MLSD says no teacher layoffs coming for 2019-20 school year

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MOSES LAKE — Moses Lake Schools Superintendent Josh Meek said Wednesday the district will not lay off any teachers this fall.

“We are excited to announce that we have a staffing plan that will result in no teachers being laid off or reduced despite fears that would be inevitable,” Meek said in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald early on Wednesday.

“This is a win for staff and students and a win for the district as well,” said Jeremy Pitts, head of the Moses Lake Education Association. “It’s a good thing.”

The district has been looking to cut or find savings of 5 percent of its $124 million budget (about $6 million) for the 2018-19 school year, and in order to meet that goal, announced roughly $500,000 in cuts and reductions to administrative positions this year.

While the district has not yet started work on its 2019-20 budget, forecasts submitted to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) anticipate a total budget for the next school year of roughly $120 million — the result primarily of significantly lower local property tax levies for school funding.

In an email to the Columbia Basin Herald, Meek said there “has been a lot of shifting, changing, enrollment changes, retirements, resignations, leaves” in order to get an additional 5 percent reduction he said is going to be needed to balance next year’s budget.

The Moses Lake School Board is expected to start work on that budget soon.

Meek said all the shifting and changing was the result of several months work with the local teachers union to examine the needs of the district, enrollment projections, retirements and resignations, and increased state funding in order to reduce class sizes in grades K-3.

“Through our strategic and collaborative efforts with the Moses Lake Education Association we are able to continue to create the best learning environment for our students and remain financially stable,” Meek wrote.

Pitts also said that recent changes to how the state apportions money for teachers also made this possible. Beginning fall 2019, the state will mandate one certified teacher for every 17 students in kindergarten through third grade, an effective increase in funding for teachers.

However, the state will now calculate those ratios at the district level, rather than the school or grade level, according to OSPI Chief Financial Officer T. J. Kelly, who spoke Wednesday during a conference call on the state school budget for 2019-2021.

Pitts said this change has given the school district some more flexibility on how it spends state money.

However, Meek said the district is still considering an additional reduction of classified and administrative positions, hopefully through resignations and retirements.

The superintendent said that while changes in state law for the way schools are funded — an increase in state funding while at the same time capping local property tax levies in a way that left many schools districts across the state with less money — are largely responsible, it is still up to districts to make the best choices they can with what they have.

“We cannot point fingers at the state for all of the blame,” Meek wrote. “A task charged to my leadership is to provide that perfect balance between creating and maintaining high quality learning environments and at the same time challenging the status quo of spending.”

“We are completely unrealistic if we think that all of this issue is just a revenue problem, we must also develop more strategic and efficient ways to maximize our resources,” the superintendent said.

Pitts said the district and the teachers are getting ready to renegotiate “the entire contract” this summer. The current three-year contract expires at the end of August.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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