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Letter: Voters approved a second high school, not academy

| December 5, 2019 7:59 AM

We live in exciting and challenging times. I want to state my position on the construction plan the Moses Lake School District has unveiled.

I am supportive of the effort to make secondary education more relevant and more engaging to Moses Lake students. The plan to implement a New World Academy is an effort to serve some students who are not being served by a traditional comprehensive high school. I’m excited that the Moses Lake School District is not satisfied with students not completing high school with a plan for higher education or with current, necessary skills that will prepare them for future employment. I do, however, have serious concerns with the plan that they are promoting.

First, every article I’ve read implies that we are building a “second high school.” This is not accurate. After looking at the “New World Building Plan” there are critical areas not mentioned. I am concerned about faculty, staff and student parking, bus drop off and pick up routes, a student common area, a library, and outside physical education areas. All of these areas are included in the original conceptual plan located on Valley Road and Paxton Drive. The proposal to build the New World Academy is a proposal to build additional classrooms not a second high school.

Secondly, the New World Academy will be appropriate for some students in Moses Lake, but I question how many will choose this option. Research indicates that existing programs throughout the state are: in much larger communities, they are often paired with STEM schools, alternative schools, schools for the arts or magnet schools. Currently at Moses Lake High School there is one teacher with eight students in a pilot New World Academy. Is Moses Lake large enough to support a program that needs numerous, extensively-trained faculty and staff and a community that understands and supports this new concept? By the Merriam-Webster definition an “academy” is an institution that teaches special subjects or skills, not a comprehensive high school. I am very concerned that if we build the proposed new building with classrooms only we will find that it is a waste of valuable public money and only considerable investments of additional money will make it a second high school, which is what should be done now.

In addition I am concerned about how the district will finance this new program. The district cannot use money from the most recent bond. That money is legally restricted for “paying the cost of constructing a new second high school” as is clearly stated in District Resolution No. 2016-10 and Proposition 1 that was approved by the voters. The New World Academy is not a “new second high school.” I am advised that use of the bond funds for New World Academy would be illegal. Certainly, if the district wanted to build a second high school and house New World Academy in the second high school that would be fine, but creating the New World Academy does not fulfill the requirements of the bond resolution. There have already been delays in starting any new construction causing millions of lost dollars due to inflation and increased construction costs. I am concerned that the district may face a potential lawsuit and incur additional expenses if it attempts to substitute the New World Academy for a second high school. Furthermore, the voters approved a second high school, not a New World Academy. I attended many of the meetings leading up to the bond vote and the concept of a New World Academy was never brought up or discussed.

Moses Lake passed a bond issue after several attempts and numerous community meetings. According to the current administration and school board the bond was passed using inaccurate information so now the district believes it can change the clearly stated purpose of the bond, which was “to build a second high school.” I understand that this is not a legally sufficient reason to ignore the bond resolution and proposition again exposing the district to further delay and expensive litigation.

The district has stated that there was an undercount of students at the high school because of not fully accounting for programs that take students off campus during various times of the day. There is still severe overcrowding of the high school and that has not changed. The current high school, even after being remodeled in the ’90s, was not built to serve the number of students that currently attend or are projected to attend based on accepted Moses Lake population growth. Because of this overcrowding a second high school was on the bond proposition that passed and the school board should not change that mandate. I am against a “mega” campus; it is not good for students who get lost among the crowded halls and classes and who do not feel any connection to their school. Most of the current school board members attended smaller high schools and know there are many advantages to a smaller high school. Many students already feel Moses Lake High School is too big and impersonal. I fear that if the school board does not do what was passed the next time we need to pass a bond for any school building project it will fail miserably. Trust broken is hard to restore.

Moses Lake is a growing community that needs a quality school system that encourages new business and their employees to move to Moses Lake. A school board that does not listen to its citizens, nor abide by the vote of the super-majority, will create a long lasting negative impact.

I support several recent decisions that, although difficult and expensive, will better serve students and staff. The new parking lot at the high school was desperately needed to improve bus drop off and provide additional parking for students and staff. This is in keeping with a “school safety” inventory that was conducted. This also further points out that the high school is overcrowded. The purchase of an existing office building to consolidate school district programs and staff was complex and expensive. Local funds were used to complete this transition and I believe it will help the district to work together in a more seamless manner. The proposal to build Groff Elementary is an outstanding decision and the location will serve students from significant new residential developments. Finally, some time ago the district purchased land from Grant County next to the fairgrounds. This was purchased in consultation with local realtors who considered many options throughout the existing UGA. This was a thoughtful process with key local realtors and public officials involved in this purchase. During the passage of the bond there was a sign on the property stating that it would be the site of the next high school. There were conceptual drawings released that showed how the school would be located on the property and how the school would be able to partner with the County in developing a common parking lot. Let’s put the sign up and finish what was decided some time ago.

I was hoping that local politics would not mirror what is happing in Washington D.C. It is not OK for a five-member board to change the results of a bond issue that was passed by 60 percent of the voters. Nowhere on the ballot was there anything about adding more classrooms to the current high school. I wonder what the next vote will say to the school board. I wonder what a legal challenge would say about the proposed use of the bond monies. I wonder what will happen when we try to pass another bond issue to rebuild elementary schools or another middle school.

I’m not a member of the state school board and I’m not a hired consultant from Seattle. I’m a lifelong resident of Moses Lake who retired after a career of 35 years in education who knows and understands the Moses Lake School District and the local community. I have done my research. I have talked to many community members and many people statewide from education and legal communities. I have searched out professionals from throughout the state that have been involved with running school districts. Their unanimous opinion is that the current Moses Lake School Board is not doing what the bond issue was passed for and they may be in legal jeopardy. I am very supportive of building another high school and including space for the “New World Academy,” but don’t deny us what we voted for: a second high school.