Richland School Board signs cooperative agreements for Delta High School

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 30, 2012 

The Richland School Board signed cooperative agreements for Delta High School on Thursday afternoon, paving the way for the school's supporters to seek state dollars to build a facility for the designated Innovative School.

Richland had until today to sign the agreements to remain in league with the Kennewick and Pasco school districts and other partners regarding Delta High, a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school. Otherwise, the other districts would move forward with building a school, possibly relocating the school from its current downtown Richland location.

The Kennewick and Pasco school boards still have to sign the agreements before all three districts can approach state education officials and the Legislature for about $17 million needed to build the school, but Richland school board members said they were pleased with the agreements.

"It addresses our concerns," said board chairman Richard Jansons.

Delta High, which has about 400 students, is in buildings and on land leased from Columbia Basin College and is operated by the three districts, with the Washington State STEM Education Foundation and other private partners supporting it. The school also uses classrooms in a neighboring building also used by CBC.

Earlier this summer, the districts attempted to come to an agreement on how to build a facility for Delta High on the Richland property. However, those discussions stalled when Richland declined to sign proposed agreements to finance the construction. Richland board members were concerned about the financial liability to the district when funding from the state wasn't guaranteed.

But the other districts, as well as the foundation, wanted to move forward with asking for 90 percent of construction costs from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the remaining 10 percent from state lawmakers to build a new school, which required a district to be officially playing host to the school. The other districts and partners wanted Richland to be part of that effort but said they'd be willing to move forward without them.

New discussions regarding the cooperative agreements started earlier this week. Under the terms of the newly drafted agreements, the foundation will buy the land and buildings currently housing Delta High -- an expense of about $1.2 million -- and lease them back to the districts. The foundation also would cover any gap in construction financing not covered by allocations from the OSPI and the Legislature.

That's a departure from earlier plans, which had Richland buying the land and all three districts making some financial contribution to construction.

Richland board members did insert language into the agreements requiring any money and assets doled out from the possible dissolution of Delta High in the future be re-invested in STEM education. The provision hasn't been reviewed by officials in Pasco and Kennewick, but Karen Baker, the foundation's executive director who attended Richland's meeting, said she didn't anticipate that being a problem.

"I think that it will make our request look stronger to the Legislature," she said, noting that the added language will indicate the districts' dedication to STEM education.

Lingering questions remain. Board member Phyllis Strickler voiced concern about aspects of the agreement to the lease of the land when the lease hasn't been drawn up and how much the state would want to fund the school's construction when the foundation doesn't plan to purchase the land until spring.

"I just don't see how that's going to work," she said.

Baker said the foundation will begin negotiating with CBC for the land purchase immediately. Richland board members agreed by consensus to keep an earlier agreement they had to purchase the property as a backup in case the cooperative agreements fall flat, ensuring that Delta High still has a home.

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