The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

School board hears bond comment


January 30, 2020

Any possible criticism about the school bond that may have surfaced at the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors meeting last Wednesday was drowned out by the show of support from the crowd in attendance.

Here are the comments from the public:

Two people had words of caution about cutting corners.

Tim Emerson, who had taken a tour of the high school the day before, said he had worked in the construction industry, remodeling schools. He spoke of his experience at another school district in Colorado, after a bond was approved, but without enough money.

“A lot of this came from people trying to save money,” Emerson said. “They were halfway through construction when they ran out of money. It cost taxpayers quite a bit more money. They band-aided the school.

Emerson said that a lot of people left the community when the schools closed, because they were unable to bring them up to code.

“I’ve worked in the elementary building for 31 years. They cut way back on a lot of the remodel,” Janine Davidson said, echoing some of Emerson’s concerns. “They did not replace the plumbing in that building. I’ve seen the whole hallway dug up during school days, it went out during the school year. It’s constantly an issue because it was never taken care of and fixed correctly in the beginning. So we are still struggling with that old plumbing that is 70 years old. I’ve seen the comments on Facebook that we haven’t maintained that building since the remodel. That is not the case. We didn’t do the remodel correctly because we were cutting so many corners.”

Bill Wainwright addressed an issue brought up by Emerson.

“If we are the oldest county in the state and we don’t have a big wealth base and we’ve got financial issues in the county and the town and it’s very important that we attract people to the community and we keep people in the county,” Wainwright said. “If the word gets out that we do not have a good solid school system…what will that do to our taxes? I think we have to look at the bigger picture. Do we want property values dropping? People don’t want to come here because we’re having to bus students or double shifts at school. I would love to see us get the bond passed and build on what we have and keep it vibrant and a place that people want to come to.”

One attendee was concerned about the safety and security of students, citing the lack of an operating sprinkler system or alarm system and whether the building was ready for any seismic activity.

“We’ve reached the point where I am hard pressed to have the kids do experiments in the science room,” science teacher Jeff Rooklidge said, citing poor ventilation that affected students with asthma, and the asbestos in the floor that prevented repairs to plumbing.

“We as teachers experience so much support and so much blessing in this community for our kids and our school system, I’m so grateful for that,” Rooklidge said. “Now I just want to give my kids the tools and the opportunities…to have those experiences to dream and have passions to be engineers, nurses, biologists, etc., it’s really needed.”

“This school is the center of the community,” Tina Merz said. “There are kids hanging out here all the time. This is where they feel safe. People care about them here. They deserve this. I don’t choose to live on Mercer Island where I might pay $0.37 on $1,000. I choose to live here, so I’m willing to sacrifice whatever I need to make sure our high school gets built, remodeled, whatever it takes.”

“People supported us when we were in school to make sure we had an education and that’s what I’m going to do for these kids today,” Willie Johnson said.

“We all love this school so much and we would really like to get the bond passed so we can remodel so that we can have the facilities to give us the best learning opportunities,” Malia Ana, a student, said.

Jim Randolph said he had attended a tour the day before.

“Obviously the school needs help,” he said. “Everything that you have said is true. What I’d say is that this is a room full of supporters. From what I’m hearing out there, it’s not quite those same odds. I think a couple things need to be addressed.”

He wondered how many bonds have gone before and how many more might come up in the next 20 years in the community, and how many taxpayers would bear the brunt of the tax.

After public comment, the board moved to old and new business.

Superintendent Brent Freeman gave an update on the FISH (Food Industry Seafood Handling Center), the new building that was erected thanks to a $246,450 grant secured by the Wahkiakum Marine Resources Committee.

All major construction was complete by December 31, he said, and a food safety compliance specialist had visited.

“She was very pleased with the way the construction went forward,” Freeman said.

The district is putting epoxy on the floor and installing equipment, paid for with a $43,000 grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Freeman said that there had been a couple more “big bus failures” in recent weeks.

“We can’t have kids on the side of the road,” he said.

The district may be getting two new buses. Transportation Supervisor Calvin Grasseth was able to track down two brand new buses that were already outfitted according to specifications set by another school district before they decided they couldn’t take them.

The asking price for each bus was $122,000, but through negotiation, Wahkiakum was able to get the price down to $111,000 for each bus.

The district had already planned to take advantage of a state depreciation plan for buses, which over time, as Freeman says, means “they are paying for our buses and we’re not.”

“We’ve got two buses that have things on them that are upgrades that we couldn’t afford,” Freeman said. “They are below cost we wouldn’t get if we were to wait, because we are getting a package deal.”

“Kudos to Calvin for getting out there and finding us a good deal on buses, saving us money, and getting a second bus into the district,” Freeman said.

A resolution to transfer funds from the general fund to the transportation fund in order to purchase the buses will be drafted for the directors to approve at the next meeting.

The board approved a resolution to adopt a study and survey of the school district completed by the Construction Services Group that will be submitted to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, as part of process to receive a $6.7 million state match for the school bond.

Talk turned to scoreboards.

“Our scoreboards are in bad shape,” Freeman said.

According to Freeman, the football scoreboard is 30 years old, and the baseball scoreboard is nearly as old. There is no softball scoreboard, despite a Title 9 requirement, he said. The scoreboard in the middle school gym is a hand-me-down, near the end of its life, and the one at the high school was 12 years old, and okay, though he admitted they’d had problems with it.

He said that he had noticed that there were sponsors for scoreboards at other schools, and so he reached out to a couple scoreboard companies, where he got a lesson on how those boards get paid for.

To offset boards, they told him, you have to have a marketing strategy, but you have to have a market to have a marketing strategy. You’re too small.

Freeman persevered and eventually one company gave him a bid of $67,000 he said, but the district would have to do the install.

He’s hoping they can pay for it through sponsorship, and he reported that he’s already been promised a $10,000 donation from a local group that is organizing youth basketball tournaments.

“I’m pretty confident that we are going to be able to offset the majority of that cost,” Freeman said, asking the board to consider the matter before they met again next month.

He also gave an update on lighting at the school. They have been working with the Wahkiakum County PUD to offset costs through a rebate program through the Bonneville Power Administration.

Freeman said he had received an email from Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal, encouraging school districts to authorize democratic and republican parties to use school grounds for caucuses.

And he addressed the school bond one more time.

“I’ve met with Dean Takko, Brian Blake, and Jim Walsh in recent weeks,” Freeman said. “They have submitted the paperwork to get more of what we affectionately call the Toledo play.”

“We are going to make a play at getting greater assistance,” Freeman said. “The fact is this is an unfair tax burden on us. I’m going to push harder to get some assistance. It’s not unprecedented. They’ve done it before.”

In 2018, the Washington State legislature set aside $10 million for a new high school in Toledo after the community was able to pass a bond.

Finally, directors accepted resignations from teachers Shelley Quigley and Stephanie Green.


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