Marching in the Fair & Frontier Days parade

Members of Citizens for Schools marched in the 2018 Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days parade to promote the $65.6 million bond for Walla Walla Public Schools. On Tuesday, officials will know if the bond proposal has received a green light.

You’ve probably noticed the shirts — bright green and often accessorized with a sign.

“Now is the time. Vote Yes for our kids!”

The T-shirt slogan says it all, according to members of Citizens for Schools Walla Walla.

The community group dedicated to supporting local public schools has been in high gear for months as a way to move the proposed Walla Walla School District replacement bond forward to a yes vote.

The $65.6 million bond will be eligible for $52.6 million in matching state funds. The $118.2 million will allow the district to renovate Lincoln and Walla Walla high schools, plus Pioneer Middle School, according to officials. Money would also be available for other improvements district wide, officials said.

A successful outcome would mean property owners would pay $1.23 per $1,000 of assessed property value next year.

There is no doubt the area’s older schools need help, said Matthew McKern, a member of Citizens for Schools.

“I went to Wa-Hi from 1984 to 1987, and it needed updates then,” he said. “And Lincoln High School has flooding toilets, toilets that are meant for little kids.”

McKern has helped produce the marketing videos for the nonprofit activist group, featuring members of the community talking about components of the school bond. Topics addressed in the short clips include safety, investment in the future, building codes and cost containment.

Those videos have been well received, and McKern said he’s been happy to help the cause.

That can-do, will-do attitude has been prevalent in this bond campaign, said Citizens for Schools Co-chair Susan Prudente.

Although Walla Walla has a long history of volunteer activism around education issues, the energy this time around is palpable, she said.

Perhaps that’s because Prudente and others are using a more contemporary model of pulling in volunteers to get the message of the school bond broadcast as widely as possible. Gone are the days of seeking long commitments of time and labor from people. Instead her team is offering multiple ways to participate for however long (or short) someone can, Prudente said.

“We like to say a lot of creative people have offered a lot of creative ideas.”

School bond volunteerism has ranged from cold calling voters to planting yard signs to marching in the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days parade — decked in the green shirts, of course.

The model is garnering excitement. Noah Leavitt, a parent of two children who attend Sharpstein Elementary School, organized “sign waving” around the Howard Street building. He’s been joined not only by other parents, but also by residents invested in seeing the public schools improved for generations to come, he said.

Leavitt said he’s also pushed social media posts on behalf of Citizens for Schools and marched with his children in the fair parade, examples of doing what he can with the time he can offer.

“I think that’s brought in more people than a traditional type of campaign, especially busy parents who are exhausted all the time. People appreciate being able to do a little, at least,” he said. “And have that be OK. That’s been really gratifying.”

The effort his family has made on behalf of the school bond has become an opportunity to teach his young son and daughter about working for the future, Leavitt added.

“This has helped them ‘think down the road.’ That’s a different way than talking about civic issues or campaigns just for the next two or six years,” he said. “It’s not just for them, its for the kids who are 2 or 3 or just born. Or will be born. They will also benefit from this.”

Prudente said that while she also relished marching in the fair parade, it’s those cold calls to residents that fuel her.

“My favorite call was to a mother of several kids who went through Walla Walla schools, and she now has several grandkids in the schools. She just wasn’t decided on the bond yet,” Prudente said. “But we’re taught to be bold, and I asked her if we had her vote.”

The woman eventually let Prudente mark her as a “yes.”

Prudente said she believes those conversations have “affected the thinking” on the bond vote in the community, she said.

“If not the final outcome.”

The last day to vote is Nov. 6, and election results will give the school bond its pass or fail grade. Regardless, the work of Citizens for Schools has brought much of Walla Walla together in ways that showcase the diversity and strengths of families here, Prudente pointed out.

“And that outcome goes beyond the bond, we hope.”

For more information go to

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.