The Kennewick School District wants to use excess state matching money meant for the renovation of elementary schools to go toward construction of a new facility for Delta High School.
School board members voted Wednesday night to move the issue to a public hearing Oct. 10 before making a final decision.
The district's share of building a new Delta High would be about $1 million to $2 million, district officials said, but that easily could be covered with the more than $20 million in excess matching dollars remaining from the $68 million bond approved by voters in the spring of 2009.
"We're well over what we estimated when we went out to the voters," said finance director Vic Roberts.
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Delta High is a a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school operated jointly by the Kennewick, Pasco and Richland school districts with support from the Washington State STEM Foundation and private partners.
When established four years ago, the districts agreed to run the program while the foundation and its partners pledged to provide a permanent home for Delta High. Those efforts have stalled, however, as the economy has struggled. As a result, the districts are pursuing construction of a new school themselves.
Draft agreements between the districts indicate they will pursue state matching dollars to pay for the majority of construction but there likely is still to be some cost to each district.
While district officials were discussing a program such as Delta High back in 2008 when developing the 2009 bond that is paying for renovations of four elementary schools and the construction of Cottonwood Elementary School, it wasn't part of the final bond details.
"We did not anticipate in 2008 that we would someday need funds for Delta and that's what brings us here today," said Superintendent Dave Bond.
The district applied for applicable state matching dollars for the elementary school projects but Roberts said they weren't a big portion of the budget because of the state's poor financial shape at the time.
"We didn't know we'd get it for all five schools," he said.
However, the state's finances have improved, the Kennewick projects have either come in at or under budget and the failure of other districts to pass bonds has led to a bigger pool of money from which the state can provide to districts that did pass bonds.
District officials said they likely could proceed with reallocating dollars for Delta High without a public hearing, but because that puts the money toward something not specified in the bond, it was best to give the public a chance to comment.
"I think it's the right way to do it," said board member Ben Messinger.
But the district might be premature in its decision. While board members in Kennewick and Pasco have agreed to pursue construction of a new Delta High, the Richland School Board declined to sign the agreement at its meeting Tuesday night.
"Board members strongly support the Delta program, but have concerns about whether the STEM Foundation is meeting its commitment to fund the building of a permanent facility for Delta High," said Richland spokesman Steve Aagaard in a news release. "The three school districts are not responsible for Delta High capital improvements."
The districts are on a tight timeline to find a permanent home for Delta High. The school is housed in buildings leased from Columbia Basin College in downtown Richland, and also uses classrooms in a neighboring building used by CBC. CBC officials have said they need to have those classrooms back within the next two years to meet their students' needs.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org