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Prosser votes down new high school

PROSSER -- Prosser school officials are not giving up on their plans to build a new high school, but they will have to wait a little longer.

Voters on Tuesday were failing to pass the needed bond measure.

The Royal School District was facing a similar problem in Tuesday's election, while Burbank voters soundly passed operations and technology levies.

Tuesday's vote tally showed 56.6 percent of Prosser voters approved of the bond issue for a new high school.

And in Royal City, almost 53 percent voted to expand school facilities. But bond elections require a supermajority -- 60 percent -- to pass.

In the Columbia School District -- which stretches from Burbank to Wallula to Charbonneau -- more than 60 percent of voters approved two levies to take the place of levies that expire this year. Levies only need 50 percent to pass.

Prosser

The Prosser School District has wanted to replace its crowded and broken high school for five years.

It tried to get voters to pay for a new school in 2005 and failed.

Three years later, the district started another bond campaign but pulled the plug when the economy tanked.

This winter, school officials tried to convince voters that the time was right and costs for a new school would continue to rise. They almost succeeded, as 1,790 voters said "yes" and 1,371 opposed the $41 million bond, said Stuart Holmes, election supervisor for Benton County.

There were 115 ballots that were dropped off in Prosser after 5 p.m. Tuesday, which will be counted today, Holmes said.

He expected about 50 more to arrive in the mail today, based on previous elections.

He said it's highly unlikely those votes will all go one way.

"You expect the trend to remain the same," he said.

The district planned to build a new high school east of Art Fiker Stadium. It won't stop trying.

"The issue of the high school isn't going to go away," said Superintendent Ray Tolcacher. "There's no doubt in our minds that our kids aren't getting what they need in our old school."

The bond would have cost property owners $2.49 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $249 a year for a $100,000 home.

But because an existing bond for the city's middle school is about to expire, property owners would only have seen an additional $1.13 per $1,000 over what they're paying this year, or $113 a year for a $100,000 home.

The board will discuss what to do next during its regular meeting Tuesday, Tolcacher said.

"There are a couple more election dates before the summer," he said. "We'll have to look at those."

Tuesday's numbers showed there is support for the new school, he said.

"It was pretty close," he said.

Burbank

Voters in the Columbia School District passed two separate property tax levies by a wide margin -- 564 to 336, or 62.7 percent, for the operations levy, and 556 to 357, or nearly 61 percent, for a technology levy, said Karen Martin, Walla Walla County auditor.

The two levies asked for virtually the same amounts voters had been paying for the last two years.

Both levies expire this year.

The new rates approved Tuesday will go into effect January 2012.

Even though the new rates almost are the same as what voters had been paying, the bond committee still was nervous in these uncertain economic times, said committee chairman Mike Roberts.

The maintenance levy gives the district $1.95 million per year for the next four years.

The district will collect $3.69 per $1,000 of property value, or $369 for a $100,000 home.

The technology levy will bring in $275,000 a year for the next four years through a tax levy of 52 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $52 for a $100,000 home.

That rate is unchanged from the current one.

"We feel extremely happy tonight," Roberts said.

The levy will pay for new curricula in math and foreign language classes, said Superintendent Lou Gates.

It also will continue to keep K-4 class sizes lower than what the state pays for by covering the salaries of two teacher's aides and four teachers.

And the popular full-day kindergarten schedule established last year will continue.

The technology levy will bring electronic whiteboards to classrooms in the middle and high schools.

Royal City

The Royal School District failed to get the 60 percent it needed on a bond measure to ease overcrowding in its schools. The bond was failing, 382 in favor to 340 against.

The district was asking for $8.8 million to ease overcrowding and upgrade computer labs. Property taxes would have gone up by $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $196 for a $100,000 home.

The biggest portion of the bond would have paid to turn an existing fifth-grade building into a new intermediate school to house grades 4-6.

The bond levy also would have added six classrooms to the high school and upgrade the middle school computer lab.

* Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; jvonlunen@tricityherald.com

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