Washington school district cuts 268 personnel amid budget crisis

(The Center Square) – The Moses Lake School District in Washington is cutting an additional 55 positions amid its roughly $20 million budget shortfall, bringing the total number of people who…

(The Center Square) – The Moses Lake School District in Washington is cutting an additional 55 positions amid its roughly $20 million budget shortfall, bringing the total number of people who have lost their jobs since May to 268.

The next round of cuts began Tuesday afternoon after the district sent a news release detailing the reductions made so far. Earlier this year, MLSD failed to pass its Maintenance and Operations Levy twice, leading to the loss of other funding and a deeper dive into its finances.

Upon further inspection by the North Central Education Services District, staff identified shortfalls and accrual errors amounting to an unanticipated loss of over $20 million. In May, MLSD had to approve an inter-fund loan and file for grants just to make its payroll that month.

Now, MLSD is selling surplus properties, reducing operational costs and supplies and cutting hundreds of employees; however, it still needs to identify another $3.6 million in cuts by August. 

“Our classified employees are integral to the functioning of our schools, and this decision was not made lightly,” Interim Superintendent Carol Lewis wrote in the news release. “We deeply regret the necessity of these reductions and are fully aware of the hardship they impose on our dedicated staff and their families.”

Given that staffing accounts for 80% of the district’s budget, the reductions in force were inevitable unless MLSD committed to other monumental cuts that would also impact its students’ education. 

However, district officials noted in the press release that they may recall some classified staff reductions “depending on the district’s evolving financial situation.” 

Since May, MSLD has cut 12.5 district-level positions, accounting for more than $1.1 million in savings; 4.5 building administrator positions, saving around $730,000; 108 Moses Lake Education Association, or MLEA, positions for over $10.8 million in savings; and 143 public school employees, saving an additional $7.1 million.

Through its 268 staff cuts, the district has saved around $19,798,659.

“Should the district fail to create a balanced budget by this deadline, it will automatically enter binding conditions with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), resulting in less local control—an outcome the district is determined to avoid,” officials wrote in the news release.

While MLSD did rescind 11 non-renewal notices for special education teachers and counselors, the release noted that additional staff reductions are likely in the coming months.  

Amber Hoenes, a former science teacher at Endeavor Middle School, took to Facebook last week to express her devastation after being let go in a prior round. She taught for 13 years but recently made Moses Lake her home; however, now she’s out of a job and unable to leave.

The plan was to teach at Endeavor Middle School until she retired, but due to her husband’s job, she’s unable to move, and there are little to no teaching opportunities left in the area.

“Some years were down right soul crushing. Some made me question everything. But this past year was sooooo good,” Hoenes posted on Facebook. “It felt like I found my home. My people.”

In a series of messages, she reiterated to The Center Square the impact this will have, not only on those who were let go but also on the students whose education relies on those staff members.

“I never thought I’d be looking for work at this point in my life,” Hoenes continued in her post. “But here I am … leaving the place I felt God made just for me.”