Letter - Facilities Task Force open to the public

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In regard to the letter to the editor by Kelly Cox published Tuesday.

I can assure readers the decision to place a new science building on the spring ballot was as big a surprise to the Walla Walla Public Schools Facilities Task Force members as it was to them.

No further discussion on that matter, but I would certainly hope the message is clear to all. The voting, paying public is only going to want to take bite-sized, affordable pieces in the necessary remodeling of Walla Walla High School.

The other thing that should now be very clear to all is that every measure should be openly shared with the public for at least 90 days prior to any measures being put on the ballot in order to have widespread public understanding to gain support. The Task Force has, and will remain, open to helping share any future proposals with the public before any vote is considered.

The public is most welcome to attend any future task force meetings. Most of the Task Force members understand that there are affordability limits as we move through the list directing scarce resources toward meeting school district structural priorities.

I have confidence the needed updates will take place, but it will also take time.

The bare fact remains that none of this can be accomplished beyond the ability of the taxpayer to afford it.

Jerry Zahl

WPS Facilities Task Force member

Walla Walla

Comments

Myinput 4 months ago

While I may not know Kelly Cox or you, Jerry, your letter proves again why I won't vote for the Bond - they lied to the Task Force that they organized to help get a Bond passed. I quote (from you, Jerry) : "I can assure readers the decision to place a new science building on the spring ballot was as big a surprise to the Walla Walla Public Schools Facilities Task Force members as it was to them. You've just proved once again that we CAN NOT TRUST THE WWSD OR THE BOARD. Fire them all. Except Samuel Wells.

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fatherof5 4 months ago

Where did the "lied to the Task Force" come from? This letter said nothing about lying. It said they were surprised.

Why were they surprised?

What happened was that after listening to the community in multiple meetings and surveys in 2013, and then listening to Wa-Hi staff members in January of 2014, an idea emerged (separate from the task force) to build a new science building right away, which would: a) get more students into quality science classrooms sooner; b) respond to the public's demand to focus on the greatest needs first; c) fix Wa-Hi in phases; d) do this first phase in a way that would not disrupt the campus during construction; and e) significantly reduce the scope of the 2013 bond (i.e. from a $69 million project to $10 million).

Even the U-B called this proposal a "slam dunk."

Many of us who heard this proposal in late February, for the reasons above, said, "You know, this would be a modest, but significant step toward fixing Wa-Hi. It makes sense. It fits what all of the surveys indicated the vast majority (81%) of Walla Wallans would support (greatest need, phases, and lower cost)." People thought, "This is a good idea, and if it is put on the ballot in April, the current sophomores can benefit in their senior year. It's a no-brainer. Do it."

The Facilities Task Force, however, felt it was happening too soon (it turns out they were right), and many of them felt it wasn't big enough. I'm not on the task force, but my understanding from some who are is that many of them objected because they knew the needs at Wa-Hi were too numerous to focus only on the science rooms. This bond was too small AND it was happening too fast. The task force's proposal in the fall of 2013 at a meeting I attended was to run a couple of (roughly) $25-28 million bonds, one soon, and the other in a few years. The net affect would have been to have comprehensively remodeled Wa-Hi in two phases in the next 5-6 years, just like the 2013 bond would have done in one phase right away (at never to be seen again interest rates). The board, though, thought the safer thing was to offer the public a much smaller proposal, which is exactly what they did.

There was not unanimity as to how to proceed, but no one was lied to. The task force didn't expect this new proposal, and I don't think they liked that it bypassed them or that it was so small and soon, but nobody has said they were lied to.

You can vote against the next bond, Myinput, but please do so because you object to the project, not because you object to the school board or because you think they lied. They didn't. And besides, the bonds are for the kids, not the adults. If it is a good project, don't punish the kids.

Mr. Zahl's suggestion that people come to meetings and become involved is an excellent one.

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Myinput 4 months ago

You nailed it on the head - they didn't lie - they just bypassed the task force and surprised them. What is the difference - bypass and surprise. They were unaware of the Boards decision. So, why have the committee or task force if you aren't going to listen and bypass them? A bunch of fluff that the WWSD has to do to meet requirements and "say" you are listening. You are not. Just get rid of the committee and do what you want anyway. The bond may be for the kids, but what we teaching them? Spend money you don't have? Don't pay off bills and just incur another more? Don't use common sense? I could go on. Clearly Fatherof5, you work for the WWSD or are on the Board.

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fatherof5 4 months ago

Do you realize that you are criticizing the Board for ignoring the Task Force and putting a bond on the ballot that was smaller than what the Task Force would likely have recommended? You say the Board doesn't listen to voters like you, but that's exactly what they were doing when they went with something smaller.

The Task Force had put forth a plan in the fall of 2013 that would have fixed Wa-Hi in two phases of $25-$30 million each. (I liked that plan, by the way.) This is all public information. The science bond was much smaller, though, which is part of the reason the Task Force didn't endorse it. Would you have been happier if the district had proposed a larger bond, as the majority of voters and almost everyone who showed up at meetings wanted them to do?

But no, the Board resisted those pressures in order to be more responsive to people like you. And then people like you criticized them for it.

And if by "listening," you mean the Board should ignore entirely the deficiencies of the Wa-Hi campus, ignore entirely the 53% of voters who voted FOR the $48 million bond in 2013, ignore the surveys that suggested many of the "no" voters would support a smaller, "greatest need" bond, ignore entirely the Task Force, which has prioritized the Wa-Hi facilities as the greatest need, and ignore the Board's own common sense, which clearly revealed to them a vast disparity between the quality of educational facilities at Wa-Hi as compared to any other 4A school in the region - if you mean by "listening" that they should ignore all of this and only do what a minority of "no" voters wanted (i.e. nothing), then you and I will have to agree to disagree about what it means to be a good listener. You are not their only constituent.

Finally, there is this argument about, "What are we teaching our kids? Spend money we don't have?" You do know that all school bonds everywhere involve debt, right? You do know that the WW bond debt payments are lower than many surrounding districts, and less than half of CP, right? You also know that if our community tackles one building at a time with 15-year bonds, it will take 150 years to get to each building? We have ONE bond out now (Edison). Clearly, the district is now going to wait until Edison is retired in 2018, but the future bonds will either need to overlap each other or we will need to cover multiple schools on each bond. That's just math. You can't go 100-150 years without rebuilding or remodeling a school.

I think a good lesson to teach kids about responsibility is that the best communities work to maintain quality schools for their young people, and that moderate debt that is methodically paid off and that is an investment in young people is far more responsible than the alternative of allowing our aging facilities to become obstacles to learning and costly maintenance rat holes. That's what I'm teaching my kids about responsibility.

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barracuda 4 months ago

Two things...

1st) Paraphrasing a saying I used on my kids. " Just because other kids are doing something doesn't mean it is for you to do." My translation: "Just because WW's bond is less than other peoples does not mean we can afford it now".

2nd) The reason CP's bond is more expensive is that it is for all three schools, It was to build a new Davis grade school, remove the old Davis school, remodel/update Meadowbrook Middle school, build CPHigh school and then tear down the old Saager School.

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fatherof5 4 months ago

barracuda, as to your two points:

1) You make a valid point, one that I use with my kids too. :) I was going for perspective here in terms of pointing out that WW is not excessive in its bond taxation. The reality is that any two sincere people could reasonably disagree on what is the appropriate level of taxation. The best way I can think of to objectively find that balance is to see what other comparable communities are willing to pay to upgrade their schools. By that measure, WW is relatively low and not, as Myinput argues, setting a bad example for kids through over taxation. But the principle of your point is taken.

2) You are right that CP's bond covers three schools, but in fairness, they are also pretty small schools. The Wa-Hi science building would have served slightly more kids each day (for 1 hour per day) than the number of kids who attend all three of the CP schools combined - and would have done so for precisely 1/9 the cost per household. The 2013 comprehensive Wa-Hi bond would have served nearly twice the number of students per day as CP (for the whole day) at 1/4 the cost per household. So, yes, the CP bond covered three schools, but will impact fewer students than either of the Wa-Hi bonds would have.

I don't make that argument to disparage CP at all. They made a bold move and will have terrific facilities for a long time. Good for them. My only reason for rejoining this issue at this time was Myinput's assertion that the Board lied. They didn't. They made a judgment based on the needs of students balanced with the input they had earnestly tried to gather from the community of what would be supported. Their assessment of student needs was accurate. Somehow, though, the data from surveys and the input from those who showed up to meetings turned out to be inaccurate.

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Myinput 4 months ago

As long as this is a government bid job where the cost to build something due to Union labor and such the cost to renovate and build a new school will be ridiculous. If the job was bid for private purposes I am confident the cost would be far less and voters would pass it. The district can show how much it costs, but these are the costs they want us to see and are inflated costs - because it's the government. They are bound to get bids within the Union and companies contracted, which will always yield a higher cost. There is money there to remodel and upgrade, they just have to look for it, shuffle things around and do their job at being fiscally responsible. Until I see this happening I will continue to vote no. They need to put their own skin in the game and use some of the money that is there to remodel and upgrade - even if it's one class at a time. My belief is if they do something to show they are trying to work within a budget that Walla Walla will support them. Until then, all we see is inflated costs and a board that doesn't listen to their task force or to their voters and all bonds will be illfated. Baby steps - one class at a time. Perhaps the money they just used to upgrade the school district office could have been used for a classroom?

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