High school talk resurfaces in College Place

High school talk resurfaces in College Place

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COLLEGE PLACE -- A conversation has started within College Place Public Schools about updating facilities and establishing a high school district.

During a special board meeting Monday, the School Board, Superintendent Tim Payne, and those in attendance discussed options to address the district's need for a new elementary school and improving facilities for students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

The School Board has been seeking to improve its facilities, and in particular to replace the aged Davis Elementary, the last few years.

In 2009, the district proposed a $23 million bond to convert Davis from a K-3 school to a K-5 elementary, and reconstruct Meadow Brook Intermediate into a middle school. Although that plan garnered a majority of votes -- about 54 percent on the first try -- a 60 percent super-majority is needed for bond issues to pass. A second attempt at the bond a few months later also came up short.

The School Board is weighing its options as Walla Walla Public Schools prepares a campaign to improve Walla Walla High School. Although still in development, the Walla Walla School Board may put a high school bond proposal to its residents in the spring.

Complicating the two districts' ambitions is the reliance each has on the other at the high school level. College Place is not a high school district, so students who finish Sager Middle School go on to Wa-Hi. In turn, Wa-Hi receives state funding for those students. About 400 students from College Place attend Wa-Hi.

Should a Wa-Hi bond pass next year, College Place residents would then be asked to approve their share of funding for the high school improvements. College Place board members estimated that share to be $8 million.

Although Monday's discussion initially centered on waiting for results of the Wa-Hi bond initiative, board member Marci Knauft asked what the outcome would be of running a College Place facilities bond -- to include a high school -- at the same time as Walla Walla.

Creating a high school district in College Place would require an application to the state, Payne said.

Once approved, residents would then have the chance to vote on a bond for the construction of a high school.

Payne said this morning the district is in a unique position that only comes about every 20 years. If Walla Walla passes a high school bond, College Place residents would be committed for years for their share of construction dollars. Proposing its own high school would give College Place residents one more option besides sending students to Wa-Hi.

"College Place residents are going to pay for schooling one way or the other," Payne said.

Securing its own high school has long been discussed in College Place, but the Walla Walla effort may increase the urgency for College Place residents. The board discussed at length placing a bond for improved K-12 facilities to its voters at the same time that Walla Walla seeks its high school bond.

Should a College Place proposal pass, residents would no longer rely on Walla Walla for high school education, and they would not be required to pay a share for a Wa-Hi bond.

"I think our people need to know where their money is going to go," board Chairman Doug Case said.

Such a scenario would first hinge on state approval for a high school district and determining this is a direction residents want to head.

Payne said he would work to get answers to some of the questions raised during the meeting. The next regular meeting of the board is Sept. 15. At that time, board members are expected to have some answers and more clarity on a potential bond issue in the coming year.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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