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Bond measure hangs in the balance

Ezra Koenig raises his hand to ask a question, while Martha Woodard discusses the bond measure’s razor-thin lead in the polls. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Ezra Koenig raises his hand to ask a question, while Martha Woodard discusses the bond measure’s razor-thin lead in the polls.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

It’s a civics lesson in the making, as Vashon High School teachers Harris Levinson and Martha Woodard pointed out Monday in their American studies class.

The school district’s bid for a bond that would remake the aging high school topped 60 percent on Monday, but by a mere five votes — making the measure, one week after ballots were due, still too close to call.

“This is a testimony to how important it is to vote,” Woodard told her class.

Noting that the second part of the bond measure — rebuilding the high school’s track and field — had failed, she told the class, “We’ll be lucky to get a new school.”

Since Feb. 8, when ballots for the two provisions were due, Prop. 1 — 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 — has been inching closer to victory.

When King County Elections first posted returns last Tuesday night, the measure had received 58 percent of the Island’s vote. Since then, the county’s daily posting of results has taken the measure closer and closer to the 60 percent “supermajority” vote total it needs to pass.

The measure finally cleared that hurdle on Friday, when it led by four votes. Then, on Monday, after 12 more ballots had been counted and posted, it was leading by five.

Some at Vashon High School, where teachers have long complained about the cramped quarters, chilly classrooms and poor ventilation, were ready to start celebrating on Monday.

“I’m so grateful to the community,” Cindy Powell said after her American government course on Monday. “I can’t imagine that it won’t pass at this point. I have hope. I’m pretty optimistic.”

Others, though, weren’t quite so sanguine.

Bob Hennessey, vice-chair of the Vashon school board, who has spent seven years working to craft a bond measure to rebuild the high school that the Island would support, said he’s nervous about the way the tally has unfolded in recent days.

On Wednesday and Thursday, as late votes were tallied, Prop. 1 saw a significant increase in votes. But now a different group is being tallied — 94 ballots with signature problems, meaning ones where the voter either forgot to sign the verification card or where the voter’s signature didn’t match the one the county has on file.And those ballots, Hen-nessey noted, seem to be more evenly divided between yes and no votes.

“These unresolved signature ballots ... scare me. ... They’re wild cards,” Hennessey said.

“I was hoping that we’d be up by 50 or 60 votes by this point. Not five or six,” he added.

Meanwhile, George Wright, an Island artist who wrote the “no” statement for the voters’ pamphlet, said she continues to hope the measure will go down to defeat.

“I would have thought it would have been over by now,” she added.

As of Monday afternoon, Prop. 1 was leading 60.13 percent to 39.87 percent — or 2,579 to 1,710. Currently, the county has 86 ballots with signature problems that still need to be resolved, said Katie Gilliam, a spokeswoman for King County Elections.

All 86 of the voters have been contacted, she said. In most cases, voters need to come to the elections office in Tukwila to resolve the problem ballot, although in some instances the problem can be resolved via e-mail or fax, she said.

Voters have until close of business Tuesday, Feb. 22, to address problem ballots, she said. The election will be certified on Feb. 23.

John “Oz” Osborne, a former school board member who chaired the “yes” campaign for the bond measures, said he, too, is wary about how the next few days will play out.

“We’re in that statistically rarified range in elections where you really can’t even measure the differences,” he added.

Meanwhile, Prop. 2, a $3.5 million measure to rebuild the high school’s track and field, went down to defeat. As of Monday, it had gained nearly two percentage points since the first tallies were posted Tuesday night, climbing to 56 percent of the vote. That’s a good endorsement, some said, but not nearly strong enough to bring the measure to 60 percent based on the remaining votes to be counted, district officials said.

Those involved in sports on Vashon said they were deeply disappointed by the results.

Marilyn Oswald, who coaches track at McMurray Middle School, where 80 students are expected to turn out this spring, said she has watched kids struggle due to the poor condition of the high school track. Because the cinder track doesn’t measure up to league standards, which call for a rubberized surface, neither McMurray nor VHS can host a home track meet. “It’s disappointing, because they can’t compete in front of their families at home,” Oswald said.

Noting that the cost of Prop. 2 to taxpayers would have been minimal, Oswald added: “I’m incredibly frustrated.”

Wright, who opposed that measure, as well, said she believes it was defeated because of Islanders’ opposition to synthetic turf. She said she was glad to see Prop. 2 get defeated.

“I really don’t think we need it,” she said.

Osborne, however, said he plans to push the school board to come back to voters with another bid to rebuild the track and field.

The board, he said, should see the 55 percent vote “as a mandate from the community that they want that track and field.”

Laura Wishik, who chairs the school board, said she believes Prop. 2 failed because of the ongoing recession.

She, too, would like to see the board put forward another proposal to rebuild the track and field. But, she added, “I think we’re going to have to wait for better economic times.”

Vashon voters came out in strong numbers for the election. The county elections office has received 55 percent of the 7,824 ballots it mailed to Vashon — far exceeding the countywide return rate of 38 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.

Hennessey said that if Prop. 1 fails, he and others involved in the campaign will likely “pass the hat and pay” for a recount.

“If you’re down to that few votes, you’d be crazy not to,” he said.

Superintendent Michael Soltman, meanwhile, said that no matter what happens with Prop. 1, he now knows there’s strong Island support for such a measure.

“I see this as a major win for our Island,” he said. “Even if we end up with a few votes short, it would still mean a substantial majority see the need and value of this project.”

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