College Place must make decision on high school before Wa-Hi vote

A plan to renovate Wa-Hi can't be formulated until it is known whether College Place's 400 students are in or out.

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This community's high school is in need of a massive renovation.

It's nearly 2,000 students are crammed onto a campus built half a century ago for far less students -- three grades rather than four. The buildings are not energy efficient nor are they wired for today's technology. Time has taken a toll.

But while there is a clear need to renovate Walla Walla High School, there is not yet a consensus on what should be done.

And the discussion might have become a bit cloudier this week as the College Place School Board began a conversation about updating its schools and perhaps building its own high school.

Currently the College Place School District sends its 400 or so high school students to Wa-Hi. Given that, the possible renovation of Wa-Hi directly affects College Place taxpayers. Proponents of renovating Wa-Hi are considering the possibility of asking voters to approve bonds next spring for a project.

If voters in the Walla Walla School District approved a bond proposal, voters in College Place would then have to approve funding to avoid triggering a process to consolidate the two districts.

Passage of a bond proposal in Walla Walla would mean College Place taxpayers would see their property taxes increase. This has some in College Place wondering whether it make sense for College Place to build its own high school.

Now is a great time to discuss the possibility.

A College Place high school would change the educational dynamics in the Valley. It would establish a much smaller public high school that would offer a different learning environment.

Students and their families would have more options with another public high school in the Valley.

But losing 400 or more students would pinch the Walla Walla School District budget. The state contributes about $5,000 for each student and College Place pays a large amount for music and other programs Walla Walla funds through its voter-approved levy.

On the other side, running a high school would likely boost College Place's expenses.

This is a complex issue. There are many pluses and minuses to consider from quality of education to staffing to costs. Even athletics will be a consideration.

But time is a factor. A decision must be made long before a Wa-Hi proposal is put on the ballot. The scope of the project depends on whether the 400 College Place students are going to Wa-Hi or not.

Yet, the College Place School Board discussed at length this week placing a bond for improved K-12 facilities to its voters at the same time that Walla Walla seeks its high school bond.

This would be a mistake. The various options would confuse the issues -- and the voters -- dooming both proposals to failure.

The College Place School Board should take a few months to decide if it wants to take on the education of its high school students. Then, and only then, can Walla Walla decide what direction to go in renovating Wa-Hi.

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