Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Levy back before voters

Staff Writer | October 22, 2021 1:07 AM

MOSES LAKE — In the old Tri-State Outfitters building on South Pioneer Way, Kevin Richards stands amid dust, construction debris, and a stack of yellow and red “Vote Yes!” signs on the upcoming school district renewal levy vote.

Richards and the handful of volunteers he described as “working tireless and endlessly” to help pass the Moses Lake School District’s three-year, $7 million local levy, say whatever problems district residents might have with the Moses Lake School Board and the MLSD’s administration, it isn’t right to take it out on the district’s kids.

“All kids have something that they are interested in, and because of the levy, they can all find it,” Richards said. “Because of that, they are able to grow as people and who they ultimately become.”

The levy, which is up for a second vote on the Nov. 2 ballot, failed at the polls during the Aug. 3 primary with a “no” vote of just more than 52%. The proposed levy, which would collect an average of roughly $7 million per year between 2022-24, helps pay for programs not covered by state or federal funding, such as music, athletics and technology.

In August, the Moses Lake School Board passed a roughly $132 million budget for the 2021-22 school year. The current levy runs through the end of 2021, and should the proposed replacement levy fail to pass, the district would also lose roughly $7 million in state matching funds per year.

Richards, the president of Western Pacific Engineering & Survey — which has bought the Tri-State Building and is remodeling it — pointed to his three kids in the MLSD, noting one of his daughters discovered band in middle school and rejoiced, and said he believes lots of kids and parents need the extracurricular activities as the region slowly emerges from the lockdowns and restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Winter sports never meant more than they mean right now,” Richard said.

Jon Smith, a retired construction worker and frequent attendee of school board meetings in the last few months, has been leading the charge against the levy, saying the district is flush with federal and state COVID-19 relief money and saying “no” to the levy is the best way to hold the district accountable for spending money on bonuses for principals and senior administrators, as well as for teaching things like critical race theory, which many parents find objectionable.

“They gave out $1.6 million in bonuses, and they’ve set aside $1.4 million to do it again this year,” Smith said, noting the district’s entire athletics budget is $1.5 million.

“They gave out the equivalent of an entire year’s athletic budget,” he said. “It’s kind of an outrage in and of itself.”

Smith said because of the COVID-19 relief money and previous local levy, the MLSD is fully funded for this school year. However, the next two school years will be tough, and will force the MLSD to make some difficult choices if the levy fails.

“This is not for the kids. Let’s be truthful, kids lose if they spend money on things other than kids,” Smith said.

Even if the levy fails again, Smith said there are enough resources for the MLSD to make it through without cutting anything important.

“If they’re careful, if they pinch pennies and sharpen pencils, the kids will not lose any programs,” he said.

Smith said in addition to some radio ads in August, the “no” campaign has printed up a few T-shirts. But that’s it; and those opposed have launched nothing like the effort the “yes” campaign has managed, blanketing the district with signs, stickers and T-shirts.

Richards said while he voted for the levy the first time around, he has no idea why there was no organized campaign of support for the measure back in August. But it is all the more reason he and levy supporters are working hard, including having major fundraisers, to get it passed in November.

“We are highly motivated and engaged to make sure the levy succeeds,” he said.