Prosser high school bond: Time is right for passage

There's nothing new about the need for a new high school in Prosser.

Almost 900 students are jammed into a school built for 500 in 1936. Even without the overcrowding, the school's age makes it a poor place to educate children to successfully compete in the 21st century.

Few of the district's residents need a lecture on the reasons for replacing the old school. Prosser's kids deserve better, and most everyone knows it.

But here's something new for voters in the Prosser School District to ponder -- there may never be a better time to pursue this project.

Ballots asking voters to approve a $41 million bond measure in the Feb. 8 election were mailed this week. The smart move is to vote in favor of the measure and take advantage of a limited opportunity.

Waiting until the economy rebounds before approving construction of a new school wouldn't just be unfair to the students, it would also undoubtedly increase the bite on property owners.

We won't pretend the taxes needed to retire the 20-year bond aren't significant. The annual levy is estimated to start at $2.49 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $249 per year for a $100,000 home.

But keep in mind these mitigating factors:

* An existing bond for the city's middle school is about to expire, slashing the projected rate increase by more than half. With the old bond retired, property owners will only see an additional $1.13 per $1,000 over what they're paying this year, or $113 a year for a $100,000 home.

* If the bond passes, the state will give the district $23 million in matching money for the $64 million project. There's no guarantee that money will always be available.

* The estimated cost of the new school dropped $5 million over the last two years, because the recession has driven down construction costs and interest rates. But bad times can't keep inflation at bay forever.

* Once a new school is built, Columbia Basin College is ready, willing and able to move into the old building. Initial course offerings are likely to include welding, automotive and agricultural diesel programs. It's a great opportunity to improve the quality of life in Prosser.

Even if we believed the kids could wait -- and we don't -- there might never be a better time to plan for Prosser's future.

Today, times are tough and money is tight. But this measure isn't about today. It's about tomorrow.

The Herald editorial board recommends voters support the Prosser school bond.