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Islanders express support for high school makeover
Nearly 70 people turned out for a forum on the proposed Vashon High School rebuilding plan last Tuesday night, using hand-held devices to let the school board know where they stood on the multimillion-dollar plan and its various iterations.
And if the group was any indication of the Island’s stance on the issue, the gathering suggested that a proposed ballot measure for a substantial rebuild of Vashon High School would sail to victory next February, when it could come before voters.
In the instantaneous voting, attendees did using their hand-held devices, nearly 90 percent said at the end of the presentations that they’d support the more extensive — and more expensive — of the two building plans, a $60 million to $65 million proposal that would cost the average property owner around $53 a month in taxes.
Audience members also said they wanted to see all the so-called “a la carte” items included in a package to voters, from a new high school track that would meet state standards to a new secondary gym to reduce scheduling conflicts among sports teams. The stand-alone improvements would cost property owners another $12 million to $13 million, were all of them included in a ballot measure.
Board members cautioned after the meeting that the group — two-thirds of whom were parents of school-aged children — is likely not representative of the Island. Even so, they said, they were both surprised and encouraged by the overwhelming show of support.
“It was heartening to hear that people want all the options, because I think it’s what our kids deserve,” said board member John “Oz” Osborne.
“Recognizing this is not a random sample of the Vashon population, I was nonetheless surprised by the number of people who think we should do it now and do it right,” said board chair Bob Hennessey.
The forum was the Vashon Island School District and its five-member board’s latest effort to take the pulse of the Island before they move forward on a proposed ballot measure. District officials have also met with small groups of Islanders, issued written and electronic surveys, met with civic leaders and staffed a weekly booth at the Farmers Market.
All of the meetings have so far indicated strong support for a substantial makeover of the high school campus, district officials say. Of the 300 or so surveys the district has tallied, said communications consultant Anne Atwell, some 75 to 80 percent support Option B, the more expensive of the two proposals, as opposed to Option A, which would include no new buildings and only rehabilitate existing structures.
Though still not a truly representational sampling, the surveys and other sources of feedback “are starting to show some trends,” Atwell added. “Many of the comments are, ‘Why would you even consider Option A?’”
But board members, concerned that they’ve yet to hear from Islanders who might oppose an expensive makeover of the high school, also decided last week to undertake an official telephone survey — a service provided by the bond underwriters and included in their costs to the district.
On a 3-2 vote, the board decided to conduct the survey before determining whether to bring to the voters a ballot measure for a campus makeover. The board needs to decide by early December what kind of package, if any, it will offer to voters if the measure is to make a February ballot.
Board member Kathy Jones, who voted in favor of the survey, said she saw no reason not to poll voters in advance of the board’s decision on a ballot measure, since it will cost the district around $30,000 to put a bond measure before voters.
“If you fail miserably, if it’s voted down miserably, you’ve wasted a lot of money going forward with the vote,” she said.
“Even though we’ve gotten great support at the forums, we don’t know if that’s a skewed representation or how skewed it is,” she added.
Hennessey, who opposed polling voters in advance of the board’s decision, said he doesn’t think the board has to determine the political wind before it decides what’s in the best interest of both school-aged kids and the community.
“We were elected to make decisions, not to take polls on our decisions,” he said.
Meanwhile, those at last week’s forum asked a range of questions about the proposal, suggesting both a high degree of concern about the state of the buildings as well as the district’s commitment to maintaining them.
“If we’re not going to maintain the building, I certainly don’t want to give you a new one,” Hilary Emmer told district officials.
Others expressed strong support for Option B, suggesting that Option A, as one attendee put it, “is like a Band-Aid on a gushing wound.”
And while many expressed support for Option B, some said they left the meeting still thinking hard about what they can afford, especially in light of Vashon’s escalating property taxes.
“It makes a difference to us. We’re retired and live in a very modest cottage,” said Carolyn Price Dyer, who attended the forum. “So I’m going to wait for more insight into this, because we were startled by the taxes this year. I’m not usually one who has been so concerned, but we are startled by what has happened on Vashon.”