On the second try, it appears the Warm Springs Reservation will get its new school.
Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs voted Tuesday in favor of a $10.7 million referendum to pay for part of a K-8 school in Warm Springs. Polling numbers were unavailable Tuesday, but Urbana Ross, chief operations officer for the tribes, said it appears the referendum received a majority of yes votes and drew the required one-third of eligible voters.
“Our kids deserve their own school,” she said Tuesday night. “They deserve to have the tribes set aside something for them.”
Jefferson County School District voters approved a $26.7 million bond measure in May that included matching funds to the new school in Warm Springs, if the Tribes could pass its school referendum.
After an identical referendum received overwhelming support — 77 percent to 23 percent — in a May election but failed to draw the required number of voters, tribal leaders set out to hold a second election and to bring more people to the polls.
At the Warm Springs Community Center on Tuesday, voters streamed in throughout the day to cast their ballots. The tribes don't conduct mail-in elections like the rest of the state.
The goal was to make the election a daylong community event to attract voters to the polls, Ross said. Under the shade of a large “Vote Here” banner, volunteers passed out coffee and donuts in the morning and barbecue in the evening. Just past the ballot boxes, basketball teams scrimmaged in the gym. Across the parking lot a youth baseball team washed cars to raise money to play in an all-Indian tournament in Phoenix.
In May the referendum fell about 370 votes short of the required 1,022. Many didn't know when to vote and others didn't vote because they thought the district's bond measure would fail anyway, said Laurie Danzuka, tribal member and vice chairwoman of district school board.
This time school supporters raised more awareness about the vote. There were volunteers on street corners and in the local store, radio ads and signs around the reservation all reminding people to vote Tuesday, she said.
Valerie Switzler was out of town for the last vote but got up early to cast her ballot when the polls opened. She said she sent out about 50 text messages Tuesday morning, telling her friends to get out and vote.
The K-8 school would replace the 74-year-old Warm Springs Elementary and would allow tribal members to attend middle school on the reservation. Currently students from the reservation attend middle and high school 20 miles away in Madras.
Danzuka, whose youngest child will start kindergarten at Warm Springs in the fall, said a new school is needed for several reasons. The aging school is crowded — it was when she attended school there years ago — and many students are spread out in modular classrooms. The cafeteria is a block away from the main building. And many students can't walk to the current school because it's away from the main residential areas.
Then there is the advantages of offering middle school on the reservation. Having a local middle school would encourage more parental involvement, make after-school activities more accessible and provide an important community building, said tribal member Yvonne Iverson, whose daughter will start seventh grade in the fall.
Official election results should be available Wednesday, Ross said. After the Warm Springs Tribal Council certifies the results, tribal leaders will begin work on the new school, hiring architects and creating designs, she said.
Initial plans call for an 80,000-square-foot school with capacity for about 750 students, Ross said.
— Reporter: 541-633-2184,