The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Moses Lake Education Association.
As I sat in the special school board meeting last week I was suddenly struck by the feeling that democracy in our community died a little bit. My thoughts were echoed by a parent who texted me afterward that she felt like “we just went to a rural funeral for democracy.” During the agenda topic of Board Priorities, Director Stones thanked the community for their input and then said that he was “dead-set against a second high school.” I would estimate that 90 percent of the audience was in favor of keeping the construction plan that was approved by voters. Changing the projects that were proposed by the board and subsequently approved by a supermajority isn’t illegal, nor is it unheard of. While legal and fully within their right as a school board, I personally feel it is unethical and there is no moral high ground that any of them can claim.
Where Director Stones sees “overbuilding,” I see a long-term solution passed by a supermajority that means we won’t have to worry about space at the high school level in my lifetime. Yes, we still have issues with elementary and middle school space but the solutions to those problems will come from conversations we can have as a community in the coming years. The majority of the schools in our district were paid for by the government – either the Air Force or the state. Our community has not had to pay to build all of our schools and we should count ourselves as fortunate to not have had the same burden that other communities have had. While I personally believe the state should be paying for the full cost of school construction since education is a basic right guaranteed to all children residing in Washington, they don’t and that responsibility falls onto our communities. School bonds are required to have a supermajority for approval – 60 percent. When our neighbors and colleagues finally pass a construction bond to build a second high school, another elementary, and updates to the current high school - that’s what should be done.
What bothers me the most is the nagging feeling that my vote truly does not matter. If community input was truly valued, the next comment out of one’s mouth shouldn’t be that they are still “dead set against” something that the community voted for. Whether I vote for or against something and regardless of whether I agree or disagree with what was approved, I expect our elected leaders to honor the will of the voters. As a parent, and as a teacher, I talk to my kids about my right and my obligation to vote in order to make sure I am an active participant in our democracy. My voice is heard and counted regardless of the outcome. A friend shared the following analogy with me the other day: “When I vote and agree to pay for prime rib, mashed potatoes and side salad but am later served cube steak, hash browns and peas because the chefs in the kitchen think it is better for me, I’m going to be mad.” Like the chefs in the kitchen, the school board is disregarding my “vote” and effectively nullifying my and everyone else’s vote.
Board members repeatedly stressed the idea of bringing the community together. Not honoring the will of the voters isn’t the right way to go about fulfilling this priority. A community isn’t brought together with a bait-and-switch and bridges aren’t built in a divided community by putting something on the ballot and then turning around and doing something else entirely with the money that was approved by voters.
I’m struggling with a declining trust in the school district I work for and my children attend. This loss of trust isn’t in our administration but in the school board. In the future, how am I to trust that what they ask for on my ballot is what they will actually do if it’s approved? Democracy in our community died a little bit at the latest special board meeting. Not through a coup or some violent shift in power, but by elected officials subverting the very thing that brought them to power - voters.
Jeremy Pitts is a parent and teacher in the Moses Lake School District. He is also president of the Moses Lake Education Association.