Editorial: The school board’s search for common ground

It’s unfortunate that the Vashon Island School Board opted to postpone a vote on a proposed measure to renovate and rebuild portions of Vashon High School — a move that will cost the district several thousand dollars.

If the board had stuck to its original plan and placed the measure on the November ballot, the district’s share of the electoral costs would have come to approximately $5,000. Now, after last week’s 3-2 vote, the board has decided to put the issue before Island voters next February — raising Vashon’s share of the ballot costs to an expected $25,000. That’s a fivefold increase.

One could argue that a $20,000 increase in electoral costs is chickenfeed when the issue before us is a $47.7 million construction project. But in a district struggling to make ends meet, every penny counts. Thus, putting off the election — and reversing an earlier, unanimous decision by the board — needs to make sense.

We don’t think it does.

Two reasons were given for the postponement — first, that voters, after this summer’s ambitious fundraising drive to help the school district close a shortfall in its operating budget, are confused by the district’s various requests for increased financial support; and second, that many Islanders — due to a stagnant economy — continue to struggle financially. A postponement, this second argument goes, will give the economy that much more time to recover.

After six years of discussion and debate, countless editorials and news stories, school tours and pamphleteering, we find it hard to believe that voters don’t understand the issues around our worn and inefficient high school buildings. And if some are confused, will three more months make a difference?

As for the economy, who knows if things will be better in February?

More importantly, we’re concerned that last week’s vote suggests the resolve the board showed in November — when it voted unanimously to move forward on a $47.7 million proposal — is beginning to weaken.

Last year, a much more ambitious measure failed after a divided board put it before the voters. Terry Lindquist, the district’s superintendent at the time, said the board’s lack of unanimity played a role in the measure’s failure at the polls.

In the months following the measure’s defeat, board members worked hard, listened to voters, asked questions and came back with a scaled-down proposal, a compromise they hoped Islanders could rally behind.

Their unanimous decision to put the $47.7 million measure before voters in November suggested the board had finally found common ground. Now, once again, they’re fractured.

This latest vote could prove a minor bump in the road. We hope that’s the case. The scalded-down proposal has considerable merit. It’s responsive to voters’ concerns. It addresses the most pressing issues and puts off those that some might consider luxury items.

We believe the board should move forward with confidence.

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