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'Emotional' School Board Regroups After Bond Election Failure

The Mercer Island School Board delayed approval of drawing up plans for future schools as the public weighed in on school bond plans overwhelmingly rejected by the public in the April 17 Special Election.

Based on outward appearances, the Board of Director’s April 19 agenda for its first post-Special Election meeting still seemed poised for approval of a $196,250,000 school construction bond, as architects spent two hours presenting ideas on designing new local schools.

Then the meeting began — and reality of the failed bond set in — as the public and school board officials cordially but aggressively debated why nearly 5,800 voters (59 percent of ballots cast) — amidst a turnout of nearly 58 percent — had and facilities.

MISD Superintendent Gary Plano said opposition to the bond appeared from a number of groups, rather than a well-defined political campaign with clear objections. The school district will hire a professional public opinion firm to determine what the public liked and didn’t like in the bond measure before returning to the board with a plan of action.

“There’s always Monday morning quarterbacking,” Plano said.

As the end of the meeting neared, the MISD superintendent said that all options were again on the table until they could consult a professional to review what happened. But he resisted calls by from school board directors Adair Dingle, Brian Emanuels and Dave Myerson to immediately begin consultations with the city over locating a suitable property for a fourth school on the North-end of Mercer Island.

“It would be unwise to do anything,” he said. “Now is time for research.”

Also seeking to turn the page in the aftermath of the election was a visibly upset School Board President Janet Frohnmayer, who lamented the contentious nature of comments made during the campaign directed at the board and the school district. The rancorous tone of the election — which she said embarrassed her —prompted her to offer an apology to Plano, Business Director Dean Mack and administration staff.

“I want to tell you how much I appreciate your work,” she said, as the audience applauded in approval. “It almost seems like we don’t deserve you — in fact I’m pretty sure we don’t — but I wanted you to know how much I respect you.”

The failed bond, said officials, had offered voters a way to solve two growing problems present in local K-8 schools: overcrowding and outdated facilities. The plans called for staying with , and schools and but rebuilding and enlarging them, along with plans to buy land for a new school; to modernize with a new science wing; to improve ; and to modernize .

“This is not a happy day, not a happy result,” said school bond supporter Frank Morrison.

Joining the (CMIPS) Chairman in the late 90s, Morrisson urged the board to learn from his experience and described the failure of a 1999 MISD technology bond — and how the pro-school levy campaign bounced back by listening to the criticism and learning from the voters what they wanted and what they didn’t.

“Much of what we used in that next election was from what we learned from surveying voters,” he said. “That next plan was tweaked in a number of important ways ... and the end result is happy.”

The board also agreed to delay approval of two architects, Mahlum and Integrus, to draw up plans for a new elementary school and middle school prototypes until May 1. Plano and most school board directors agreed that the designs could be created in advance of any plan, but Director Dave Myerson sought to delay it because the decision was too close to the bond’s defeat and was not convinced construction on a new middle school was certain.

“I think we’re at the emotional phase of the post-election process,” he said. “I think it’s a bad idea at this point.”

Geoffrey Spelman, speaking on behalf of school bond opponents Citizens for Rational School Planning, referred to his political organization as “accidental activists” who found themselves swept up into the campaign as they reviewed the bond proposal. After the bond’s defeat, he was disappointed by school district’s response so far by continuing to recommend architects for designing schools before a master plan was in place.

“We’re trying to find the right tone — we’re trying to get back to normal,” he said. “We were hoping that in the aftermath we’d hear MISD leaders to say the right thing. … The district needs a long-term facilities plan. Once in a while we need to look at the whole picture.”

Bond critic Tom Imrich was less sanguine in his complaints, alleging that the MISD failed to “exercise even the most basic due diligence” and offered 10 recommendations for the board to consider, including placing a school on the North-end of Mercer Island, hire professionals to plan a future bond and use independently validated school enrollment projections.

“The description of this bond failure simply as ‘falling short’ is a mischaracterization exceeding that of the recent, ill-fated North Korean missle shot,” he said.

The School Board will meet again at 12:30 on May 1 at the Mercer Island School District Administration Building. In response to the bond's failure, the it will hold two listening sessions designed to provide community members with the opportunity to express their thoughts surrounding the recent bond election. The meetings are schduled for Tuesday, May 22 at 9:30 a.m. at the and Thursday, May 24 at 7 p.m. at the multipurpose room at Islander Middle School.

Depending on the number of participants, groups will be formed and facilitated by board members and scribes. Comments will then be collected and made available to the entire community.

For those who may not be able to attend, the Board is also inviting citizens’ comments via email.

Communication sent to the generic email address above will be forwarded to all board members.

Robert T. Brown April 25, 2012 at 04:36 AM
"School Board Superintendent Janet Frohnmayer"? I thought Gary Plano was the superintendent... Also, "Due diligence", instead of "Due dilligence". If my memory serves me right, CMIPS co-chair Carrie George first mentioned the "North Korea missile launch" quote, and then CRSP's Geoff Spelman later read a letter also mentioning that metaphor. Board Director Frohnmayer adjourned the topic with her 'emotional' apology and effectively prevented further discussion during the allotted time. The applause after her apology seemed to mostly come from pro-bond audience members (of which there were quite few). It also seems, from her comments, that she believes that this bond failed because of "communications issues". CMIPS and the MISD did a pretty good job of displaying up the problem, but not solving it. It's very clear why people opposed this bond. No professionals needed, just common sense.
Kendall Watson April 25, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Thanks for pointing those out, Robert. Nothing like a couple of typos to get the crowd excited. I've got Tom speaking before either Carrie George or Geoff Spelman.
Ira B. Appelman April 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM
In the most disgraceful and insulting meeting I have attended in 15 years of intense MI involvement, a teary Board Pres Frohnmayer claimed Islanders weren't worthy enough to deserve Superintendent Gary Plano! I attended last Thursday's meeting and agree with many of the details in this article, but I strongly disagree with the conclusions. The reality of the failed bond DID NOT set in; the Board decided to move forward with the failed plan. At the beginning of the meeting, two architectural firms that Plano had picked for the demolition/rebuild plan presented anyway. The Board approved Plano's recommendation to hire an expensive lawyer to negotiate with both firms for contracts that would probably be approved next meeting. Plano has been at the forefront of an unending series of screw-ups including: (1) his universally rejected plan to build a new middle school on the megablock; (2) the siting of PEAK, without a megablock master plan, in a location needed for a new elementary school; (3) encouraging off-Islanders to come here as our schools were over-crowding; (4) failure to realize the over-crowding effects of Town Center development; (5) the Stevenson property fiasco with no traffic plan; and (6) a colossal bond failure, where the opposition nearly got the 60% Plano needed. The policy of our dysfunctional School Board to reject any criticism as "uncivil" led to the colossal bond loss and is leading to the continuing waste of money to pursue the failed plan.
Ira B. Appelman April 25, 2012 at 03:19 PM
CMIPS is encouraging the Board to pursue the voter-rejected demolition/rebuild plan. In its election night statement, CMIPS claimed the bond loss was a communication problem resulting from the "short time frame" to explain the plan. At the Board meeting, Frank Morrison, identified as CMIPS founder, claimed that with a clever use of "professionals," the Board could get something close to the plan that failed. The Board has decided to follow CMIPS' advice. First, they are negotiating contracts to hire the demolition/rebuild architects identified for the failed bond issue. Next, they are going to use "professionals" to try to convince Islanders that the colossal bond loss wasn't a rejection of their demolition/rebuild plan. Many of us have been trying to get the School Board to adopt a far more practical and responsible plan. That plan would probably include renovating and expanding the elementary schools and middle school, a 4th elementary, producing a megablock plan that was promised and is long tardy, and indicating how the megablock buildings will be improved. During the PEAK siting that many Islanders opposed, the School Board decided that a new school would go on the megablock, so any displacements are the responsibility of the Board. If the Board had followed a responsible, practical approach, the over-crowding problem would already be solved; if the Board relents and adopts a responsible practical approach, the over-crowding problem will be solved shortly.
Robert T. Brown May 18, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Apparently there was a Board meeting last night: May 16, 2012 Ad Hoc Meeting 5:30pm - 7:00pm, City Hall Agenda: Write a charter for city council/school board consideration I hope to see more of the "vote yes" people at next weeks meetings than on April 19th. Their turnout at that meeting was quite low (compared to how many other 'vote no' leaders there were). I have a new website that details all of the MISD's actions and meetings: www.misdboardwatch.wordpress.com

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