MLSB talks bond changes

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  • Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Protesters gather outside Thursday night’s Moses Lake School Board meeting to advocate for a second high school. The vote in favor of the new school narrowly passed the required 60 percent margin last year.

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    Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Eric Stones displays a position paper he wrote on the possibility of redirecting money from a bond passed in February 2017 to build, among other things, a new high school.

  • Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Protesters gather outside Thursday night’s Moses Lake School Board meeting to advocate for a second high school. The vote in favor of the new school narrowly passed the required 60 percent margin last year.

  • 1

    Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Eric Stones displays a position paper he wrote on the possibility of redirecting money from a bond passed in February 2017 to build, among other things, a new high school.

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School Board voted on Thursday to start reconsidering what to do with last year’s school construction bond and to hold at least one public hearing to solicit input from district residents about future construction projects.

The public hearing — which may only be the first, though state law only requires one hearing — is set for the board’s next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25.

The board made the decision at a standing-room-only meeting which was peppered at times with angry outbursts and problems with the board’s microphone system, which was either too loud or not working at all.

“After being in touch with our bond attorney — and every school district has one — if we have to change anything because of costs, or problems with the state capital budget, we still need to determine if we will have enough money to do what we want,” said Vicky Groff, a longtime board member who supports the construction of a second high school.

“We have to do this just to make sure we can go forward,” Groff added.

At stake is the fate of a $135 million construction bond approved by 60.03 percent of district voters in February, 2017 to build a second high school and an 11th elementary school, refurbish the existing Moses Lake High School and improve security district-wide.

The bond was challenged by a group of voters who took issue with the counting of disputed ballots and the certification of the election. In March, District Court Judge John Antosz ruled in favor of County Auditor Michelle Jagerlund’s certification, and those voters appealed. The bond measure awaits a ruling from the state’s Third District Court of Appeals in Spokane.

According to Superintendent Josh Meek, state law allows a school board to reconsider how bond money is spent if it has determined that “state and local circumstances” have changed. The Jan. 25 public hearing is the first part of that legal process.

Because the bond has been tied up in court since February, the district is going to miss the March/April deadline to put the new elementary school out to bid, Meek said. It also doesn’t help that the state legislature has failed to pass a capital budget, and therefore there are no state matching funds for school construction.

Board President Eric Stones said he would like to set aside at least an hour during the public hearing “to hear from as many people as possible.”

And sensing that the board meeting room in the district’s transportation center would not be big enough, newly-elected board member Elliott Goodrich wondered if it would be wise to change the meeting’s venue.

“Can we change the location if it is a regular meeting?” he asked.

Meek said that was possible with enough notice. No alternative location was chosen Thursday, though members of the audience suggested the Moses Lake Civic Center, the high school auditorium, or even the Wallenstien Theater at Big Bend Community College, as big enough to hold everyone.

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

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