Editorial: School board’s consensus on bond measure is a good sign

When the Vashon Island School District came to voters earlier this year asking them to approve a $75.5 million bond measure, it lacked one critical piece in the political equation: a unified board.

Of the five board members, two — Laura Wishik and Dan Chasan — were far from enthusiastic. Though neither actively campaigned against the measure, nor did they actively support it. The measure failed, 51 to 49 percent — a slim margin, save for the fact that the proposal required a supermajority (60 percent of the vote) to pass.

Tonight, at a special meeting of the board, a new dynamic is expected to emerge. After months of effort by this hard-working group, it appears the five board members have achieved consensus.

They’re ready to put forward what is clearly a compromise — a $47.7 million request considered the first part of a two-phased plan. And they’ve apparently agreed to ask voters to approve it not next February, when the school district will need to put its basic operational levy on the ballot, but next November, when the measure can stand alone and when the economy — many hope and expect ­— will be stronger.

Put on hold — in the spirit of compromise — were a few big-ticket items some board members felt were essential. The resolution the board is expected to approve tonight includes only minimal improvements to the Vashon High School gym, despite its sorry condition. That will be addressed in phase two.

Nor is there a line item for a new track, despite the fact that VHS’s track is so abysmal that the school can’t host track meets. It doesn’t call for new school district offices (administrators will stay in Chautauqua, with some modest improvements to their digs). Nor is there a line item for a new synthetic sports field, an item many Islanders questioned.

Front and center in this proposal are what many Islanders called for — a focus on those structures that support the academic life of the high school. It includes funds for a new classroom building that will give both teachers and students some badly needed space and a far-reaching renovation of the campus’s main classroom structure, which is poorly configured and in need of repair.

We commend the board for the hard work and perseverance this resolution represents. The political process is messy; it’s usually not much fun to watch the way a measure gets made. Yet in this case, the board spent hours in open sessions working on what appears to be a measure with some traction — and doing so in a way that was civil, respectful and ultimately, it appears, productive.

There’s one important caveat in this process, however, and that is the fact that the board is about to get a new member, Steve Ellison, who will be at the table as the measure goes before Island voters. Asked Tuesday morning if he believes he can support this resolution, he said he thinks he can. He has questions, he said. But, he added, “At this stage, fretting over the details ... is more damaging than just saying this is acceptable as is.”

His comments bode well. Assuming the resolution passes tonight, voters will get the opportunity to vote on a measure that appears not only solid and thoughtful but also politically viable.

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