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A letter from the editor

by R. HANS MILLER, MANAGING EDITOR
| April 14, 2022 1:00 AM

Working in a newsroom isn’t always a fun adventure like my generation watched on “Murphy Brown.” The people we write about are real and what we write impacts those real people in real ways.

Last Friday, we published a story regarding Moses Lake School District’s new and former superintendents. In that story, we covered the hiring of Superintendent Monty Sabin to fill the void left behind when former Superintendent Josh Meek resigned after coming to an agreement with the district last August to leave his position at the helm of MLSD.

In that report, we covered Meek’s financial situation before, during, and after his tenure as district superintendent. Our intent was not to attack Meek or his family, but rather to illustrate to district taxpayers that Meek had not been financially vetted before handing him the reins of an MLSD budget of more than $100 million in taxpayer money. Meek had faced issues with financial management before making it into that position and had the MLSD Board of Directors properly vetted him, the district may not have had to pay more than $17,000 for a headhunting firm to help identify a new superintendent and would not currently have to pay two superintendents – Sabin as the new superintendent and Meek via his separation agreement – a salary of well over $200,000 each, plus benefits and bonuses.

In retrospect, I believe we should have printed that piece as two separate stories. One celebrating the incoming tenure of Sabin and another explaining the concerns associated with Meek’s hiring and tenure. Additionally, we could have kept the financial details at a higher level and still made the points that taxpayers needed to see. For that, we apologize to both Sabin and Meek as well as to our readers.

We would also encourage our readers to look at the big picture in the situation. As a result of the story, at least one school board member has indicated that she will push to ensure upper management candidates for MLSD are more thoroughly vetted moving forward. Other school board members have also said that processes related to credit cards and other issues will be revised for clarity to ensure clear guidelines are in place for all MLSD staff. Further, the district took its time and hired Sabin with the assistance of Northwest Leadership Associates to ensure Sabin and the other candidates for the position were properly vetted.

Additionally, the financial mistakes that Meek may have made do not eliminate the good he has done for the community as an educator and administrator. Prior to his time as superintendent at MLSD, he served as a teacher and principal among other roles. During that time, he surely positively impacted many students and their families. The community should not forget that.

One reader, Corina Villa, wrote us to point out, among other things that Meek is “a kind, caring, compassionate man.” She also said she had worked with him for years on projects related to suicide prevention.

Current and former Moses Lake School board members told the Columbia Basin Herald of just a few of the things Meek has done.

Meek helped trim about $15 million from the district’s budget when the district’s ability to levy taxes was restricted a few years ago. That trimming was minimally impactful to the district’s students, said MLSD School Board Director Susan Freeman and made the budgeting transition easier on the community.

Meek was also instrumental in managing how MLSD received assistance from the State Construction Assistance Program said Freeman and current MLSD Board of Directors Vice President Shannon Hintz. A prior employee had given incorrect information to the board and proactive verification on Meek’s part when he first entered his tenure as superintendent saved taxpayers millions of dollars, Freeman said.

Additionally, the vocational programs that will be offered to MLSD students at the upcoming Vanguard Academy are in large part credited to Meek, said former MLSD School Board Member Vickey Melcher. Because of Meek’s efforts, she said she feels students will be set up with needed skills as they transition from MLSD into their careers. She added that the innovative programs there will be watched by the entire state of Washington as other districts consider new learning programs.

Melcher, Hintz and Freeman also said Meek lead the development of Groff Elementary School. With forethought into that campus’s design, Meek ensured that the district had ownership of the design plans for the campus. Additionally, he worked to ensure the easy expandability of the campus. As a result, the district can duplicate the design at other sites as the district grows, saving taxpayers money on the future development of additional campuses.

Hintz also told the Herald that Meek has paid back all of the money associated with the credit card charges identified in the initial audit findings that began the discussions that lead to his resignation.

As news readers, I encourage all of our readers to remember that it isn’t the mistakes we make that define us but how we make up for those errors that matter. That is true of Meek, school board members that hire superintendents and news editors.

Thank you for reading the Columbia Basin Herald. We hope to ensure all our readers are informed and are able to participate in moving the cities and schools we cover forward into prosperous futures. We also wish both Meek and Sabin the best of luck as they move forward.

Cordially,

R. Hans Miller

Columbia Basin Herald Managing Editor

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