WALLA WALLA — Residents of the Walla Walla School District are clearly divided on how to improve facilities at Walla Walla High School, according to a recent district-sponsored, scientific survey.
Nearly half of those polled favored complete modernization similar to what was proposed in the $48 million bond measure that failed to gain supermajority approval in February’s election.
But combined, most residents preferred a phased approach or no bond at all.
The results of the telephone survey, conducted last month in partnership with Washington State University Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, were unveiled Tuesday at a School Board work session.
A total of 302 interviews were completed and six partially completed from a random sample of 1,500 residents.
The survey cost the district $7,742, but that reportedly is about a third of what private companies would charge.
The board took no action Tuesday. President Anne Golden said another work session likely will be held in a few weeks to start discussing the next step in planning Wa-Hi improvements.
Complete survey documents and other information are available on the district’s website and will be shared on social media and emailed newsletters.
Of the survey respondents, 47.9 percent favored complete modernization, short of the 53.3 percent approval garnered in February’s election and the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass bond measures in this state.
A phased improvement approach was preferred by 33.1 percent of those responding to the poll, with the majority wanting three phases instead of two. The science building was mentioned as the highest priority followed by the academic building. The phased approach would involve smaller bond measures every four years for the next eight or 12 years.
Nineteen percent wanted no bond at all.
Improving Lincoln High School was listed as the next priority by 44.7 percent of respondents.
Most people surveyed — 61.6 percent — are female and more than half — 51 percent — are 60 years old or older.
Mark Higgins, the district’s director of communications and community relations, told the board, “People see that Walla Walla High School needs improvement. On the other hand, the economy is something we really need to pay attention to.”
The top two reasons residents voted no in February were “the cost was too much for me personally” and “the public cannot afford this debt in this economy,” according to the survey.
Higgins said the district must do a better job explaining exactly where money will be spent.
But he believes residents have an open mind.
“I think we have a better opportunity here to educate them more and be successful,” he said.
Higgins added that the district needs to communicate a long-range plan regarding other facility needs.
With support of those favoring complete modernization combined with those preferring a phased approach, the district is optimistic voters will move toward improving Wa-Hi.
But some people, such as outgoing board member Max Carrera, who will leave the panel at the end of the month, are critical of the phased concept. They point to higher costs and continual disruption on the campus.
Carrera acknowledged at Tuesday’s meeting that “people seem to like” phasing in improvements, but he hopes voters will be educated on its drawbacks.
“Since that can of worms has been opened, I hope it will be addressed and in my opinion, squelched.”
Also Tuesday, Higgins highlighted results of a separate, unscientific poll conducted on the district’s website last month using the web tool SurveyMonkey. Likely completed primarily by district parents and employees, nearly 56 percent of about 450 respondents favored complete modernization, with phasing preferred by 28 percent and 4 percent wanting no bond at all. Twelve percent opted for some other approach.
The Union-Bulletin recently has ended its own survey, with results to be published soon. Golden said the board also will take those results into account when deciding what to do next.
Higgins told the board that data from the surveys should prove valuable in planning improvements at Wa-Hi.
“We know (much of the campus) is 50 years old and it won’t do it on its own. We have to be successful at some point.”
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.