Moses Lake school enrollment under projection

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MOSES LAKE — Efforts to cut 5 percent from this year’s Moses Lake School District budget may be hampered by lower-than-projected student enrollment.

“Enrollment came back, and we’re under from our projections,” said Eric Johnson, the district’s chief of operations, during a regular meeting of the Moises Lake School Board on Thursday. “Which is not a good thing right now.”

With a head count in September of 8,533 students (equivalent to full-time enrollment of 8,369), Johnson said there was 70 fewer students in the district’s 10 elementary schools and 200 fewer students at Moses Lake High School.

Only the district’s three middle school came in close to projection, down only 11 students.

The current head count does not include Running Start students — high school students also enrolled at Big Bend Community College — and several students enrolled online, Johnson said, adding that while he expects to pick up 100-125 students when those numbers are reported in October, the district will still be short about 150 students.

“That’s (a loss of) about $1 million in (state) apportionment, so it’s pretty significant,” he said.

Johnson said the district is “beating the pavement,” including reaching out to local private schools, to find out where these kids have gone and to make sure “we’ve got every kid in Moses Lake back in school.”

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been under projection,” said Superintendent Josh Meek. “I can’t remember the last time this happened.”

In fact, Meek said, normally the district would have more students than it projected, and would be scrambling to hire additional teachers and find additional classrooms.

And it means the looming budget shortfall, caused by the legislature’s capping of local property taxes and increasing the state school levy as part of an attempt to address the State Supreme Court’s decision in McCleary and fully fund “basic education” in the state, may only get worse.

The Moses Lake School District has enough money to successfully get through the year, but over the next few years, the shortfall will mean funding for the district will for short of outlays by $26 million in the 2021-22 school year.

The district also recently approved a change to the 2017 school construction bond that carefully considered projected future enrollment when it voted to change the bond projects from a big high school and eleventh elementary school to two elementary schools and a smaller high school.

Last month, the school board agreed to look at 5 percent cuts in some non-essential programs not defined as “basic education” and not covered by state funding. While no cuts have been approved, the district is looking at roughly $4.1 million in possible cuts, including reducing the number of classified staff by 15, slowing down the implementation of its 1-on-1 program that gives Chromebook computers to students, slowing down maintenance cycles and computer replacement, reducing conference attendance and out of state travel, and reducing the amount of radio and print advertising.

Meek also suggested board members might want to look at slowing down curriculum adoption, review the services the district contracts with the Educational Service District in Wenatchee, review software acquisition, consider the district’s commitment to providing preschool and even reconsider the district’s relationship with the Moses Lake Police Department and its school resource officer program.

The board made no decisions on cuts during its most recent meeting, though Meek said the district has started making some of the cuts.

“This is not about approval, it’s just for review,” Meek said.

“This is a down payment for what we will have to do in the next few years to make our budgets worse,” said board member Elliott Goodrich. “It’s going to get a lot worse.”

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