Wednesday, May 22, 2024

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Trust must be earned and the clock is ticking

| May 13, 2024 2:08 PM

Last week, I penned a column focused on the Moses Lake School District levy election. My primary point with that column was that voter turnout countywide was abysmal, leading to a small minority of voters deciding on vital issues in the community and illustrating that there are consequences when we don’t vote in larger numbers.

There was more to say on the levy issue, but I needed to know the results of the Thursday and subsequent Saturday meetings MLSD’s Board of Directors had. 

Something notable to me was a statement from Board Member Paul Hill on Saturday.

“I’m in my third year as a board member. I came in under the old administration and from all of my outreach in the community, the biggest complaint – or reasons that I heard that our levies failed — is a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability. We haven’t earned back that trust from our old administration, from what happened over that four years,” Hill said. 

Hill’s right. The community has lost faith in the district and that’s going to make things difficult for the current board and administration. 

Newly discovered accounting errors don’t help the matter and neither does the fact that issues from those four years are still staring the community in the face.

Vanguard Academy is open, but there are multiple problems with the building and it isn’t at 100%. The campus was originally going to be a traditional high school but moved to another form of education. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the community feels bait-and-switched after being told they were voting for a bond to build a traditional high school.

An accounting error didn’t misappropriate funds, but it did cause the district’s financial picture to be skewed and made the situation even more challenging for the current administration to address.

An administrator at CB Tech with a great deal of community support is on administrative leave along with 10 other faculty or staff.

Multiple school mascots had to be changed because of state law and subsequent decisions by the Colville nations. Many community members have said they felt more outreach should have happened to help preserve the traditions those mascots represented.

In short, the community has a long list of grievances against MLSD, and Hill is right. It’s going to take a lot to rebuild trust so the district can do what it needs to and educate students while giving them the experiences we all want them to have. Proms, championships on the diamond or gridiron, school plays, career-establishing skill development and academic excellence, to name a few. 

The faces on the board are mostly new now with Board Chair Kirryn Jensen, Vice-Chair Carla Urias and Position 1 Board Member Amy Breitenstein being completely new to the board. Hill and Member Kevin Fuhr are relatively new faces as well with their terms starting right at the end of the time the last superintendent was on the way out. 

I can only imagine that Jensen, Urias and Breitenstein feel like they inherited what should have been a Cadillac but turned out to be a broken-down economy car. Fuhr and Hill aren’t in much better situations, being forced to deal with the same issues that started before they were elected. 

Superintendent Monty Sabin is trying to fix his predecessor’s mistakes and has a great deal of burden when it comes to trying to rebuild faith in the district. It certainly doesn’t help him that the accounting errors happened in his tenure.

MLSD has a serious to-do list right now: 

• Lay off faculty and staff while minimizing impacts on students
• Choose which programs need to be curbed or closed to make ends meet
• Get Vanguard Academy up to 100%
• Prep for upcoming growth as industries in and around Moses Lake grow
• Make sure students are safe and learning while possibly reducing the number of officers on campuses
• Be transparent in everything the administration and board do 

The bigger item on that list, which all of the other items fall under, is regaining the community’s trust. 

The clock is ticking when it comes to earning trust. The next opportunity MLSD has to put a levy on the ballot will be in February 2025. A bit less than nine months from now.

Moses Lake will be watching how quickly and how well the district checks off items on its to-do list; there is little to no margin for error and the children are depending on them to get it right.

R. Hans "Rob" Miller
Managing Editor