The Walla Walla School District made significant progress on its quest to find a plan to begin improving Walla Walla High School facilities the community can agree on.
About 60 citizens — for and against the Feb. 12 bond proposal — gathered Tuesday in an attempt to help the School Board figure out why the $48 million bond failed and what modernization plan the public would accept.
The two-and-a-half- hour meeting, run skillfully (and with humor) by Superintendent Mick Miller, was productive. The discussion was civil, even cordial, with all who wanted to express their opinions being able to do so without being judged by the crowd. That’s rare — particularly when dealing with an emotional topic as was the case with the proposed $69.6 million revamp. (That total includes $21.6 million in matching state funds.)
The School Board and district officials seemed to genuinely want to know what went wrong.
The majority of those in the crowd seemed to have voted in favor of the $69.6 million plan — their support ranged from tepid to staunch.
However, several people were willing to deliver blunt and critical assessments of the bond plan to the School Board.
The recurring theme was the project was too large, too expensive and the School Board is not trusted by the public. Six people who spoke specifically said they voted against the bond.
And some of those who voted for it shared their concerns about the plan and passed along what they had heard from their friends and neighbors.
Some speakers didn’t want to abandon the $48 million plan and said they would like to see it on the ballot again.
Getting a bond proposal approved, which takes a 60 percent supermajority, is not easy under any circumstance. In the wake of a failed bond, it’s tougher.
But the way Miller and the Board showed a thirst for information is a good sign a new Wa-Hi plan will be approved relatively soon. (Getting anything on the April ballot most likely won’t happen.)
The crowd suggested everything from redoing Wa-Hi one building a year to a series of smaller projects over a decade to putting the last plan back on the ballot.
And two excellent ideas were pitched for future information gathering by citizens.
Tim McCarty suggested the district or the citizen bond committee contract with a professional research firm to test options with voters. The firm could conduct focus groups and do scientific, accurate polling so the Board will have a clearer picture of what will and won’t be approved.
An opponent of the last plan suggested the School Board set a meeting specifically to get opinions of those against the project. Such a meeting could not be legally closed to the public, but the agenda could focus specifically on perceived problems with the Feb. 12 bond proposal
Figuring out exactly what’s right for Walla Walla will be a chore for the School Board. The open communication Tuesday is a great sign the task will be accomplished.