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Editorial: School board has work to do

June 1, 2017 GMT

The process to determine how best to meet elementary school space needs in the Ellensburg School District has moved to the next step with the presentation of committee recommendations to the Ellensburg School Board Tuesday.

But there remains uncertainty about where that next step leads. The committee forwarded two recommendations: one that calls for the construction of a new grade school as well as modernization of Lincoln. The other proposes building a structure for developmental preschool and all kindergarteners as well as minimal modernization of Lincoln.

The second option would mean all the grade schools would become grades 1-5. The pre-K-kindergarten building idea is intriguing. The district will need to do some education about the preschool program so voters know it is required. The district is legally obligated to provide developmental preschool services to children identified with special needs. The program currently is housed on the Central Washington University campus.

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The board could pursue one of those recommendations, but also left the door open to considering other options. The other key recommendation from the committee was to go to voters with a request for a construction bond in 2019. The concern with the lack of certainty in direction is the longer it takes to find the right course, the harder it will be to take it to voters by 2019.

The complicating factor is the district is currently facing a space crunch at the grade school level. Even the most optimistic outlook for voter approval and construction does nothing to meet the immediate space needs. But based on projections, the space demands become increasingly acute, putting pressure on action sooner rather than later.

One point that requires clarification is what does it mean to modernize Lincoln? If a modernization means meeting American with Disabilities Act requirements, that would be a bit of work.

Another issue to resolve that could focus the discussion is whether the school board will consider a pre-K/K building. If the board is not comfortable with that idea, it narrows the options. Also on the checklist is resolving land use issues around Mount Stuart Elementary School. An agreement signed in the mid 1960s restricts the district from building on about 19 acres of the property surrounding Mount Stuart. If that could be resolved, then the district has more options.

If the Mount Stuart property is not a possibility, then the district may need to consider purchasing property. If that is the case, then the board must decide whether it should purchase land prior to going to voters with a request for a new school. Location is often a critical issues in a school bond election.

One plus for the pre K/K proposal is the district already owns land that would work for that near the high school.

Even beginning a cursory discussion of this issue reveals there remains a lot to discuss and determine. The Community Capital Planning Committee did excellent work in researching and discussing options, but ultimately the decision on when and how to move forward rests with the school board.

The good news is people want their children to attend school in the Ellensburg School District. The challenge for all of us is how to respond that demand.