Finding common ground

In Our Opinion

At first blush, it may seem as though the Vashon Island school board — with its three new members and two mid-term members — is at odds over arguably the most important issue before them: the shape, size and cost of a huge makeover for our aging school facilities.

On the one side, we have just-keep-the-rain-out Dan Chasan, a newly elected board member who, in his previous life on the school board, often said the quality of our teachers, not the beauty of our buildings, determines the academic strength of our schools.

On the other is Bob Hennessey, board chair, who last week suggested a different approach — ensuring that our buildings are remodeled or even newly constructed to accommodate an evolution in how some think the best teaching should occur.

But even with this difference, it appears that the board is coming closer to finding a plan that just might work for Vashon voters. What was floated last week was not the much-maligned “Taj Mahal” plan of a few years ago — an $80 million facelift that would have resulted in several new buildings and state-of-the-art facilities for one of the region’s smallest districts. Rather, the entire board agreed to a spending plan with an upper limit of $70 million — which, when inflation is factored in, is a significant reduction from the $80 million ceiling proposed a few years ago.

What’s more, Hennessey’s not wedded to a big construction plan. Hennessey, a father of three who ran for the board two years ago in part because he was concerned about potentially wasteful spending on facilities, has said he wants a building plan that would enable the district’s educational program to be as strong as possible within sensible fiscal limits.

Finally, it seems as though the entire board is committed to moving ahead as quickly as possible on a proposal so as to meet the timeline required for a February 2009 vote. Thanks in part to board member Laura Wishik’s work on a preliminary outline for the new facilities plan, the board seems to be moving forward with some momentum and energy.

Disagreement is not a bad thing. We don’t want the board to move forward in lock-step. At the same time, we don’t want to see it get bogged down in a power struggle that results in another decision to scrap the effort altogether. According to many close to the situation, our school buildings are in bad shape.

Chasan’s voice of restraint is critical — especially now, when many homeowners are facing much higher property taxes due to Vashon’s recent round of new property assessments. But Hennessey’s point ­— that we need to keep in mind not simply the bare bones but also the district’s academic needs — is by no means an extreme position.

Let’s hope they continue to work hard to find common ground.