Is the cart in front of the proverbial horse with the latest Snoqualmie Valley School District bond proposal? I hope not, but as we get closer to a decision to put a $200 million measure to revamp Mount Si High School in front of voters, I start to wonder.
The school board and officials are moving into an unofficial campaign mode on a proposal to update and expand Mount Si into one of the biggest schools in the state. Two weeks ago, board president Scott Hodgins, who’s in the last months of his term, told the Record that improving the crowded school, which has grown so populous that it expanded into the nearby middle school, is a priority. As Hodgins tells it, there won’t be a better time to do a major makeover at Mount Si than in the next few years, since the freshman class is dispersed to the Freshman Campus. You can’t fault that logic.
Yet, I couldn’t help but find myself nodding at board-member-elect Tavish MacLean’s brace of questions to the board regarding the plan. MacLean, who was elected unopposed and will take Hodgins’ seat in January, was taken aback by the pace of things. He says that the district has not yet answered the important questions on the bond. Basic, no-duh questions—Why not build a separate high school? Why not build another middle school and keep the freshman campus? How do we know this is all we’ll need?
These questions need answers. We don’t need to race to another bond. Since 2007, we’ve seen bonds for new schools fail four times—twice for a second high school, in 2007 and 2008, and twice for a replacement middle school for the freshman campus (which failed the first time by an unbelievable single vote!) in 2011. It’s as if the Valley is caught between the desire to do a second high school (which would bring a major transformation to the Valley’s identity) and the wish to simply improve on what we’ve got.
The Freshman Campus is one approach to the latter. A supersized Mount Si High School is another.
On this page, a year and a half ago, when a new middle school bond was on the board’s mind, I called for healthy discussion, rather than unity for the sake of appearances. Let’s actually do that, now and in 2014. Community meetings on the bond—meetings that by rights should precede any campaign—should be the first of a truly wide-ranging discussion on what we need to do for the future of high school in the Valley. Voters need to take part and lose their apathy. Whether you’re raising students or not, high school facilities and the taxes that pay for them affect your pocketbook and set the tone for your community.
Let’s do the vetting process—the process of ensuring that this plan is the best one, the one that will provide the best value for the hundreds of dollars of tax money every Valley property owner will have to pay every year—to the full. Vetting is vital. It’s a matter of respecting the taxpayer. If we’re now in a bond campaign, as it seems we are, then proponents need to pull out all the stops, early and often, to prove that a $200 million expansion of a single Mount Si campus, which dates to the 1950s, will actually meet our needs, both when it is built and for years to come.