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said officials, had offered voters a way to solve two growing problems present in local K-8 schools: overcrowding and outdated facilities.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.