Convincing voters to approve a $48 million bond to fund an overhaul of Walla Walla High School’s campus will not be an easy task, particularly given the lingering effects of the recession.
The need is there. Wa-Hi might look lovely on the outside, but its insides — particularly the science building — are in need of modernization. The school’s classrooms in the 50-year-old academic building don’t mesh with today’s technology, are too crowded and are too cold in the winter and too hot in the spring and fall. It’s telling when students are thrilled to find one of their classes is in one of the air-conditioned portables plopped on the campus.
But voters will have a lot to consider before casting their ballots in the Feb. 12 election. Some of the factors they will consider are whether the building plan meets the long-term needs of the community, is cost effective to build and maintain, as well as affordable to individual voters.
Another issue is trust. Do voters believe the School Board members are good stewards of their tax dollars?
Unfortunately, some citizens are still upset with the School Board for using $3.4 million in state matching funds and $1.6 million in excess funds from the Edison Elementary School bond to build the support services/transportation building and other projects. The building had been included in a bond request rejected earlier. As a result, some feel the decision to use money connected to the Edison bond was an affront to the will of the voters.
Craig Sievertsen and Shannon Bergevin, co-chairs of the Wa-Hi bond committee, have been hearing from those voters on this issue as they have been pitching this plan to the community.
The School Board had a work session Tuesday night to discuss excess funds from the Wa-Hi project, which is expected to cost $69.6 million after state matching funds are included.
Sievertsen told the School Board it could make excess funds a non-issue by agreeing to return any unused money to taxpayers or pay down the debt.
Board members should listen to the advice of the co-chairs. They are meeting with clubs, groups and individuals to promote the plan. They are hearing what folks like about the plan and what they don’t like.
Yet, Sievertsen and Bergevin were met with resistance by Board member Max Carrera, who said he stands by his decision to use the excess Edison funds and he strongly favors retaining flexibility in how excess Wa-Hi bond funds can be used.
But Board member Cindy Meyer said she would favor paying down the debt if it would help gain support for the Wa-Hi project.
The School Board members would be wise to follow Meyer’s pragmatic lead when it makes a final decision on Friday at a special Board meeting set for 11 a.m.
If the bond does not receive approval of 60 percent of voters, there will be no excess funds to worry about.