Mercer Island School District officials have encountered significant opposition to their $196.3 million plan to rebuild almost all of their schools. The high-profile vote is one of three school-construction measures on the ballot for Tuesday's special election.
A bond measure that would provide funding to rebuild almost all of Mercer Island’s public schools highlights a trio of Eastside school-construction items on the ballot for Tuesday’s special election.
While not the largest of the three, Mercer Island’s $196.3 million proposition has proved the most contentious — drawing opposition from a School Board member, a city council member and a community group calling itself the “Citizens for Rational School Planning.”
The measure would provide money to rebuild the school district’s three elementary schools and its only middle school, in addition to upgrades at its only high school. Supporters say the replacement buildings are necessary because of overcrowding, but opponents prefer a more conservative plan that centers on building a fourth elementary school.
A similar bond measure in Issaquah, for $219.1 million, has drawn no such opposition and is expected to pass.
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It could be a different ending for the final item: Renton School District is trying again to pass a $97 million bond measure, mostly to build a new middle school. In a special election Feb. 14, the measure earned about 58 percent of the vote, falling short of the required 60 percent.
The February election showed a clear split between the fate of operations levies, which fund basic school services, and construction-related items. While all of the operations levies on the ballot in that election won, none of the three major construction measures did.
Still, school officials in the three cities expressed optimism.
“We’ve been getting some really good response from voters this time around,” said Randy Matheson, spokesman for the Renton district. “So we feel pretty confident.”
The confidence is also apparent in Mercer Island, despite the unusually high level of opposition.
That bond measure is being billed as a chance to hit the reset button on the school district’s buildings, which were built about a half-century ago. With hundreds of students learning in portable classrooms and enrollment increasing, bigger buildings are needed, supporters argue.
And now is the perfect time to build, they say, because construction costs and interest rates are at historic lows.
But the cost of the measure — taxpayers would be required to pay $1.58 per $1,000 of assessed home value each year for 20 years — has triggered opposition.
“Public financing should be limited in project and scope,” City Councilmember Mike Cero wrote in his quarterly newsletter, explaining why he opposes the bond measures.
Others argue the proper way to address overcrowding is through a fourth elementary school.
But Dean Mack, the school district’s executive director of business services, said that’s not possible.
“We live on an island that has no more land,” he said.
In Issaquah, the bond measure to rebuild Clark and Sunny Hills elementaries and Issaquah Middle, in addition to other construction projects, has no organized opposition, according to the Issaquah Press.
But the vote looks to be close in Renton, where officials are seeking money to build a middle school in the northern part of the district and make upgrades at other buildings.
School-district administrators believe they narrowly failed on Valentine’s Day because the bond was one of three Renton school measures on the ballot (the two others passed). The district has worked to educate citizens, noting the measure would increase taxes by only 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
Also on the all-mail ballot are smaller transportation and library-district measures.
Turnout for the election has been higher than usual, according to King County Elections.
In Snohomish County, voters outside of Bothell’s west, north and east borders are weighing whether to become a part of the city.
It’s a measure they rejected in November because of concerns it would take firetrucks and ambulances longer to reach them.
If the annexation is approved, Bothell’s population would grow by 22,283 to 55,788.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.