MOSES LAKE — Former Moses Lake School District Superintendent Josh Meek will receive both a full year’s salary and a bonus as part of the agreement ending his employment with the MLSD.
According to the agreement, signed Aug. 24 by Meek and Aug. 25 by Moses Lake School Board President Vickey Melcher and obtained by the Columbia Basin Herald through a public records request, Meek will get his annual salary of $198,993 in monthly installments through August 2022, plus a one-time bonus of $24,946.65.
Under the deal, Meek’s last day as superintendent was Tuesday.
The regular salary and the bonus payments are required under Meek’s original employment contract, renewed by the board in February, which allowed the district to “terminate the superintendent’s employment without sufficient cause so long as the superintendent receives severance pay.”
Under that contract, if terminated, the district was required to pay Meek for either the remaining time in his contract or 12 months, “whichever is less.”
“That renewal was for an extension of approximately two and a half years,” Melcher wrote in an email to the CBH. “So as of a few weeks ago, his employment contract was set to run through at least the end of June 2023.”
In addition, the deal says the district will cease paying Meek a monthly “in-district travel allowance” of $500 and a cell phone allowance of $120. It will, however, pay all professional memberships, insurance and retirement benefits until Meek finds another school district employer or for one year.
According to an audit report prepared for the MLSD by the North Central Educational Services District (NCESD) in Wenatchee, Meek’s base salary for fiscal year 2020-21 (Sept. 1 through Aug. 31) was $198,993, as well as a $120 per month cell phone allowance and $500 per month in district travel allowance.
However, in fiscal 2020-21, according to the report, Meek received two bonus payments totaling $51,412.43, as well as two stipends worth $9,161.23. In addition, he had the option to sell back up to 20 days of unused leave time for a total of $14,350.50 and unused sick leave amounting to $2,104.74.
All told, Meek’s total potential compensation for fiscal year 2020-21 was $283,461.90, according to the ESD report.
In her email, Melcher wrote the agreement ends Meek’s employment with the MLSD “in a manner that would avoid the uncertainties and divisiveness of possible litigation.”
As part of the deal with the MLSD, Meek will continue to consult on the construction and organization of the new high school — informally referred to since the project’s inception as the “Real World Academy” — through the end of December 2021.
In her email to the CBH, Melcher wrote Meek is being asked to continue working on the project because he “has unique passion and irreplaceable knowledge for all that still needs to happen to make that top-priority project a successful one.” Melcher also wrote she believes project-based learning, which will be the method used in the new school to teach students, “is a model that is being watched closely by educators all over the state and we anticipate it will soon be copied by many other school districts.”
“Neither the board nor Dr. Meek wanted to put at risk or compromise the ultimate success of that project, so we agreed that as part of the Separation Agreement, Dr. Meek will continue to bring his invaluable knowledge and work to that project,” Melcher wrote.
Meek and the board came to an agreement ending Meek’s time with the MLSD following an investigation into “financial concerns” that prompted the board to commission two NCESD investigations of the superintendent, both of which have been obtained by the CBH through a public records request.
In two reports, an investigator with the NCESD looked into Meek’s receipt of the two stipends, his use of MLSD credit cards going back to 2018, and Meek’s reporting of leave time.
In regard to the stipends, the NCESD report says they were “related to work above and beyond his regular duties in response to COVID-19,” though the report also notes these stipends “could be considered as an overlap” to Meek’s administrative duties and the terms of Meek’s contract require board approval for “any upward adjustment in salary” during the term of the contract.
”The district does have a long-standing practice of compensating leadership with stipends, however, since 2007 the district has only issued one stipend to the Superintendent position,” the report says.
That was to Michelle Price, former MLSD superintendent, for the completion of her doctorate. Price is currently the NCESD superintendent.
In a response to the school board meeting July 26 and included in the public records request, Meek wrote he was not the only one receiving the pandemic-related stipends and “there was never an attempt to circumvent the process, rules, or contractual agreements,” and stipends themselves were part of “additional tasks and responsibilities” assumed by MLSD leadership as part of its pandemic response.
In a separate response written on Aug. 12 to the NCESD report and included in the records request, Meek wrote the NCESD investigator misunderstood the contract language and the stipends were not contractually part of his salary.
”None of the stipends adjusted my annual salary. They were supplemental and separate from my salary,” he wrote.
In the examination of credit card transactions, the NCESD investigator looked at 239 credit card transactions over a four-year period and found 164 of those charges “were not accompanied by detailed receipts,” including a number of Amazon purchases, meal and hotel transactions, and even charges for car washes, glass repair, and a charge with Sendero Life Center, now known as Restore City Church, in Moses Lake.
All told, the NCESD report “questioned $13,454.98 in charges” and identified “$9,943.55 in questionable transactions on the district credit card.”
The NCESD report also noted Meek did reimburse the district for $2,095.88 in credit card charges on Aug. 9.
Meek, however, disputed the total amount, instead citing the figure $2,559.27, and admitted “an error in judgment” leading to “poor management of the district credit card,” citing “long hours” overseeing the MLSD since 2018 and noting his family is gone most weekends from March through August “traveling for my children’s events.”
”These are personal expenditures. So the few times this error and crediting has happened, while understandably problematic, is actually rare for the amount of times we personally traveled,” Meek wrote.
”I want to be clear in stating that I never had any intent or purpose to misuse district resources,” Meek wrote. “I have worked for the school district for 18 years, been in public education for 23 years, and have spent my entire life working for the benefit of children.”
”I would never, and I believe you know this,” he wrote the school board, “throw all of that away for $2,559.27 of miscellaneous items.”
The NCESD also found Meek failed to accurately note the amount of leave time taken, noting there were times when Meek’s calendar reflected he was out of the office “for the entire day with no leave taken,” as well as personal appointments not covered by leave time.
According to the report, Meek “maximized his option to have all of his personal leave cashed out” and took eight days of personal leave in the 2020-21 school year.
However, the report also notes Meek “reported working partial days or answers emails or calls during personal days” and Meek’s contract “does not address personal leave for salaried employees.”
In a second response, written Aug. 26 after the board decided to end his employment, Meek wrote he simply never did several of the events listed on the calendar — hand surgery, consulting a dermatologist — and he typically does not “calendar” all of the additional hours he worked evenings, weekends, holiday and “out of office work interruptions that come with the role.”
In the Aug. 12 response, Meek wrote he was “trusted with the responsibility of being the CEO of the school district” and as such, devoted himself full-time to the job.
”I can say with 100% assurance and confidence that the district has my full attention — including on evenings, weekends, late nights, holidays and more,” Meek wrote in early August.