our students take interest in what is the largest bond in Island history. However, the Mercer Island Reporter posted your article with a byline reading "MIHS junior describes why the passage of the school bond is important for Islanders and youth", completely misrepresenting and missing the point of your article. Furthermore, they categorize it under "News", not letters. I suggest contacting them to get it changed. I am beginning to doubt they even read their letters! Also, it's a good thing you mentioned that the best home investment is that which applies directly to the home.
Jerry Goldberg April 08, 2012 at 05:22 AM
Very well said. You are correct about all the issues. Too many of these types of large bond issues (for bridges, schools, etc) are made in a vacuum without considering the opinions of all concerned. I'd vote easily for puting 1/4 of the bond amount into new classroom resources, teacher pay, a baseball field that is actually usable like every other area HS has, and other improvements and I guarantee better results for the actual students involved then the $196M will bring. Newport HS spent millions on a rebuild of their school a couple years ago, yet they stil had to install several portables on campus this year due to poor planning. Spending large amounts of momey is not always the best solution, as Kyle has inteliigently pointed out.
Tamar Baber April 08, 2012 at 08:58 PM
You go Kyle, and have your fellow students read it and talk to their parents about it! Tamar Baber
Toby Suhm April 09, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Kyle, thanks for taking the time to write your letter. I appreciate that you've become interested in the issue and felt compelled to comment on it. I do feel the need to point out a couple of facts you may have missed in preparing your letter. (1) 3 high school students did serve on the 21st Century Faclities Planning Committee. They missed some meetings due to high school or extra curricular activities, but provided valuable input into the process with their views. (2) The committe spent a great deal of time studying the issue of building a 4th elementary school somewhere on the island. Not only would a 4th elementary cost the district approximately $450,000 a year to operate (money that currently goes to pay for classroom teachers), but there is currently no suitable site available for an elementary school and likely won't be for the foreseeable future. (3) While building the new schools next to the existing schools would be inconvenient for the year of construction (in the case of the elementary schools), it is fairly common practice in smaller districts that don't have the luxury of a swing school. The students would not be crammed into smaller portions of the existing schools because the new facilites would be completed and the students moved before the old building is demolished. (4) Finally, talk to the vast majority of Real Estate agents on the island and they will tell you that investing in our schools is one of the best ways to maintain our property values.
Gillian Barlow April 09, 2012 at 04:10 AM
I agree with Kyle. Build a new school on the north end of the island. Before you vote please read report by Mike Cero as well. Also the south and middle of the island have 2 elementary schools and the middle school. We do not need to add to the traffic congestion by increasing their size.
Stark April 09, 2012 at 08:40 AM
I think it's funny that the school had open enrollment with the intention to get the district more money, and now the overcrowding is causing them $196 million...
David de Yarza April 10, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Yeah, lots of money. It is what it always boils down to isn't it? It is very interesting to hear people talk as if buildings were disposable things.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 11, 2012 at 03:46 AM
It's really Interesting to see that the "FOR" side is buying display ads from Patch. There's a lot of real money to be made by tearing down, rebuilding rather than updating our existing schools. This time many of my fellow Taxpayers I've talked to seem to be paying close attention, voting NO. Jerry-
Kaya McRuer April 11, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Kyle I appreciate that a fellow student is taking an interest in the school bond. I agree that as students we deserve a say in things that might potentially affect us or our future counterparts. However as Toby said above you did get a few of your facts wrong. I was one of the students on the 21st Century Planning Committee and I can say that students definitely had input. Unfortunately, the overcrowding issue is not an easy one to solve in a community with so little land. However I can tell you from the research and hard work which each of the highly intelligent and dedicated members of the 21st Century Committee put in that it is a real issue and needs a real solution. Portables are not a good solution to this issue. We already have more than we realistically should as they are at best meant to be a temporary teaching space and are verging on needing even more as our population increases. The portables cannot accommodate the level of learning we expect from a 21st century school, they also decrease unity within the school and could potentially turn off prospective homeowners who are looking for the best possible education for their kids. That said the school bond is not all good, but there are certain sacrifices that need to be made in order to create the best possible solution to a very real problem. Sincerely, Mercer Island High School Junior Kaya McRuer
Kyle Huber April 12, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Stark, great point. And the fact is, there is a conflict of interest for Century 21 being the ones making all the money, while also telling us what our "viable" options are. Gillian Barlow, I have read Mike Cero's entire report, I believe he is a an extremely smart leader and anyone who has endorsed the voting yes campaign, or has any question about which way to vote, should read his report. Kaya, thank you for pointing out that three students served on the Century 21 (the company making profit off this bond) committee and had a major influence in the decisions. I never meant to argue over the technicality that no students opnions have been heard. That's beside the point. In case you didn't get the thesis of my essay it is this: Mercer Island is all in this together. I am not trying to make a proposal for action whatsoever, I wish the whole discussion was over how to improve the education MI students receive! Toby, when you say: "there is currently no suitable site available for an elementary school and likely won't be for the foreseeable future" it just makes me wonder why we are rushing this so much? Is it because of the money? It's not like Century 21 isn't going to make a profit off this... The term "foreseeable future" is a loosely defined amount of time, and is supported by nothing but speculation. If 5 elementary schools and 2 middle schools is in the seeable past, then why can't 1 new school be in the foreseeable future?
Kyle Huber April 12, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Toby you go on to say, "Not only would a 4th elementary cost the district approximately $450,000 a year to operate (money that currently goes to pay for classroom teachers)" Are you implying that teacher salaries would be cut to fund overhead costs of the new school? That makes little sense because teacher salaries are determined by a number of things, such as education level, amount of experience, and other factors. Overhead costs for a new school in the district cannot possibly affect a current teacher's salary negatively. Look, we could continue arguing over minor disparities, or just come together as a community and do what is right together. I've never seen so many "yes" signs around the island for any initiative in my life. It seems that there is a lot of money involved behind the scenes to put this campaign on. Why?
Kyle Huber April 12, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Thanks for the support on the letter I am genuinely thankful for anyone who took the time to read it. A vote against this bond is absolutely not a vote against the students.
Trevor Hart April 12, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Go Kyle!
Jackie Brown April 13, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Kaya and her fellow students served on the 21st Century Facilities Planning Committee, which consisted of citizen volunteers who spent over a year analyzing the school district's facilities and overcrowding issues; they did so solely as a community service. This has nothing to do with Century 21, the real estate brokerage firm.
Jackie Brown April 13, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Toby's correct. As a result of several consecutive years of state funding cuts, there are no excess funds to pay an additional $450k per year. That extra money would have to come out of the only area left to cut, teachers. It's not a question of teachers' salaries being reduced. It's about teachers losing their jobs and class sizes increasing.
Robert T. Brown April 14, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Where can Mike Cero's quarterly reporter be found? It doesn't seem to be online.
Kendall Watson April 14, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Councilman Cero started a blog on Mercer Island Patch a little while ago and posted his previous quarterly report. I assume he will do the same with the current issue when he has time.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 14, 2012 at 11:29 PM
No matter how this all turns out, it's been wonderful to see how all our MI students have thought so carefully about these issues and added their first hand highly thought-out ideas to the discussion about improving our schools. Hopefully this unwise spending measure will not pass and will be replaced by a less expensive, more reasonable one with just enough public money to make needed upgrades without uneeded, wasteful teardowns. Jerry-
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 15, 2012 at 04:53 AM
April 17th is the last day to cast your vote on issuing Bonds to pay for (completely) tearing down, rebuilding most of our Mercer Island Schools. Many of us feel that this is the wrong way to go considering that they were all remodelled and updated just a few years ago. There's a better, more cost-effective way to make them better. J-
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 16, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Those who voted for the 196 million dollar MI School Bond Issue out of habit- as before may well want to vote -NO- this time. This simply says once again that tearing down a number of our existing, perfectly good school buildings makes no sense at all. They just need some more well-designed loving care so they can continue to serve us- as they have so well in years past. Jerry-

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