While we don't agree with the Walla Walla's School Board's decision on Tuesday to spend the $1.6 million left over from building the new Edison School on various projects, we appreciate its willingness to take public comment and discuss the issue openly.
Board members clearly understood the arguments for and against spending the money on several capital projects and they understood the political risks. Some voters felt any extra money should be returned to taxpayers by paying down the bond and reducing the tax assessment.
The Board voted 4-1 to spend the cash with Anne Golden voting no. Earlier the Board opted to use the state matching funds from the Edison project, about $3.4 million, to help fund the new transportation and support services facility.
Our feeling was that by returning the cash to taxpayers, the School Board would be building a trust with voters that could make it easier to gain approval of future bond proposals for major projects.
Board members Dan Hess and Max Carrera said they realize spending the money could prove to be a politically tricky move.
Apparently they believe they need to fund fixes for traffic problems at Edison, a new boiler for Pioneer Middle School and upgrades for the phone systems at Green Park, Berney, Pioneer and Garrison were important enough to outweigh the political risk. The Board had previously agreed to spend $500,000 of the $1.6 million to address the radon gas problems at Blue Ridge Elementary School.
"There's more than one way to build goodwill with citizens," Carrera said.
"It may build great political goodwill," he said about paying down the debt, "but it's not necessarily the best thing to do."
Give Hess, Carrera, Cindy Meyer and Jim Lehmann credit for making a heartfelt and gutsy decision.
We sincerely hope Carrera is correct, that school officials can build goodwill with the public in ways beyond returning the excess cash to taxpayers.
The Walla Walla School District has needs far beyond upgrading a phone system for four schools.
Walla Walla High School needs to be remodeled and Lincoln High School replaced sooner rather than later. It is our hope voters will at some point approve the construction of first-rate facilities.
When that issue comes before voters, the School Board must make it clear what will happen with any excess funds, including any state matching dollars.
It will also have to build goodwill in other ways. The Board should get started. We believe it has work to do to regain the trust of some voters.