A year after the opening of the new Delta High School, Richland school officials are being asked to help shoulder some of the unpaid $2.36 million construction bill.
The Pasco School Board president is asking his Richland counterparts to pay $790,000.
That’s one-third of the amount not covered by the state for the science- and technology-focused school built in west Pasco.
Much of that repayment would go to the Pasco School District, which paid almost all of those expenses to date.
The Richland School Board is expected to consider Scott Lehrman’s letter June 28.
But the request could be wishful thinking. Years ago the Richland board had no interest in committing money to a capital project for Delta.
“We promised our constituents that only (per pupil) money would go to Delta,” Richland board President Rick Jansons told the Herald on Monday. He said that his stance hasn’t changed.
It cost more than $17.5 million to build Delta, a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school jointly operated by the three Tri-City districts.
The school has more than 400 students, of which just over 100 are from Richland. The alternative program previously was housed in a building belonging to Columbia Basin College in central Richland.
The districts were eventually successful in getting the state to cover most of the project’s costs but that was after the Richland board balked at chipping in construction money.
That reluctance, district officials said at the time, was partially to give fundraisers more time, but also out of concern for putting money up for the project when the Legislature hadn’t committed anything.
That resulted in an inter-district agreement that absolved Richland of any financial liability in the building project but also stripped it of any say in the design or location for the school.
Pasco set aside $2.4 million from a reserve fund to help pay any uncovered construction expenses, and Kennewick also dedicated some money.
There’s a new board in Richland and we wanted to give them the opportunity to do what we think is right.
Scott Lehrman, Pasco School Board
Lehrman’s letter refers to Pasco and Kennewick’s agreement to shoulder the uncovered costs. But it was during a meeting of superintendents in the fall that officials decided to ask Richland again to cover some share of the expenses.
“There’s a new board in Richland, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to do what we think is right,” Lehrman told the Herald, referring to the election last fall of new Richland board members Gordon Comfort and Brett Amidan. He added that he doesn’t see the issue becoming a legal matter.
Richland’s in-district legal counsel is reviewing the agreement governing Delta’s construction, Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte said in a memo to his board.
Sections of that document note that Richland has equal ownership in the property and building along with the other districts. However, only Pasco and Kennewick have the financial obligation — specifically, “no more than 50 percent of the local costs not otherwise funded by state financing assistance or other third-party contributions.”
“Richland School District may also contribute to such costs,” said the agreement.
Schulte added in his memo that Richland has several issues to consider in light of Lehrman’s request.
While the district has some state matching money left from two past bond issues and federal money provided in lieu of taxes on public property in the district, that money is already being committed to in-district infrastructure needs which are still short of cash.
The district’s general fund also has some cash but that will likely be tapped soon to help staff a new middle school and other increased operating costs.
Jansons said it’s up to the board to make a decision but “given the current nature of our capital issues right now” he doesn’t expect the board to reverse its decision.