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Letter: Sharing our MI Bond Research

Residents Judy and Brad Chase write in a letter to the editor that, after some initial hesitation due to sticker shock, they came to appreciate the true value of dollars spent in school construction bonds.

Editor:

I have not been directly involved in the process to build new schools on Mercer Island, but Brad and I have done independent research to become more informed on the issues. I am summarizing some of that below.

We believe education is the most important community investment we can make.

The key issues:

  • Old out dated buildings
  • Enrollment growth and overcrowding in our schools
  • Do buildings matter?

What were we concerned about?

  • Cost
  • Were there better alternatives?

We don’t dispute many of the key issues. MI school buildings are not in great shape and are antiquated compared to what is going on around town. Go look at new schools in Bellevue, Lake Washington, and Seattle. All but six of Bellevue’s 28 schools will have been rebuilt since 2001. In the past ten years, the Issaquah School District built five new schools, rebuilt two and remodeled two newer elementary schools and 2 high schools. Renton School District has demolished and rebuilt all 14 elementary schools in the last 20 years.

Mercer Island school enrollment is growing as baby boomers move out and families move in and also a little bit because of the growth downtown. The Mercer Island schools in question are 28% to 43% over capacity. There are 28 Portables at the schools today. That is not a typo.

Ultimately we decided buildings do matter. We have seen the new buildings at other school sites. They offer a much better environment to learn; are safer, and have more flexible spaces, better infrastructure, better light and open spaces, better gym and library facilities, room for collaboration and hands on learning etc.

Though secondary, a material part of our housing values here is the reputation of the schools. We need to invest in our schools to keep our home values up. 

Cost?

This was the biggest concern. We will spend a lot to rebuild the schools and it will raise our taxes. The bond assessment rate is $700 per $1M of valuation each year over 25 years. We needed to understand that alternatives were carefully considered and that costs were responsibly assessed. An important gauge for us whether we are spending at the right level was whether our post bond tax rate was high or low compared with other communities. It turns out that the taxation rate is very competitive with neighboring districts.

The bond measure website (http://mischoolsyes.org/) does a good job explaining why the current plan makes the most sense. Other plans had many downfalls. A large group (30) of community volunteers spent over a year in thoughtfully investigating MANY options. We examined their thinking and believe they were thoughtful and thorough.

Because our kids are older, only our house value, not our own kids, will actually benefit from the new schools. But, others in the past made the investment our kids and community have benefited from. We feel like we should do the same. Education is a great investment and this bond was well thought through and a good use of funds. Though we had questions at first we are now enthusiastic supporters. 

If you would like to learn more, visit the school district website or the bond website listed above.

Judy and Brad Chase

Kevin Scheid March 30, 2012 at 01:35 AM
This bond will not cost $700 per year for 25 years. It will likely cost $700 for the first year. However, the annual cost after that is anyone's guess. The School district needs to be more forthcoming on this issue and give us the expected payment schedule for the life of the bonds. The bond structure for these bonds created by Northwest Securities is extremely complex but a few things are clear. Total local school payments for a million dollars in assessed value start at $3600 today and grow to around $6600 for that same home. The bond portion of that bill starts at $700 and grows to around $1800 at the end of 25 years with a sharp increase to $1300 after year three. We need a truth in lending document showing a schedule of what a homeowner staying in the same home can expect to pay for the duration of the bond. Moreover, it appears there is an escalation clause built in to the bond payments so that you will have to pay more even if the value of property on Mercer Island does not grow at the expected rate.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA April 10, 2012 at 02:59 PM
April 17th is the last day to cast your vote on issuing Bonds to pay for (completely) tearing down and rebuilding all 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 10, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Kevin Scheid's well-done bond cost analysis above is yet another reason to vote against the "tear them all down and build new from the ground up" proposal. J-

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