A letter to the editor
Working in a newsroom isn’t always a fun adventure like my generation saw on Murphy Brown. The people we write about are real, and what we write impacts those real people in real ways.
Last Friday we published a story about the new and former superintendents of the Moses Lake School District. In this story, we reported on the hiring of Superintendent Monty Sabin to fill the void left when former Superintendent Josh Meek resigned after reaching an agreement with the district last August, his position at the helm of MLSD to give up.
In this report, we reported on Meek’s financial situation before, during and after his tenure as District Superintendent. Our intention was not to attack Meek or his family, but to make it clear to the district taxpayers that Meek had not been financially vetted before handing him the reins of an MLSD budget of more than $100 million in taxpayers’ money. Meek struggled with financial management before assuming this position, and had the MLSD board properly screened him, the district might not have had to pay more than $17,000 for a headhunting firm to help in the search for a new superintendent to help, and would not have done so currently paying two superintendents — Sabin as the new superintendent and Meek through his separation agreement — salaries well over $200,000 each, plus benefits and bonuses.
Looking back, I think we should have printed this article as two separate stories. One celebrates Sabin’s upcoming tenure and another discusses concerns surrounding Meek’s hiring and tenure. Additionally, we could have kept the financial details at a higher level and still highlighted the points that taxpayers needed to see. For this we apologize both to Sabin and Meek and to our readers.
We also want to encourage our readers to look at the bigger picture of the situation. As a result of the story, at least one school board member has indicated that she will urge that senior management candidates for MLSD be screened more thoroughly going forward. Other school board members have also said processes related to credit cards and other issues are being revised for clarity to ensure clear policies are in place for all MLSD staff. Additionally, the district took its time and hired Sabin with assistance from Northwest Leadership Associates to ensure that Sabin and the other candidates for the position were properly screened.
Additionally, the financial mistakes Meek may have made do not offset the good he has done for the community as an educator and steward. Prior to his time as Superintendent at MLSD, his career included teaching and principalship. During that time, he has certainly had a positive impact on many students and their families. The community must not forget that.
One reader, Corina Villa, wrote to point out, among other things, that Meek is “a kind, caring, compassionate man.” She also said she worked with him on suicide prevention projects for years.
Current and former Moses Lake School board members told the Columbia Basin Herald just a few of the things Meek has done.
Meek helped cut the district’s budget by about $15 million when the district’s ability to collect taxes was curtailed a few years ago. This cut had minimal impact on the district’s students, said Susan Freeman, director of the MLSD school board, and eased the community’s transition to budgeting.
Meek was also instrumental in managing how MLSD received support from the state’s construction assistance program, Freeman and current MLSD board vice president Shannon Hintz said. A former employee had given the board false information and proactively checked Meek’s side when he first entered his tenure as superintendent in a bid to save taxpayers millions of dollars, Freeman said.
Additionally, the professional programs offered to MLSD students at the upcoming Vanguard Academy are largely credited to Meek, said Vickey Melcher, a former MLSD school board member. Because of Meek’s efforts, she said that she believes that as students transition from MLSD into their careers, they will be equipped with the skills they need. She added that the innovative programs there are being watched by all of Washington state, while other districts are considering new learning programs.
Melcher, Hintz and Freeman also said that Meek led the development of Groff Elementary School. With foresight in the design of this campus, Meek ensured that the district owned the design plans for the campus. He also campaigned for the easy expandability of the campus. As a result, the district can duplicate the design at other sites as the district grows, saving taxpayer money for future development of additional campuses.
Hintz also told the Herald that Meek returned all money related to credit card fees identified in the initial audit results that started the discussions leading to his resignation.
As a news reader, I encourage all of our readers to remember that it’s not the mistakes we make that define us, but how we undo those mistakes. That goes for Meek, school board members who hire principals and news editors.
Thank you for reading the Columbia Basin Herald. We hope to ensure that all our readers are informed and can participate in leading the cities and schools we cover to prosper in the future. We wish both Meek and Sabin the best of luck for the future.
R. Hans Miller
Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Basin Herald