Poll shows divide over plans for Walla Walla High School

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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 terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

Comments

dereksarley 1 year, 1 month ago

The substantial support measured for a "phased approach" echoes what's been said in the public work sessions following the bond's defeat. The needs are obvious to most, but the price tag seems too high to many.

Unfortunately, the phased approach looks to be one of those compromises that offers the downsides of both positions and the advantages of neither. In return for stretching these projects over a decade or more, we get higher construction costs, prolonged disruptions in the Wa-Hi learning environment, and many more years of students and teachers working in substandard facilities.

These surveys also come at a time when the district has heard many people say that the information they received in the run-up to the election was insufficient to address all their concerns, but before the district has had a chance to rectify that situation. It is perhaps then not surprising that the results so closely track with those of the election itself.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

The third paragraph reads: "...most residents preferred a phased approach or no bond at all." Sounds pretty bleak for bond proponents, right? But just 19% are actually against fixing Wa-Hi. Based on the survey stats cited, that sentence could have accurately read: "81% of respondents favored either a comprehensive single project or a phased-in approach to fixing Wa-Hi." Now, that's pretty overwhelming support.

However, I agree with dereksarley's comment above regarding the higher overall costs and the stretching out of the construction. A single 20-year bond vs. three 10-year (?) bonds (added once every four years) still means we taxpayers will have several years where we are paying for the whole project all at once. So what do we really gain? A phased approach won't be as cost-efficient, will take longer to benefit students, and will be a disruption on campus for longer. Citizens need to be educated about this.

That said, the work needs to get done. If 81% would vote for a less-efficient way of getting the job done, as compared to last February's 53% voting for a more-efficient way, I guess I'd begrudgingly go along with the method supported by 81%, because we need a minimum of 60% to do anything.

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Jo99362 1 year, 1 month ago

It would of been helpful to show statistics of who actually votes, the audience the school district has to woo to get more votes. It doesn't help that Tri-Cities has local news stations that report their construction costs are lower than Walla Walla and they are building many times more schools for what one Walla Walla High School was going to cost. Now that Lincoln is successful, the delay in addressing Wa-Hi sooner is now about what is more important for the voters. Doesn't help to garner more votes that the School District spent the leftover Edison money on a separate project.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

Yes, Jo, I think with Lincoln and the other potential facilities projects, the district is going to have to lay out a big-picture long-term plan. That's important. But I'm pretty confident from conversations I have heard that Wa-Hi is still the highest priority.

As for the Edison money, I looked up the verbiage of that bond recently, and it clearly and unambiguously authorized the Board to spend the extra money on additional projects. That has been misunderstood and mischaracterized.

And as for the Tri-Cities' bonds, my understanding was that WW's cost-per-foot was less than Richland's. They were able to build more schools because (a) they were spending $63 million more than the Wa-Hi project, and (b) because any one of their 500-student elementary schools was much smaller than just one building at Wa-Hi. For example, the Academic Building has more than 30 classrooms, so it can hold 900 students. I think the Science Building is almost as big, and then there's the Fitness Center, the Music Building, the Commons, the Library, and the various site improvements that were also part of the bond. It's a big school - and very old.

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 1 month ago

I like the comments that we need to be "educated". Like we were too stupid before when we voted "no".

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barracuda 1 year, 1 month ago

Imjustsayin, Only the "unedjaycated peeple" voted against the bond! Come on, we all know that......

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

ImJustSayin, I don't think all of the folks who want to fix Wa-Hi in phases understand the added costs, as opposed to doing it in one shot. This is not because I think they are stupid. It is because they have lives to lead and probably haven't spent as much time thinking this through and reading about it as other have. The context of my "educated" comment had to do with phasing, not with voting "no."

There is a link in this article to the WSU survey. In that survey are tons of comments that "yes" and "no" voters made. I read through a lot of those comments this afternoon, and of the "no" voters, while many had legitimate objections, there were also many who cited reasons that were factually incorrect. One person worried that the bond money would go to administrators and unions. A few said the maintenance at Wa-Hi was bad (which isn't true and has nothing to do with any of the bond projects anyway). Someone said that Wa-Hi "had a remodel not too long ago." And beyond that, lots of people simply said they didn't really understand it.

So, if you prefer the word "informed," okay, but these comments demonstrate that - for whatever reason - many of the "no" voters were not fully informed. You can see it in the comments.

(Someone also said they would vote "yes" only when Wa-Hi brought God back into the classroom. Sigh.)

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barracuda 1 year, 1 month ago

Fatherof5, Again, I cannot speak for the others.... But, I have said this before, I have got the STRONG impression that if I am an educated person, I will vote the way other educated people want me to vote. And people who vote "no" are not "educated"!
Sometimes people gain knowledge through various ways, and sometimes our education comes in the form of our pocketbooks! No need to bring up past entry's on these blogs.... And sorry, my opinion.... Fatherof5, at times, you give that impression to others here. And yes, I have an college education.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

It is true, barracuda, that I believe pretty strongly that making these improvements at Wa-Hi is the smart thing to do. I don't deny that. I think it is a good plan for Wa-Hi, a good financial investment, and part of our civic responsibility. Those are my beliefs. My intent, though, is not to belittle anyone, especially those who are making civil and rational objections, which I think particularly includes those who live on fixed incomes but don't qualify for the senior exemption.

I strive to maintain a civil and respectful tone, and think I have been mostly successful, perhaps with the exception of a few exchanges with namvet. I am sorry if I have failed to take the high road as often as I perceive. I'm trying.

What I object to are anti-bond arguments that are unfair ad hominem attacks against some of the leaders in the district, and arguments that are not factually accurate. Many of the anti-bond posts have made questionable claims and some have done so in a really nasty tone. My goal here has been to clarify those facts as best I can based on the information I have found online and at various informational meetings I have attended.

In this particular blog, I was referring to educating the voters about the hidden costs of doing the bond in phases. ImJustSayin re-interpreted that as me calling "no" voters stupid, which wasn't at all what I wrote.

But enough about us. What do you find good/bad/surprising about the WSU survey?

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 1 month ago

Here's a question for you. Honest answer please. If you didn't have kids attending WA-HI, or kids planning to attend, would you still vote "yes"? Assume all five of your kids are in college and you're paying out the ace for their tuition and every penny you make counts.

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downhillracer 1 year, 1 month ago

You've described my situation to a 'T' (but only one in college). Damn right I'll vote Yes on a bond to improve educational facilities for the next generation - in a heartbeat.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

ImJustSayin, the honest answer is yes, I would. I was raised in a family that believed supporting schools was part of our civic duty. Most of the people I have known in my life have felt the same way, which is part of the reason I am sometimes taken aback by some of the different perspectives here.

Besides believing that it is the right thing to do, I also think investing in our schools is smart. So, my heart and my head agree on this one. Then, when you throw my kids into the equation, that's where the passion come from.

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 1 month ago

You missed my point. Your kids ARE NOT in high school. My scenario is that all 5 are in college and you are stretched thin financially trying to pay their tuition. With that said, how can you afford to have your property taxes raised to pay for the high school upgrade? Maybe you're not stretched thin. Maybe you earn a high salary and can afford to do both. Many in this community cannot. Many live pay check to pay check. Until this economy improves, you can't continue raising taxes to pay for things. If you need an example of the results from doing so, place a call to the mayor of Detroit.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

I didn't miss your point, but I didn't articulate my response very well either. My bad. My attempted answer was that I would vote to support schools regardless, but that I would do so more passionately with my kids enrolled.

Without going into detail, I can safely say that I know about being stretched thin. Somehow, we find a way to make it work.

I also disagree with your premise about "continuing to raise taxes to pay for things." On a macro level, taxes are at very low levels compared to the past 50 years. On a micro level (specifically regarding the WW school district), those taxes fluctuate roughly between $1 and $2 per $1000 home value. Bonds go on and bonds come off. In WW they do not "continue to go up." Even with the passage of the full Wa-Hi bond in February, we would have been slated to pay less than most of our neighboring communities.

As for the economy, when you have a 20-year bond, it will cover periods of prosperity and periods of recession. That's a historical reality. However, interest rates are at historical rates right now, so if we would have passed it in February or could pass it this next time, we will likely pay less than if we delay.

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VinoTinto 1 year, 1 month ago

If this project does come to fruition, I hope the bond is secured while interest rates are still relatively low.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

Agreed. That's another reason to do this sooner than later, VinoTinto.

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downhillracer 1 year, 1 month ago

Let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 1 month ago

An upgraded building doesn't guarantee the intelligence of the occupants will increase.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

Being able to conduct a wide range of science labs, instead of being limited to 1963 science rooms, would be a pretty good way to make kids better educated in science, wouldn't it?

Learning in a climate-controlled environment where students can maintain their focus on hot days would be a pretty good way to help them retain more information, wouldn't it?

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ImJustSayin 1 year, 1 month ago

Can you guarantee those results? And are you saying those that have recently graduated are less educated because they were too hot to focus?

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

Nope. I can't guarantee buying chickens will get you eggs, either, but it's a good place to start.

Since you asked, here's a study that shows a child's academic progress can be impacted by as much as 25% due to his/her physical classroom environment. There are more studies like this. http://anniemurphypaul.com/2013/01/the-physical-environment-of-the-classroom-matters-for-learning/#

From another article, it says: "Temperature is another element that plays a key role in the learning environment. If a student is too cold or too hot, he will have a hard time concentrating on his learning tasks (Moore, 2007)." http://www.studymode.com/essays/Preference-For-A-Learning-Environment-And-644799.html

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sewoolley 1 year, 1 month ago

One problem with the poll is that it asked for what are essentially uninformed opinions., mine included. A second problem is that, even when presented with the findings of competent persons who have studied the question in depth, there have been enough voters who prefer to stick with their opinions. So I'm not sure what value this poll has to anyone.

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fatherof5 1 year, 1 month ago

Sewoolley, I think the poll does a couple of things for the district. First, it helps them credibly break down the reasons for the "no" votes from February. Some folks are just "no" voters no matter what, but from the comments in the survey it looks like a lot of the "no" voters would be willing to support a Wa-Hi bond under certain conditions. So, that's helpful to for the district to know.

Second, I think the fact that 81% of voters are willing to fix Wa-Hi either in phases (33%) or in one shot (48%) is a big deal. In fact, that is huge information for the district. Without the survey, it was unclear as to how many of the 47% of "no" voters would be willing to move to "yes." The answer appears to be that more than half of them would - given the right circumstances.

So, now the challenge - as I see it anyway - will be for the district to figure out the best way to present a bond or a series of bonds to the public that (a) gets an optimal number of "yes" votes, and (b) effectively addresses the issues at Wa-Hi. It would be great to get 70% or 80% "yes" instead of barely hitting the 60% mark. I think the data in this survey makes that more possible.

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barracuda 1 year, 1 month ago

OMG!
I just received my voters packet! IT IS FOR A SINGLE POSITION ON THE WWPS BOARD!

Come on! How much did this cost WW voters/tax-payers? Money that could have benefited Wa-Hi say maybe air-conditioning.... Windows..... insulation etc...........

Wow! Even though Fatherof5 will attempt defend it, I'm guessing even he has to agree this looks very ass-nine to do this! This is just one more item in the negative stack for WW Schools!

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namvet60 1 year, 1 month ago

WOW - took me longer to get the glue taste off my tongue than it did to place a little dot on my ballot. And the cost is - I have "heard" that the cost is well over $25,000.00 that took me the time to find a pen and dot the I.

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