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Levy failures, accounting errors lead to layoffs in Moses Lake schools

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(The Center Square) – Teachers and other Moses Lake School District staff started receiving nonrenewal notices this week after the school board approved a plan to reduce personnel by around 100 people.

The district’s Board of Directors approved the measure during a special School Board meeting on Saturday. The meeting followed the repeated failure of MLSD’s Maintenance and Operations Levy in February and April and ongoing conversations about the budget since then.

As current levy funding dries up at the end of 2024, the Board of Directors faced the reality of balancing a $20 million budget reduction. However, with employees constituting the vast majority of the budget, mass layoffs were the only substantive step forward.

During Saturday’s meeting, Linda McKay, deputy superintendent of North Central Education Services District, said the levy’s failure is a significant factor, but a review of MLSD’s accounting also showed several discrepancies with grants and enrollment statistics, overestimating accruals.

“That revenue accrual error … had a significant impact on [the district’s] fund balance and what was being reported to the board,” said Trisha Schock, NCESD’s executive director of administrative services, during the meeting. “[The district’s] fund balance went from $13.5 million to $2 million because you were over-reporting revenue.”

Schock said the almost $11 million accounting error resulted from double booking grant revenue without later correcting it to reflect an accurate balance. That, coupled with the levy’s failure, overspending and other factors, culminated in the drastic financial situation.

According to a summary of recommended reductions, in addition to MLSD laying off or letting go of around 100 staff members, extra-curricular and community programs, supplies, facility usage and several other cuts will also occur in varying degrees.

“If you do not approve the resolution for the [reduction in force,]” Schock said to the school board, “essentially, the admin team cannot make the reduction necessary to ensure the financial stability of MLSD moving forward because you need to cut $20 million out of your budget and 80% of your costs are staff.”

She said MLSD could go bankrupt if it does not notify the affected administrative personnel and teachers under collective bargaining agreements by the May 15 deadline.

MLSD released a press release on Tuesday, breaking down the budget shortfalls and noting that staff reductions alone will save the district $13 million.

Some staff members took to social media Monday afternoon after receiving their nonrenewal notices. Kayla Hoffer, a teacher at Lakeview Terrace Elementary, posted after receiving her notice and expressed disappointment with how the situation is playing out.

“Yes, some of this was not in the community’s hands, but had the levy passed, we would be in a much better situation as a district and a community,” Hoffer said on Facebook. “Whatever beef you have with the district, you just took out on our kids.”

Another MLSD staff member told The Center Square that a group of affected personnel is holding off commenting to avoid the spotlight while still under contact. They said commenting on the situation could impact their chances at another job with a different school district.

The decision to hold off was that of the group, not the MLSD, as the staff member cited concerns for administrators around the district as well.

Moving forward, McKay said NCESD will work alongside MLSD to reconcile expenditures and revenues for the past school year, complete the current fiscal year and provide revenue projections for 2024-2025.