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Vashon school bond measure tops 60 percent as ballots continue to be tallied

The Vashon Island School District's bid for a bond that would remake Vashon High School topped 60 percent Friday but by a mere four votes — making the measure, four days after ballots were due, still too close to call.

Michael Soltman, the district's superintendent, said he was "tentatively elated."

"I plan to bask all weekend," he said.

As of Friday afternoon, with nearly all of the ballots counted, Prop. 1 was passing by a vote of 60.11 percent to 39.89 percent, or 2,571 votes to 1,706. Four "yes" votes took the measure over the 60 percent mark, the supermajority needed for passage.

But the measure — a proposal for a $47.7 million bond that would lead to the construction of a new high school classroom building and district-wide improvements — could still fail. What remains to be counted are 94 "contested ballots," where signatures that don't match or other problems put the votes into limbo, said Katie Gilliam, a spokeswoman for King County Elections.

The latest ballots received by the elections department have gone in the school district's favor by a wide margin. Those 94 contested ballots, however, should they end up getting counted, have come in through the course of the three-week mail-in election and could be more evenly divided, said John "Oz" Osborne, a former school board member who chaired the "yes" campaign for the bond measure.

"I think it's going to come down to these contested ballots," he added.

Still, school district officials were feeling jubilant on Friday, after three days of watching the number of "yes" votes climb in this cliffhanger of an election.

"I think we're going to pass it," said Laura Wishik, who chairs Vashon's school board. "I'm very happy."

Prop. 2, a $3.5 million measure to rebuild the high school's track and field, meanwhile, went down to defeat. As of Friday, it had gained one percentage point over the course of three days of counting, reaching a 55 percent approval, not nearly close enough to top 60 percent based on the remaining votes to be counted, district officials said.

Those involved in sports on Vashon said they were unhappy about the results.

"I'm disappointed for the kids in the track program and for the community generally — but most particularly for those kids who are being cheated out for no fault of their own," said Todd Pearson, a former VHS track star and the father of two kids who graduated from VHS.

But Osborne said he will push the school board to come back to voters with another bid to rebuild the track and field. While the measure failed to achieve 60 percent, he said, "that's a very high bar to get over."

The school board, he added, should see the 55 percent vote "as a mandate from the community that they want that track and field."

Wishik said she believes Prop. 2 failed because of the ongoing recession. "I think we're going to have to wait for better economic times," she said.

Vashon voters came out in strong numbers for the election. So far, the county elections office has received 55 percent of the 7,824 ballots it mailed to Vashon — far exceeding the countywide return rate of 37 percent.

With Prop. 1 hanging in the balance, some Islanders have wondered if the county will have to recount the ballots. Gilliam, with the county elections division, said the county does not conduct automatic recounts in close elections over bonds or levies. The elections department will do so only if a citizen asks for it and agrees to cover the costs of a recount, she said.

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