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Jobs, programs at risk as voters to decide on MLSD levy

Mar. 18—MOSES LAKE — Moses Lake School District patrons will have the choice to accept or reject a two-year educational programs levy in a special election April 23. It's the same proposal as the one rejected by voters in February.

Moses Lake Superintendent Monty Sabin said district officials are conducting a survey to determine the concerns of district voters about the levy. The results will be reviewed at a community forum at 6 p.m. March 25 in the MLSD boardroom, 940 E. Yonezawa Blvd. Sabin said he's also willing to talk to anybody who has questions about the proposal.

"I really welcome people to come out if they have questions about it," Sabin said.

The request is for $2 per $1,000 of assessed property value. If it's approved it would generate $15.78 million in the first year and $18.94 million in the second year. A property owner with land valued at $300,000 would pay $600 per year. The owner of property valued at $350,000 would pay $700 per year in property taxes.

Because it's an EP&O levy, it requires a bare majority, 50% plus one vote, to pass. If the levy is approved, it would replace a three-year levy approved by district voters in 2021.

The assessment in the 2021 levy was $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value; the 2024 request is a 50-cent increase. Sabin said district officials know they're asking for a lot. A combination of declining state revenues and rising costs, he said, prompted them to ask for the increase.

Some of the declining revenues are tied in with a legal decision that originally increased money given to qualifying school districts, Moses Lake among them, to address a specific circumstance.

"Based on that decision (state education officials) had a formula that they used to determine cost of living across the state," Sabin said. "Based on that formula, some districts received additional apportionment from the state, and Moses Lake was one of those districts."

The amount was supposed to go down over time, Sabin said, but in the meantime, the formula used to calculate it was changed, and Moses Lake lost that funding.

"The impact to our budget is, I think, roughly $4.6 million (for the 2024-25 school year). That's a significant amount of money," Sabin said. "And then as this is going on, we also have the issue of our costs going up."

The district's extracurricular programs, from speech to field trips to tennis and other sports, are funded entirely through local levy funds. Sabin used extracurricular activities as an example of the way different challenges faced by the district combine to increase costs.

"Travel has been really expensive when we don't have enough bus drivers to cover all our activity runs for those trips, then we are forced to go out and get private charters, which are very expensive," he said.

"Across the board, expenses have really gone up. And when you couple that with the decrease in apportionment from the state to the tune of $4.6 million a year, it's like we just can't continue on at the same level of staffing and services," he said.

Moses Lake still qualifies for levy equalization funding, which is money given to districts with relatively lower property values if they pass a levy. But because property values have increased in Moses Lake, the amount of levy equalization the district receives is going down, Sabin said.

"It'll really start decreasing really significantly," he said.

Moses Lake uses levy money to plug gaps in personnel and programs that aren't covered by state funding. Sabin said there are a lot of gaps.

"Levy money in some way affects every position in the district," he said. "Because there's a difference between what the state provides and really what a school district needs, not what a school district wants."

School psychologists, Sabin said, are an example of the gaps. Moses Lake receives state funding to pay for the equivalent of one psychologist, but the district employs the equivalent of 12 full-time and one part-time positions.

"A school psychologist helps evaluate students who may qualify for special education services, so they're really a critical position in the district," he said.

There's no lack of work either, he said.

"All of those psychologists — they're working really hard. They have so many kids in their caseload. Just like all the other positions (funded through the levy) is that everyone is stretched. We don't have people sitting around wondering what to do," he said.

Ballots will be mailed to district voters in early April.

Cheryl Schweizer may be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

Weigh in

Parents, teachers and all interested Moses Lake School District patrons are being invited to take a survey asking for their opinions on the two-year educational programs and operations levy proposal that will be on the ballot in April. The survey can be found at www.mlsd161.org/LevyFeedbackSurvey/. Answers can be submitted through 5 p.m. March 21.

District officials are looking for community feedback in the wake of the rejection of the levy proposal in February. The proposal received 3,758 no votes and 3,611 yes votes.

The same proposal will be on ballot in the April 23 special election.

"We want to hear from our families, staff and community members how we can better inform our community about why we are asking for the levy and what it funds," said MLSD Superintendent Monty Sabin.

The survey asks respondents to rate the importance of programs and services, ranging from maintenance and extracurricular activities to technology and safety and security. Respondents also are asked if they believe they were adequately informed by the information released during the runup to the February levy vote.

The survey results will be among the topics discussed at a community forum on the levy proposal at 6 p.m. March 25 in the MLSD boardroom, 940 Yonezawa Blvd.

Programs to be funded via 2024 levy proposal

Extracurricular activities: $3.5 million

Classified/certified positions in schools: $3.2 million

Staff extra duty pay: $2.5 million

Curriculum adoption: $2 million

Support positions — technology, maintenance, etc.: $800,000

Technology upgrades and replacements: $750,000

Maintenance, custodial, grounds projects: $750,000

School resources officers (MLPD): $385,000

Communities in Schools: $310,000

Administration office: $300,000

Preschool (levy-funded portion): $275,000

Boys & Girls Club: $260,000

Community schools (includes pool use): $200,000

AVID: $189,150

Vehicle fleet replacements: $150,000

Community schools (theater use): $125,000

Professional development: $62,754

Musical instruments: $59,000