Sunday, June 30, 2013
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.