Over the first 10 weeks of this year, I have had the opportunity to meet with scores of groups and individuals regarding Walla Walla Public Schools facilities. I cannot thank people enough for giving me the opportunity and for their comments.
Our information-gathering plan was called "Educate, Listen and Plan." The education component dealt with a review of facility planning and work since the defeat of the 2006 bond.
A community high school task force spent months looking at issues directly related to high schools.
We learned that despite good reasons for two high schools, it did not make sense to replace Walla Walla High School with two smaller schools. From both an academic and economic point of view, Walla Walla was not yet ready for two smaller schools.
Further, the task force recommended that capacity be built in any further remodel for College Place high school students. College Place Public Schools is one of 44 districts in our state that are "non-high," meaning they do not have a high school.
State law RCW 28A.540.110 defines the designation of a high school district as one which non-high district students can attend.
Years ago, College Place designated Walla Walla as such a district. Since then, College Place Public Schools has made a non-high payment equal to the Walla Walla levy support for each high school student.
Walla Walla Public Schools receives state apportionment for each College Place Public Schools student attending our district's high schools.
As such, we are able to increase the academic offerings at our high schools for all students. Lastly, any new capital improvements at Walla Walla High School or Lincoln High School will include financial participation from College Place taxpayers.
We also learned that the community wanted us to remodel Wa-Hi and feature the campus, not rebuild the school into a single large building or two.
Following the short "educate" time with groups, we asked if the citizens' facilities committee and high school task force were on the right track.
Overwhelmingly, our response was yes. Whether in person, online or via mail, the feedback was that both Lincoln and Wa-Hi facilities need to be improved or replaced. The big question remained ... when and how much?
As much as I would have liked to recommend to the School Board we propose a bond election this spring, I heard differently from our community. Yes, a majority said to go now. But we need a supermajority, 60 percent, to pass a bond.
Many people said they like the direction we are heading. I think when they see conceptual designs for a remodeled and expanded Wa-Hi, they will be even more excited about the path we are on.
We felt the economy was too shaky to commit to voting yes on a bond this spring.
Further, I learned we need to spend more time with the community gathering additional feedback and informing the public as to our facility needs and how we plan to address them.
As such, the recommendation to the School Board was to wait. Although we are waiting, we will not be resting.
In the coming weeks and months we plan to continue conducting community meetings and reaching out to business leaders.
We will also report to service club members, listen to parents, staff and students to continue refining our plans to meet the needs of our community.
Within a month, our district will have a website up that will feature conceptual drawings for the Wa-Hi project and survey questions.
Please let us know what you think. I promise all comments will be considered!
Again, thank you to all who listened to my presentations and who made comments. All were noted and all were considered. Walla Walla High School is 48 years old and at some point we will be remodeling and expanding it; we want to do it right so it will serve us well for another 48 years.
Thanks again for your continued support.
Mick Miller is superintendent of Walla Walla Public Schools.