As School District eyes projects, public input is sought

With a range of issues facing the School District and residents, the question for the public is which project is most important to possibly pass a bond? Or, in other words, “Where do you want your money to go?”

With a range of issues facing the School District and residents, the question for the public is which project is most important to possibly pass a bond? Or, in other words, “Where do you want your money to go?” Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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Take the survey

Pages A4 and A5 in the newspaper have the U-B survey and information on the variety of projects identified by the School District as needing attention. That information and a link to the survey can be found by clicking here.

Through the years

May 2006 — Voters overwhelmingly reject a $53.95 million bond measure that would have rebuilt Walla Walla High School, replaced Edison Elementary School and Paine School (later renamed Lincoln High School) and provided other improvements.

February 2007 — Voters narrowly approve a $19.5 million bond measure to build a new Edison School.

June 2007 — The first meeting of a 25-member citizens’ task force is held to sort through high school issues after failure of the 2006 bond measure.

May 2008 — The task force presents its 56-page report after nearly a year of study that emphatically recommends Wa-Hi and Lincoln be improved in projects phased in over time. “Do not ask for one large proposal,” according to one supporting document. Each school should receive improvements during each sequential phase, the task force said. The report adds that the board should pursue a combination of renovating existing buildings and new construction at Wa-Hi, and a large project at Lincoln that provides new space, not renovation.

May 2010 — A different district-appointed group called the Community Facilities Task Force Committee — composed of 14 parents, community leaders, staff and area business representatives — holds its final meeting. It ultimately recommends “the School Board address (Wa-Hi) deficiencies in phases, focusing on the highest priorities: science and math classrooms, the commons and overcrowding.” The committee adds: “(iLincoln) should be replaced in a single project.”

June 2010 — In a controversial move, the School Board votes to use $1.6 million left over from building Edison to cover other district needs. The board earlier opted to use about $3.4 million of state matching money from the Edison project to help fund the new support services facility — part of the May 2006 bond proposal that was defeated at the polls.

July 2010 — Mick Miller becomes school superintendent.

December 2010 — Miller plans to hold listening sessions to gauge voter sentiment on whether to seek a high school bond measure the following year. Options develop, including a $10 million bond to overhaul one or two buildings, $25 million to redo about half of the Wa-Hi campus or $45-$50 million for just about everything. State matching funds could then be used for other projects such as replacing or overhauling Lincoln.

February 2011 — The School Board chooses architectural firm BLRB/USKH to develop a conceptual design for the two schools.

March 2011 — A survey of about 300 local residents shows most agree the high schools are in need of facilities improvements and feel a bond campaign should get under way in the next two years.

March 2011 — The School Board decides to wait until the following school year to ask voters for a bond to fix Wa-Hi.

May 2011 — The School District seeks community input on a potential redesign of Wa-Hi that includes design concepts similar to those ultimately presented to voters. Officials still haven’t decided whether to seek a series of smaller bonds over time or one large one to cover all the needs.

August 2011 — The College Place School Board begins a conversation about updating its schools and perhaps building its own high school.

April 2012 ­— College Place voters narrowly approve a $38.5 million bond measure to rebuild Davis Elementary and establish a public high school.

July 2012 — Architects present an idea to the Walla Walla School Board to renovate Lincoln rather than build a new school because of a projected $5 million in state matching money that could be added to about $6 million needed in local dollars.

October 2012 — A small crowd of mostly district staff and supporters gathers to review plans for updating the district’s two high schools.

November 2012 — Despite recommendations by earlier committees against such action, the School Board decides to pursue a $48 million bond measure for comprehensive modernization and updates to Wa-Hi.

December 2012 — School Board votes to use any excess funds from a Wa-Hi bond to pay down debt.

February 2013 — District voters reject the Wa-Hi bond measure. Fifty three percent of voters say yes, 47 percent are against. But a supermajority of 60 percent approval was necessary for passage.

February 2013 — The School Board holds a work session to receive input from community members on why the bond measure failed to achieve a supermajority of yes votes. “Taxes are too high,” “Do the project in phases,” “Decide on needs versus wants,” and a “Lack of trust in the School Board and the district” are recurring responses.

April 2013 — The School Board holds a study session at which Miller presents a list of possible alternatives to comprehensive modernization of Wa-Hi all at once.

June 2013 — A facilities study committee recommends building a new Lincoln at the current Fourth Avenue site.

June 2013 — The School District and the Union-Bulletin introduce surveys to gather community input on how to proceed regarding Wa-Hi, Lincoln and other facility needs.

— compiled by U-B

reporter Terry McConn

WALLA WALLA — Most voters said yes in February to a plan to extensively renovate Walla Walla High School.

But not enough did.

Walla Walla public schools Superintendent Mick Miller said at an April board study session that the district was buoyed by the 53 percent of voters who favored the $48 million Wa-Hi improvement project bond issue.

“The general consensus was the need is there,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that community concerns about the $69.6 million overall cost is a significant reason the measure fell short of the 60 percent supermajority needed to approve construction.

In proposing the comprehensive measure, district officials said the needs will not diminish, the eventual cost to local taxpayers will rise every year the work is postponed and state matching money may continue to decrease.

But voter input after the election revealed that particularly residents on fixed incomes feel they can’t afford a 68-cent-per-thousand assessed value property tax hike. Miller’s read is many voters want the renovation project prioritized and packaged differently, and perhaps done “over a period of time.”

Is that true? Or should the district again try the comprehensive approach, next time with lowered projected development costs and a more robust public relations campaign? Or do nothing right now?

The district is considering alternatives that might lighten the taxpayers’ load, yet move toward modernizing Wa-Hi — a desire that’s been stalled for at least seven years since a bond for a new school was defeated in 2006.

It was mentioned at a board meeting in late February this year that reaching a tolerable monetary threshold is essential to avoid a third defeat at the polls.

Conducting a survey was suggested to determine opinions about Wa-Hi facilities and the district took that to heart.

In fact, two surveys surfaced this month. One, which uses a scientific model, was a telephone poll in conjunction with Washington State University involving 5,000 randomly selected local residents with a goal of 300 completed responses.

The other was an online SurveyMonkey questionnaire on the School District’s website.

The Union-Bulletin also has decided to be a conduit for public input and today is introducing its own survey. Our poll includes many of the questions asked by the district in its surveys, plus additional questions and opportunities for readers to prioritize facility options regarding Wa-Hi, possible improvements to Lincoln High School and other potential projects.

Please take time to read the extensive information provided by the district and U-B staff in today’s newspaper and online, and fill out our questionnaire — even if you have been called by the district’s surveyors or answered its questions online. We will be accepting completed surveys through July 12 and will publish the complete results when they’re available.

This U-B poll is separate from the district’s, of course, and if a great number of you complete it, it will help complete the picture for the district. It will result in more data the School Board can ponder in advance of another expected, expensive — but as-yet unannounced — bond election.

After all, as Miller said at April’s meeting:

“At some point, we will be back.”

U-B reporter Terry McConn grew up in Walla Walla in the 1960s, attended Sharpstein Elementary School, Pioneer Junior High and graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1970. His sons, Patrick and Christopher, went to the same schools, graduating from Wa-Hi in the early 2000s. His wife, Sherry, is a teacher at Wa-Hi.

Comments

barracuda 9 months, 3 weeks ago

"Please take time to read the extensive information provided by the district and U-B staff in today’s newspaper and online, and fill out our questionnaire — even if you have been called by the district’s surveyors or answered its questions online. We will be accepting completed surveys through July 12 and will publish the complete results when they’re available." .

Where is this poll at? Anybody know a link?

0

mariagonzalez 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Scroll back up to the top, in the left side column, under "Take the Survey." The last sentence includes the hyperlink where it says "here."

1

Csivley 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Its important to remember that K-12 education is the responsibility of the State of Washington pursuant to the State Constitution. We ought not let our legislator's off the hook for properly funding both O&M and Capital Improvements to the system. Continuing to approve local bond issues allows our legislators the opportunity to spend tax dollars elsewhere, which has recently resulted in the State Supreme Court ruling that the State has violated the constitution and must now aggressively fund K-12 education as a priority over other services and programs. Let's hold our State elected officials accountable and seek capital funding for our public school system via the State of Washington. The excess funds obtained by high tax rates on alcohol may be a good place to begin to resolve this funding issue.

2

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