Walla Walla School Board should return excess Edison funds to public

Voters approved the tax to pay for a new school, not improvements throughout the school district.

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The Walla Walla School District wants to use the $1.6 million left over from the $19.5 million bond to build a new Edison School for other capital projects in the district.

We believe the $1.6 million should be returned to the taxpayers by paying down the bond debt.

The Edison proposal approved by voters in 2007 was pitched as being for a new school - that's it.

Yes, there was legal language put into the bond measure that allows excess funds to be used for other projects, but that was not a highlight of the campaign pushing for voter support.

A few years ago when school officials asked voters to approve a bond issue for a new Walla Walla High School, it was made clear any state matching funds would be used to pay down the debt to lower the tax rate.

Prior to that, the district had taken the approach - which it was very up front about - that excess funds and/or state matching funds would be used for capital projects throughout the district. The public and this newspaper appreciated the candor.

The district's change in approach for the Wa-Hi vote created new expectations. Voters anticipated matching funds and excess funds would be refunded to taxpayers for subsequent bond proposals.

But the district used the state matching funds from the Edison project, about $3.4 million, to help fund the new transportation and support services facility. And while that facility is certainly a needed and worthy project, it wasn't what the voters thought they were funding when the approved the $19.5 million bond.

So now that another $1.6 million has surfaced via the Edison bond, school officials want to spend it.

Outgoing Superintendent Rich Carter has recommended to the School Board it be spent on several projects at various schools within the district.

Again, these are acceptable, maybe even prudent, uses of taxpayer money.

However, voters agreed to the tax themselves to build a new school, not to do a variety of upgrades and fixes.

In the future, district officials should make plans clear to voters when asking for bond approval. Tell them if excess or matching funds will be used for other projects - and detail those projects - or tell them if the money will be used to pay down the debt.

When the new fire station on Wilbur Avenue was completed the city had $435,810 left over. There was some debate at City Hall on how that money should be spent.

The City Council wisely decided to return the cash to citizens as a tax break. In doing so, it gained credibility with the voters that manifested itself in the approval of the police station bond.

The Walla Walla School Board should do the same with the excess funds from the Edison project. The trust gained from the act make it more likely future bond proposals will gain voter approval.

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