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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Moses Lake School District cuts 100 teachers after $11 million budget error

Moses Lake School District has notified 103 teachers their contracts will not be renewed next year after the school board learned of a $20 million budget shortfall partly caused by an accounting error.

The school board placed Superintendent Monty Sabin on administrative leave Tuesday night without explanation following an executive session, and appointed Assistant Superintendent Carol Lewis as interim superintendent.

The double counting of $11 million is partly behind the budget crunch.

Besides the error, the rest of the shortfall comes from two failed levies, lower-than-estimated enrollment apportionment and reductions in local effort assistance and regionalization funding from the state.

Salaries make up 80% of the school district’s $150 million budget, so staffing cuts are unavoidable, a district news release said. The district employs nearly 600 certified teachers in 20 schools.

The school board passed a reduction resolution Saturday authorizing the superintendent to begin layoffs. The staff reduction is expected to save about $13 million.

“This is just the beginning of a pretty good-sized list of things that we need to be looking at,” board member Amy Breitenstein said during Saturday’s meeting. “I hope people understand that this is not an easy time, but it is necessary, and we are doing the best with what we have.”

Classified support staff and administrative positions will also be cut, although those positions have not been identified, district spokeswoman Claren McLaughlin said.

Affected employees may have the opportunity to reapply for positions depending on further budget adjustments, according to the news release.

Besides staff, funding could be cut for extracurricular activities, overtime pay, curriculum, technology, maintenance, resource officers, professional development, vehicle replacements, supplies, travel and other expenses.

The cuts will affect next school year, while the current school year will finish as normal, McLaughlin said.

North Central Education Service District staff discovered the budget discrepancies during a review of the school district’s fiscal data early this month.

The $11 million error was from recording revenue twice during the accrual and reconciliation process, Linda McKay, deputy superintendent for the education service district, explained during a presentation to the school board Saturday. The mistake was made by counting the revenue once for the fiscal year in which it was earned and counting it again for the year it was deposited in the district’s account, without making a revenue adjustment.

The ESD recommended better procedures for financial oversight and internal controls to prevent this from happening again.

The school district failed twice to renew an educational programs and operations levy this year.

The levy narrowly failed with 49% of the vote in February, then with a 45.8% to 54.2% margin in April. The levy was estimated to collect $34 million over two years.

A draft of the district’s 2024-25 budget is due in July, and the final budget should be adopted in August.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.