Speaking out on schools

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Richard Byrd/Columbia Basin Herald Community members overwhelmingly spoke in favor of?? the Moses Lake school bond during a public hearing held at Thursday’s night’s Moses Lake School Board meeting.

MOSES LAKE — Nothing has changed since February 2017, when Moses Lake School District voters approved a $135.4 million construction bond.

Moses Lake High School is still overcrowded, leading to unsafe conditions and students getting lost in the shuffle, feeling alone and isolated and unable to get the guidance, advice, and attention they need to succeed — or simply survive — from teachers and staff.

So said a vast majority of speakers at a meeting of the Moses Lake School Board on Thursday night. The board held a special public hearing to determine what has changed in the community since the bond passed as part of a process that could result in changes to how that construction bond is spent.

Assuming it survives a court challenge.

“The only real change in conditions to change the bond is the election of two new school board members, and I don’t see that on the list for reasons to change,” said Tony Kern.

Several speakers noted that Moses Lake High School is already the second-largest high school in the state, and that adding on to MLHS would create a “super high school” with 3,000 students in which it would be too easy to get lost in the shuffle.

“This place is falling apart,” said Amy Culpepper. “I have a seventh-grader with special needs, and he’s already beginning to fall through the cracks. You tell me, what’s he going to do in a super high school?”

“Do you want that high school? No, neither do I,” Culpepper added.

Many speakers also reminded the board that 60 percent — a “supermajority” — of voters approved the bond last February.

“The high school is overcrowded. The elementary schools are at capacity. A supermajority voted. When the public feels they are not listened to, the result is anger and frustration, and a lack of trust,” Alice Strumski said.

“Students are an investment, not an expense,” said Kristine Howard. “Sixty percent of this community voted to pay more taxes.”

The board, however, made no decisions last night regarding the construction bond, which is slated to be argued in front of a panel of state Appeals Court justices on Monday, Feb. 5.

“A lot of valid concerns were expressed tonight, and everyone agrees we have a problem,” said board member Elliott Goodrich, who was elected last November as an opponent to construction of a second high school.

When a heckler said the answer to that problem was a second high school, Goodrich responded by saying, “that’s an option, and we haven’t said no to it.”

A heckler then demanded Goodrich be subject to the same three-minute time limit imposed on public comments.

“I’m a board member,” he responded. “I will speak as long as I want.”

School Board president Eric Stones said the community is divided — a supermajority voted for the bond, but clear majorities also voted for Goodrich and fellow board member Vickey Melcher.

Board member Susan Freeman said the Moses Lake community has been unusually blessed. The Department of Defense built most of the schools in the district back in the 1950s, and the state has been very generous in its assistance in building two new elementary schools and the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center.

“I don’t mind paying local taxes. I can walk into a building and say, ‘I helped build this.’ Schools make a real difference in people’s lives,” Freeman said.

“We’ve been blessed to have all given to us. Let’s rise to the occasion and pitch in for future generations,” she added.

In addition, the board also unanimously approved a three-year operating levy of $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value to help fund the schools for 2019-2021. The measure, which is expected to raise around $6 million each year, will now go before Moses Lake School District voters on April 24, and only needs a 50 percent approval.

The current levy of $4.56 will expire at the end of 2018, and is being lowered following a change in the school funding formula, which will see more money coming from Olympia to fund state schools.

“I hope with all my heart that people don’t come to us in April and tell us they don’t trust us,” said board member Vicky Groff.

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