Wa-Hi bond defeat will take time to overcome

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Voters on Tuesday failed to pass a $10.2 million proposal to build a new science building on the Walla Walla High School campus.

Now what?

Should the School District quickly start working on another bond proposal to upgrade facilities at Wa-Hi or wait until the Edison School bond is paid off in 2018?

The road ahead is a tricky one.

Tuesday’s rejection was the third defeat in a row for a Wa-Hi improvement project, but given its limited scope and relatively low cost to taxpayers — 30 cents per $1,000 of a home’s value — approval should have been a slam dunk.

It wasn’t.

Just 52 percent of voters favored the plan, leaving it well short of the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass a bond.

It is not that voters don’t ever approve bonds. Bonds were passed for Green Park, Shapstein, Edison, a fire station and a police station.

For example, voters gave the OK for a new $11.6 million Walla Walla Police Department building in 2009. The general consensus for the strong showing (62 percent approval) was the feeling police are doing a solid job and the money would be used wisely.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say exactly why voters rejected the Wa-Hi science building plan.

Perhaps that is because there is no single reason. Voters seem to have different concerns.

• Some wanted to see the current science building remodeled.

• Some thought $10.2 million for a science building was too much.

• Some thought the project was too small, preferring to see several buildings overhauled or replaced.

• Some didn’t like the way the bond proposal was put on the ballot at the eleventh hour.

­ • Some did not want to pay one penny more in property tax right now.

• Some don’t trust the School Board or school officials for a variety of reasons, from the belief money won’t be spent wisely to concern over how excess funds from the Edison project were used.

• And some believe the 350 or so students leaving to go to College Place High will free up enough space to solve overcrowding issues.

Given these and other obstacles facing the School Board, it’s going to be extremely difficult for any bond proposal to gain approval until these concerns, which feel more like wounds, have a chance to heal.

The worst thing the School Board could do in the next few months is to rip off the scab as the healing process begins.

We suggest school officials take some time to fully assess the situation with an eye toward putting a plan on the ballot around the time the Edison bond is paid. Perhaps something could be considered for late 2017 or early 2018 that would allow the current Edison payment of $1.25 per $1,000 to simply continue to fund a Wa-Hi project.

Four years is a long time, and it likely will seem longer to those (including us) who saw a real need to bring the Wa-Hi science facilities into the 21st century.

Still, it is going to take time, a lot of effort and some political healing to find THE plan that is embraced by the public.

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