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Letter: School Bond an Opportunity Missed

Local resident and 21CFPC facilitator Kris Kelsay writes in a letter to the editor that the rejection of the $196 million school bond measure could lead to several negative unintended consequences.

What if it fails? Well I guess our community is going to find out the hard way. We had before us a remarkable opportunity—an elegant plan that was carefully crafted by a smart, dedicated group of citizen volunteers that gave a year of their life to our community. Their recommendation was strategic, cost-effective and community-minded. And it failed.

There’s a million reasons why which I’m sure will be discussed at length over the coming months, but mostly today I feel sad.

I’m sad for our kids and school staff who will now need to continue to make do for years. I’m sad that teachers won’t have the spaces they need to teach the way they really want and students won’t have the spaces to learn the way they really should.

I’m sad for , , and that will likely get their eviction notice this year to make way for a portable Kindergarten school on the North Mercer campus, and I’m sad for the next generation of Kindergarten students and teachers that won’t be a part of our elementary school communities. 

and the story now need to spin about our overcrowded and aging schools and try to explain away this vote. I’m sad for our young Island families that moved here for the schools and are now questioning their decision. I’m sad that my property values will reflect this decision for many years to come.

I’m sad for our Island athletes – our state champion swimmers and our users that will likely see their pool shuttered with the next costly maintenance issue. I’m sad for our field users and teams that have lost an opportunity for additional fields space as we build two-story schools. The potential loss of our South Mercer playfields as continues to grow across the street.

I’m sad for our future engineers and scientists that won’t be able to take the courses that their peers are taking in other districts and won’t have competitive labs and facilities for their studies.

I’m sad for our open space advocates because we’ve lost our opportunity to save the beautiful property from development and transition it to public use. I’m sad about the battles for our parks that we’ll now need to fight as the NO campaign presses to find a location for a single school option on the North end.

I’m sad about the that has become the Island political norm. I’m sad for our community volunteers that were confronted by personal attacks, blatant distribution of false and misleading information, and even physical intimidation during this campaign. I’m saddened that we are no longer able to hold public meetings that aren’t scary and upsetting to attend. I wonder who will step up again to serve in this environment.

But mostly I’m sad that Mercer Island has so profoundly demonstrated that they’ve lost their vision of educational leadership and are now simply happy with being adequate.  

Kris Kelsay

www.whatifitfails.wordpress.com

Marina Moscovici April 19, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Marina Moscovici There is nothing wrong with paying someone for their services to co-ordinate a long and lengthy initiative. The Bond was a public project so yes, taxpayer funds were rightly used. If her payment had been contingent upon passage of the Bond, only then would your correlation between her being paid and her disappointment make sense. You are upset that the money paid for her services somehow robbed the children of Mercer Island of educational dollars, yet you do not seem perturbed by the ramifications of the failed Bond: which will in fact rob them of the much needed improvements and investments in their education.
Ira B. Appelman April 19, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Dear Sharon P: Since you purchased "an older home that needs a lot of work," I'm wondering if you will be demolishing it and rebuilding to provide a "21st century home" for your children? I suspect you won't because that option would be too expensive! When I worked for the federal government, my superior told a visitor that "we spend government money as if it was our own." We didn't, but that became my standard for ethical government spending. Months ago, I raised this with the School Board. It turned out only two of the five had significantly "reinvested" in their older homes, and both had remodelled! I am the top academic male from the MIHS Class of 1969, which can be confirmed by consulting the ISLA yearbook. I was taught in THIS school district that disagreeing with the government and its supporters is NOT being "negative," but is, rather, a CIVIC DUTY! Maybe that teaching in the District has changed, but I doubt it, given the articulate writing of MIHS Junior Kyle Huber. Nothing Gordon L has written is nasty, venomous, negative, uncivil, or inappropriate in any way. What the government and its supporters need to understand is that when you ask for $200 million, you better be prepared to answer some tough questions.
Blair Destro April 19, 2012 at 07:28 PM
In the eyes of those who exercised their right to vote no, they did so for the exact reasons Kris' expressing being saddened over.  Read it again.  Many of the points are well taken but better acted upon than feeling the gloom and doom sadness portrayed.  Let's not manipulate the public for political gain let's do what is right and work hard within the communities collective expertise. I do not feel bad for the realtors.  Have you seen the current market for the average home buyer?  Try buying a home under $1M right now.  They're selling fast, with multiple offers, escalation's.  Why are people still buying here?  Why aren't they going to Issaquah and Renton?  I believe we have something good here, I believe it is more than a building.  I believe the work of juggling the students through crowding and stacked lunches would have continued even if the bond passed.  Why?  Because they would be just getting the plan organized, pulling the teams together and possibly realizing then they had not asked the public for enough money because they promised more than they could deliver.  The flip side being an ask for too much leaving us wondering how excess funds are being utilized, wasted.  And really aren't you more productive when you are working toward a financially ended goal to demonstrate what you are being paid for or would you work just as hard earning your paycheck with a few year's salary in your pocket? (continued below)
Blair Destro April 19, 2012 at 07:28 PM
(continued) Lack of Decorum began with the author herself.  We came in as concerned citizens to a Town Hall meeting and were screamed at by this author because we had questions to ask. They asked us to leave before we had even stepped foot inside and then realized that was not something they could do.  Had that not happened we would not have been fueled with skepticism and mis-trust toward this group asking for our money. We had attended board meetings with our 3 minute, one-sided conversations, we had attempted to have our voices heard by a local paper that slanted their publication to one side, we found The Patch.   Finally a 21st Century method promoting conversation and open debate.
Greg Steinhauer April 19, 2012 at 07:32 PM
As a member of the 21st CFPC i completely agree with Kris. As Member of MIHS Class of 1980 middle of the pack, I wasn't smart enough to go to work for the Federal Gov't so I went to work in Private Enterprise. Mr Appleman, the only comment where we see eye to eye is its now up to the critics/obstructionist like you that are so superior in intellect and have so many better ideas than those of us that invested a year of time on the committee to come up with the solutions that those of us on the committee were by decree of the voters not intelligent enough to solve. For the sake of the community I wish all of you well and sincerely hope you step up.
Blair Destro April 19, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I am not surprised but saddened that this has become an issue dividing the community by those who yes and those who no.  We, as citizens are still working hard to create a feasible plan that works for the community, as a whole.  We are spending hours of our personal time, unpaid, to be what we promote to our children.  Be honest, act with integrity, treat others as you want to be treated, accept people for their differences,  be unique, be yourself, stand up for what you believe in, be nice, don't waste, be the change you want to see in others...we are all nice people willing to have conversations but we have been demonized by those who were threatened by our audacity to point out what was missing.
Blair Destro April 19, 2012 at 07:41 PM
This was not an instantaneous magic wand, it was hope.  We hope that efforts being made now, while we have our power and our money make this island a better place.  We hope to work together, as a community team for our children and for the effort we've made to live in a place needs to work on supporting free expression without vilification and bullying.  Working means attending meetings, listening to the people, speaking up making your important voice heard.  Share your ideas, make them happen, let's work hard together to create a project that is feasible, well planned, well debated, more than a vision, more than an idea.  Lets show the public how their money will be spent rather than glossy photos of what it could be.  Demonstrate to the community what it takes to get to there rather than providing just the end result.
Ira B. Appelman April 19, 2012 at 08:46 PM
No, Mr. Steinhauer. The responsiblity remains where it always was, with the government (MISD); that's why Gary gets the big bucks. The responsibility was NEVER with an unpaid, unelected committee, no matter how many years it met. About ten years ago at Mercerdale Park, at the MI anniversary celebration and Jumelage (twinning) with our French sister city, Thonon les Bains, the late former Mayor Ben Werner spoke about the history of Mercer Island. He characterized Mercer Island history as an interaction between proponents and opponents of various projects. Mayor Werner celebrated and praised both proponents AND OPPONENTS for their civic involvement in making Mercer Island what it was then. This is the only time, before or since, that I have ever heard a Mercer Island leader praise opposition. Our leaders often characterize opposition as "obstructionists" as Mr. Steinhauer has above, and THAT contempt for the public is transmitted to the member of committees such as 21CFPC. The leaders and their chosen few are in the know and Islanders need to HAVE FAITH and follow along, as Mr. Steinhauer has written elsewhere on Patch. The ball is now in the government's (Superintendent Plano's) court. The mistakes of the past are history. Dr. Plano must elevate his game, take account of the election results, and lead Islanders toward a new plan to improve MI schools.
Greg Steinhauer April 19, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Mr Appleman: This is not 1984. Lord have mercy if we are depending on the Gov't. To make Gary Plano the fall guy completely misses the mark. Dr Plano, in his leadership role reached out in an open process and citizens to submit to be on the 21CFPC and use our talents as citizens to help find a solution. We invested tremendous time and conducted(contrary to posts on this blog) a great amount of time and effort in due diligence. You and many of your kind, take the easiest position in the world, that of Critic, but when called on to provide effort and time to find solutions you push that off on a strawman or the nebulous concept of Govt. Dr. Plano was hired to Run and Manage the School District not conduct Feasibility Studys, Master Site Plans and define 21st Century Education for an entire community. As you know from your history classes, Central Planning didn't work so great in the Soviet Union. Step up and lend your superior intellect to a solution. Regards, GS
Ira B. Appelman April 20, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Dear GS: I concede that you are sincere, so please don't conclude that by disagreeing with you that I am questioning your sincerity. The School Board has no interest in my advice. Let me review my recent relevant involvement: A few years ago, the Board sited PEAK on the megablock. There was strong opposition (including me) to using school facilities for this non-school use, and to siting PEAK before a megablock Master Plan was created showing how the District would deal with future EDUCATIONAL needs . The District, responding to POWERFUL sports interests that wanted three basketball courts, came up with a song and dance of how they NEEDED(!!!) PEAK to cover high school functions, which they now concede never happened. But the main objection was that we might need a new school and the megablock was the only location available. THE SCHOOL BOARD ASSURED US THAT, EVEN WITH PEAK, THERE STILL WAS PLENTY OF ROOM ON THE MEGABLOCK FOR A NEW SCHOOL, and so they sited PEAK without a Master Plan and in spite of future educational needs. Now the Board, through the 21CFPC, is going back on its promise and using the "lack of land" as an excuse to support a $200 million demolition/rebuild. The Board already made a decision before siting PEAK that there is plenty of room for a new school to go on the megablock. Any displacement resulting from that new school is entirely the Board's responsibility, and Islanders shouldn't be charged $200 million to cover for the Board.
Kendall Watson April 20, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Late into the meeting last night I was preparing to leave after the the school board decided to take a pass on approving the MISD's recommendation for moving forward with an architect (they'll wait until May 1 to review the actual contract), when Superintendent Plano said in response to a board member's question that "Everything is on the table." That to me sounds like they've gone back to the drawing board — that is, pending the assistance they'll get from a professional opinion survey consultant.
D Joffe April 20, 2012 at 05:35 PM
As someone relatively new to the Island and who payed a premium to move to MI for the schools I would say that the conditions of the schools does influence real estate choices. While I concur that obviously the faculty has more of an effect on school performance, the physical plant is also a factor. My son hates being in the portables. He says they're depressing. Frankly all the buildings are as well. I can tell you that I'd much rather go to work in a nice office than my garage. I'm not saying the kids need palatial buildings but frankly on MI when you spend a fortune on your house you expect the conditions of the schools to be better and at least as good as your sport facility. Although I'm not an architect or builder the arguments that I heard for new building rather than renovation sounded strong. In the long run (not short run) it also seemed to make economical sense. Also, the duplication of services (support staff, maintenance) required for an additional building doesn't seem like good value. If I had to buy again and I was looking with young children I would buy in Seattle where home values are cheaper even if that meant sending my kids to private school. I believe that those who don't think the condition of the schools make a difference because the "reputation" of MI schools is so stellar are wrong and I really hope that there aren't many prospective buyers who share my opinion.
D Joffe April 20, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Finally, with all due respect to the high school student providing advice on how to increase the property value of my house, I would suggest that he pay taxes for a few years and shop around for real estate with his young children with the intention of sending them to public schools before becoming an expert on home value.
Blair Destro April 20, 2012 at 05:43 PM
If another school was built on the North-end perhaps it would alleviate enough of the crowding to eliminate portables. It's a step forward, but just another idea amongst many others. Attend Board Meetings make your voice heard and provide your ideas. It's important to all participate now when they are making a new plan, don't jump in once it's said and done up for vote. Now is the time, don't give up because the vote didn't pass.
Ira B. Appelman April 20, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Hi Kendall: With all due respect, I think you need to pay far less attention to what politicians say and much more attention to what politicians do. Plano has ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST in remodelling or expanding current schools. He's the author of the demolition derby. Despite the lopsided loss of the demolition/rebuild plan, Plano is going forward at full speed with the defeated plan, anyway. Plano showed his utter contempt for voters by moving forward with the hiring of the same architects he chose for the demolition/rebuild, which is what was discussed at last night's Board meeting. The Board approved his spending funds to hire an expensive attorney to negotiate contracts with the architects. There was no need to approve the contracts last night, because they hadn't been negotiated yet. That approval will happen in a few weeks. In a nod to the Board's vision of "transparency," the Board adulterated the minutes taking the item off the agenda so their approval of moving forward with the demolition/rebuild will not appear. The architects will be used for a fraudulent process called "ed. specs," which I've seen before. The architects will get wish lists from the teachers, throw in a bunch of wish lists from other groups, and put that in an Educational Specifications document. They will then claim none of our buildings meets the "educational specifications," (as no existing buildings possible could). That becomes the justification for the demolition derby.
Susan Steppard April 20, 2012 at 07:45 PM
To the person who thinks he made a mistake buying on the island: You do have it to do over again. We moved our family several times before we found the right fit. The schools in Seattle are hardly new--in fact, many of them are old and creaky. Same with most of the private schools. If you are new to the island, then you knew what the schools were like before you decided to move here, but you haven't been paying taxes very long. We moved here to get better education for our family and have no regrets. We value academics over infrastructure and are strong supporters of public schools. Sure, we'd love to see brand-new schools, but at what price? Mercer Island already has the state's top schools, beating out Issaquah, Bellevue, Sammamish and other districts with newer buildings. Our property values are holding up nicely too. http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/wa/schools/
Kendall Watson April 20, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Are you positing that Superintendent Plano is a "politician"? Rest assured I'll report on what the board does (which was kick the can down the road, as far as approving the contract). Point taken on additional cost incurred by Mack and MISD's attorney drawing up a contract by waiting until May 1, but that will be far less money than the actual value of the contract, which will be well over $50,000. With due respect, I'll leave the speculation to you.
Kendall Watson April 20, 2012 at 08:52 PM
It's been suggested elsewhere on Mercer Island Patch that on Mercer Island: 1) Property taxes are already high for the average homeowner; that 2) Property values, despite the recessionary housing market overall, is performing better than average (and is still some of the most valuable land in the state); 3) Taxpayers pay some of the lowest school levy & bond-dedicated property tax rates in the Puget Sound; and 4) Even if the $196 million bond had passed, local residents would still pay some of the lowest school levy & bond-dedicated property tax rates in the Puget Sound. It might be interesting to keep in mind that all four of the above are true.
D Joffe April 20, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I value academics over infrastructure as much as anyone which is why one of my kids now goes off island to a private school because we felt it offered far superior academics to what was available on the island despite moving here specifically for the schools. Incidentally, I didn't pick the school based on the building although it happens that the school invests a significant amount of funds on infrastructure (not just cosmetic) improvements every year. I was trying to make the point that infrastructure does matter and is also important and in my view is barely adequate on MI but I am hoping most perspective home buyers share your feelings. Because of the economic situation, my home has lost significant value since our purchase and performing better than average is still lousy. I don't see this helping in the long run. Finally, I moved from the east coast and didn't really know what the schools were like other than they are highly regarded in the state, yada, yada. (Not sure that is worth such bragging rights when WA schools are not highly rated per most polls.) I went by barometers one can use when evaluating from a distance and I wanted to continue with public schools. I was shocked when I first saw the condition of the schools. Not sure what point you are trying to make by I haven't been paying taxes that long?
D Joffe April 20, 2012 at 10:42 PM
We payed far higher taxes in my old neighborhood and although I am not a proponent of higher taxes I feel like building new schools was an investment I was willing to make. Obviously we will have to come up with a new solution. I just hope that whatever it is realistically considers the long term implications of reinvesting in older buildings and adding one new school with the higher capital investment of rebuilding from the ground up.
George Stanton April 21, 2012 at 02:37 AM
I could not agree with Greg Steinhauer more. It's easy to take 5 minutes to criticize a plan, it is much harder to spend hundreds of hours to come up with the plan. Instead of whining about the process, the people, and the plan, people need to get involved in the process and that means contributing something positive.
George Stanton April 21, 2012 at 02:42 AM
We have overcrowding in the elementary schools and the middle school. Do you suggest we build a K-8? Where do you suggest we put said school? (I mean the exact lot you would like to put it on) You're right that NOW is the time to participate. It's too bad you didn't decide that during the previous 4 years of discussion and planning. The extra school option was studied for months and ultimately rejected.
Claus Jensen April 21, 2012 at 02:43 PM
  1. The 450$ differential cost that Ms Kelsay claims is pure BUNK... That number has NEVER properly been vetted, it doesn't address FULLY ALLOCATED COSTS/student, and IT HAS NEVER BEEN INDEPENDENTLY VALIDATED...   2. The property issue was screwed up by the board and city in the first place (e.g., giving away school property inappropriately, against the advice of citizens)... so is the responsibility of both the board and city to now fix it,... property clearly available, and can be COST EFFECTIVE, ....especially when you start considering fully allocated costs, like for community wide emergency preparedness considerations,.... and traffic considerations,... and charging the fully allocated costs from developers, who profited from the north end growth at the school systems expense,... since north end development is where the delta for the added students is most likely to come from.   etc.   (continurd below)  
Susie Johnson April 21, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Mother of four, three in school still, three PTAs, voted NO. Felt manipulated by paying for a special election, $3K to Kelsay, no voter's pamplet, PEAK property, Stevenson property, Foundation $ towards bond passage, etc... Still feel that Kris Kelsay, Carol Gullstad, and my other "YES" mom friends feel that I just did not understand the proposal. I feel that they are not modeling defeat very well for our student population. They are modeling Congress well which in itself is a lesson to my children about compromise. Susie
Greg Steinhauer April 21, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Once again a loud critic looking to others to solve the problem. Mr Jensen if its not rocket science and so easy please join the next committee and enlightened them so the voters will approve the next bond. Regards, GS
Fiona April 21, 2012 at 04:08 PM
NO also - boy at MIHS, boy entering college ... similar reasons as Susie ... not just the senior citizen population! Sat through many PTA meetings, brainstorming on how to convince the voters to pass the bond. Many exaggerated doomsday consequences!
David de Yarza April 21, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Susie and Fiona, Thank you for speaking up, and showing that we are not all just seniors with no invested interest in the schools. We are both parents of kids in the district, and engaged participants in our school.
David de Yarza April 21, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Mr. Steinhauer, Thanks for your service own the 21st CPC. I hope that you will lend your expertise as well to the process moving forward. The NO vote was not a referendum on your contributions. I would like to point out that Claus was one of the first people in the room on Thursday evening when we attended the study group which preceded the board meeting. We sat through presentations from the two selected Architects to develop the ed. spec. and thus are engaged in the next solution. Unlike the pity party, lead by Ms. Carrie George who did not bother to show up until 7pm when she could take to her soapbox. I bring her up because she made an impassioned speech about how proud she was of the conduct of the CMIPS members throughout the process. Well, coming from someone who spent the entire time anybody else spoke reading the New York Times on her smartphone (I was standing right behind her), I am not surprised that she is not capable of recognizing reprehensible behavior. The scare tactics ARE reprehensible behavior, recruiting the vote of college students registered here by telling them that they will not have to pay for the bond IS reprehensible behavior, and blatantly reading the paper while not paying any attention to what anybody else has to say during a meeting IS reprehensible behavior.
Greg Steinhauer April 22, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Mr de Yarza-While you and i have distinctly different viewpoints, I respect the fact that you put your name behind your comments and have chosen to be actively engaged. GS
Kendall Watson April 24, 2012 at 05:15 AM
The latter portion of this comment was removed because it violated our Terms of Use policy: http://mercerisland.patch.com/terms

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