ML school board nixes fund transfer

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MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School Board kicked around several proposals Thursday evening to improve security and access to Moses Lake High School before deciding not to spend any money at this point until the board knows exactly what those security improvements will cost.

The deliberations followed a contentious proposal two weeks ago by Board President Eric Stones to move $5.5 million from the district’s reserve funds into the capital fund.

At its Thursday meeting, the board initially considered a proposal to move $1.5 million, which Stones upped to $2.25 million and Elliott Goodrich suggested should go as high as $4 million for repairs to the new Special Services offices located in the district’s new administration building at 1620 S. Pioneer Way, near MLHS.

Goodrich was concerned that a building focused on serving disabled students was not easily accessible to the disabled.

“Those are exactly the services these kids need to be getting,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich dropped his proposal, however, after being told very few students actually spend much time in the Special Services offices.

The building is currently vacant, awaiting repairs to be paid for out of the proceeds from last year’s $135.4 million school construction bond, which is currently tied up in the state courts in a dispute over the way ballots were counted.

“My initial proposal was $5.5 million, $3.2 to be replenished for past construction costs until the bond is decided,” Stones said.

With the recent Florida school shooting on everyone’s minds, district officials want to improve emergency access to MLHS, which is currently only accessible by vehicle from Sharon Street. The district owns the land all the way south to Yonezawa Boulevard, but closer access from the east would most certainly involve buying some land to create a new entrance and exit.

“We do understand completely what the police chief (Kevin Fuhr) had to say about getting into the high school should something happen that we don’t want to happen,” said board member Vicky Groff.

However, board member Susan Freeman said she was deeply concerned about any draw down on the district’s reserves — currently hovering at around $13 million, according to district operations director Eric Johnson — noting the district was well below the national average for percentage of reserve funds.

If anything, Freeman said she wanted to see the district increase its reserves, especially given uncertainty over the next school levy, set for a vote on April 24.

Freeman also said she had an idea about solving the access problem to MLHS.

“I’m hesitant to talk openly until we have an offer,” she said, noting the idea involved a real estate deal and had to be discussed in executive session.

As the board got set to vote on the funds transfers, Freeman protested.

“Doesn’t anyone want to hear my proposal?” she asked.

The board shooed everyone out of their meeting chamber for a 10 minute executive session, and when they reconvened the public meeting, voted against both the $1.5 million funds transfer (three against, one for, and one abstention) and the proposed $2.25 million transfer (four against, one abstention).

Instead, the board voted unanimously to get exact costs, instead of estimates, for security and safety upgrades as well as a possible real estate purchase, before making any funds transfer.

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

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