School Board must build consensus with new Wa-Hi plan


Walla Walla School Board members are taking a bold step in putting a Walla Walla High School bond back on the table just weeks after it was rejected by voters.

If the School Board doesn’t hit just the right tone with the public, it could create a backlash that will make it more difficult to approve a Wa-Hi bond — or any school bond — anytime soon.

Admittedly this is a tricky situation to read.

While 53 percent of voters said yes (failing to reach the mandated 60 percent supermajority threshold for passage), about half the registered voters didn’t bother to mail in their ballots. The $48 million bond proposal had support, but it had detractors — and a number of those who were strongly against the bond were not shy about sharing their views publicly in the newspaper or on the Internet.

The School Board has scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday at 4 p.m. to accept community feedback on where the district should go from here in modernizing Wa-Hi. Board members are apparently open to various options. The meeting is at the district’s board room, 364 S. Park St.

School Board members plan to discuss options with the public such as putting one specific plan determined by public input on the ballot in May or November or letting voters consider multiple options on the same ballot. County Auditor Karen Martin said she consulted with County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle and it appears having multiple bond proposals on the same ballot is legal as long as each proposal is properly submitted for the ballot.

“We must stress, this (multiple options) is just an idea at this point,” said Mark Higgins, the district’s communications director. “There are many ideas coming into the district regarding this proposal.”

District officials must make a decision by March 8 to qualify a proposal (or proposals) for the May ballot. That’s about a week and a half. This doesn’t seem like enough time to make a thoughtful decision on a direction and then craft a specific plan or plans — with public input — to put on the ballot.

The School Board should not make a snap decision at the end of one public meeting, even a very long meeting. That would smack, fair or not, of trying to shove a plan down the public’s throat. A misstep in this area could fuel a voter backlash.

A series of information-gathering meetings needs to take place to form a proposal. Then the specific plans need to be vetted at another series of public sessions.

School officials need to go out of their way to convince the 47 percent who voted against the bond to attend these meetings or speak up in other ways. It’s the only way to build a true community consensus.

What happens Tuesday is critical in establishing a direction a supermajority of the community can support on Election Day.


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