MOSES LAKE — Businesswoman Shannon Hintz, who owned and operated the Hidden Meadow outdoor event center north of Moses Lake, will be the next member of the Moses Lake School Board.
Hintz was selected in a unanimous vote to fill the seat vacated by Eric Stones, who resigned a month ago.
Stones was up for election this fall, and said he believed that the next member of the board needed to have the experience of putting together the budget for the 2019-20 school year.
Hintz was one of three candidates, along with businesswoman Casey McDowell and Richard Hanover, the business development director for the Port of Moses Lake, to apply for the open seat.
“I want to catapult the school district into the top ten in the state,” Hintz told school board members and senior administrators during a roughly half-hour interview. “We have the resources and the talent, the community is behind us, we have great teachers, great administrator, and a great board.”
She also told board members that if selected, she would file to run for election when the term for the seat ends in November.
“I will learn everything I need to learn,” she said. “I’m in it for the long haul.”
Shannon is the mother of Natalie Hintz, who was injured when Barry Loukaitis opened fire on his math class at Frontier Middle School with a rifle in February 1996, killing his teacher Leona Caires as well as fellow students Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz.
The Hintzes sued the school district for $5 million, and the case was settled in 2002.
All three applicants for the open school board position said transparency and communication with the community was the most important thing that district should be doing right now.
“Board work should be open and honest,” Hintz said. “There needs to be a relationship with parents and families. People want talking.”
“It’s a two-way street or it doesn’t work,” McDowell said.
That included social media, where district officials — especially Superintendent Josh Meek — have come under a great deal condemnation and even personal abuse for talking about the necessity to layoff teachers and staff next school year in order to balance the budget.
“You guys are asked to do more with less, make lemonade out of lemons, and the majority of the population doesn’t understand that,” Hanover said during his interview.
In fact, a petition established last week at change.org is calling for Meek to resign. As of Sunday afternoon, the petition had 1,004 supporters. Because of that, the board moved not to take any audience comments at Thursday’s meeting, and board member Elliott Goodrich launched into an impassioned defense of both the board and the district’s administration.
“This is a function of us having to operate within budget limitations, and I’ve been disgusted and disappointed with some of the reactions of people in our community with personal attacks they’ve made towards people in our administration and those who are trying to do the hard work,” Goodrich said.
“I want everybody to know that our leadership team has the full support of the board,” he continued. “They’re doing the work that we ask them to do.”
“I think that anybody who took the time to study the issues and get the facts and look at the options that are presented to us would find that we are not going about this haphazardly or short-sightedly, but are trying to do what’s in the best interest of our kids, of our employees, of our taxpayers,” Goodrich said.
“No doubt the last few weeks have been challenging for me,” Meek said after the remaining three board members echoed Goodrich. “Thank you for your support.”
Things have been tense between groups of voters in the Moses Lake School District since at least early 2017, when a proposed $135 million school construction bond to build a second high school passed by a mere two votes. However, opponents of the new school challenged the bond election in court, and Goodrich, along with Vickey Melcher, opposed building a new high school and challenged incumbents Oscar Ochoa and Kevin Donovan. Goodrich and Melcher won close elections in November 2017.
Last year, after the State Appeals Court in Spokane ruled in favor of the bond election, the school board went through the contentious process of altering what the bond would fund from a full-sized high school and one elementary school to a mini-high school and two elementary schools.
All this is combined with a change in the state funding formula, which has the MLSD facing a possible deficit of $25 million in three years. The district is trying to make roughly $6 million in cuts and savings this school year, and will have to make unspecified cuts, including likely laying off teachers and staff next year simply to keep the budget in balance.
But the intervening struggle has left many voters with little trust in the district, the board and even the process.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.