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MLSD board approves layoffs after levy failure, accounting issues

by R. HANS MILLER
Managing Editor | May 11, 2024 4:33 PM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School District Board of Directors voted in a special meeting Saturday to move forward with a resolution to authorize needed budget cuts after the district’s maintenance and operations levy failed on the ballot for the second time this year. 

More than 100 staff, including teachers and staff, are expected to lose their jobs after the levy failure.

“The information we’re that we’re going to provide to you today is difficult information. It’s not easy for us to provide you this information and some of this information; a lot of it’s not going to be easy to hear as you’re facing different difficult decisions you’ll have to make,” North Central Washington Education Services District Deputy Superintendent Linda McKay said.

McKay, NCESD Superintendent Michelle Price and NCESD Executive Director of Administrative Services delivered a joint presentation to the board with the assistance of MLSD staff to summarize the ESD’s findings after reviewing MLSD’s finances for the last few weeks.

The district is facing the need to slash about $20 million from its 2024-25 budget after multiple issues occurred, staff from MLSD and NCESD said. The most impactful issue is the failure of the levy, but accounting errors, overspending in 2023-24 — in part due to inflation — enrollment discrepancies and increased operational costs were also factors. The district will need to consider curbing costs associated with staffing, extracurricular activities, curriculum updates, maintenance and grounds upgrades, school resource officers, administration, facilities, career and college readiness programs, professional development, vehicle maintenance and replacements, general supplies and equipment as well as travel.

All of the school board members present expressed frustration with the situation and asked to be involved in the process as much as possible and said they wanted to help mitigate challenges the community would face because of the cuts. 

“When this resolution came up, my concern was and still is some form of guarantee that the board is involved in all of this and that, after we get through the personnel and contract stuff, that the community is involved in this,” Board Member Paul Hill said. “We have to involve the community. We are never going to regain trust if we don’t.” 

Board Chair Kirryn Jensen and Members Carla Urias and Amy Breitenstein expressed similar concerns and the four board members only passed the resolution after verbiage stating such was added.

Board Member Kevin Fuhr was not at the meeting due to a scheduling conflict but had moved to adopt the prior version of the resolution that was similar but did not have a clause requiring board input. 

McKay said one of the things identified is that MLSD has not been balancing its accruals and actuals in its monthly budgeting process. Generally, she said, a school district projects revenue for each month, applies a temporary credit at that projected amount, then updates the entry after the funding has been fully processed. That had not happened for an as-yet-unknown reason for some time now, which left a discrepancy of about $11 million in the district’s fund balance.

Additionally, during the budgeting process for the current school year, McKay said MLSD had projected 8,834 students. However, the number of students attending classes is about 200 fewer than projected. Since state and federal funding is associated with the student body population, less funding has been received from Washington and the federal government than anticipated. 

“Your projected apportionment of what you were going to earn is now reduced by $1.9 million because budgeted students were over what actually came through the door,” she said.

Finally, inflation has made operations more expensive than projected. MLSD staff, including Superintendent Monty Sabin, COO Jeremy O’Neil and others said. They explained to the board that they would minimize the impact on current staff. Unless mandated by state or federal law, open positions would remain unfilled and those left open by resignations, retirements or other situations would likely remain vacant, which would help reduce the number of employees who might be laid off in a reduction in force. 

Looking at more efficient use of facilities and reduction in rental of space for maintenance crews is also something board members asked administrators to consider as the process of trimming the budget moves forward. 

Board members also requested that the situations of 11 staff on administrative leave be resolved quickly to ensure the district wasn’t losing money on staff that were unable to work. Personnel matters may not be legally discussed in open meetings in most cases and are generally not subject to open records laws.

Notices to staff have a regulated and contracted deadline, McKay said. Educators under a collective bargaining agreement and administrative staff must be provided to those staff by May 15. Other staff must receive notification by June 1. Some staff may be asked back after other opportunities to trim the budget have been identified.

The story above is a summary of the two meetings which occurred Saturday, May 11. Additional coverage may be found at https://bit.ly/CBHMLSD59. To view the full meetings, visit the MLSD Board Docs website at https://bit.ly/MLSDMeetings

    An unsigned copy of the resolution approved by the Moses Lake School District Board of Directors Saturday afternoon during a special meeting. The board met for nearly four hours prior to approving the resolution.