Cheney Free Press -

By Roger Harnack

Medical Lake schools focused on academic, not physical, growth


Last updated 10/31/2019 at 9:47am

MEDICAL LAKE – While Cheney schools are bracing for massive student population growth over the next decade, the local district is focused on academic growth.

During a Kiwanis Club luncheon Wednesday, Superintendent Tim Ames dispelled any notion of overcrowding anytime in the near future.

“Growth is not happening in Medical Lake,” Ames said. “We’re not getting the students we expected from the new squadron and Amazon.”

Ames was referring to a new refueling squadron at neighboring Fairchild Air Force Base and a new Amazon fulfillment center being built along Interstate 90.

Both were touted as efforts that would bring thousands of more residents – many families – to the Cheney, Medical Lake and Airway Heights areas.

Indeed, many new homes and businesses are under construction in Airway Heights, which falls within the Cheney School District.

Few new homes are being constructed in the Medical Lake district, and the ones that are being built, are generally too expensive for most military families to consider, he said.

That leaves local schools looking for other ways to bring in revenue to cover the ever-increasing costs related to education.

“Since we’re not growing student-wise, we need to be innovative,” Ames said.

According to the superintendent, incorporating new technology in classrooms is attracting students from neighboring districts.

This year, 250 “school choice” students are attending Medical Lake schools, district figures show. Those students bring with them $2.1 million in revenue.

That’s important when the district’s full-time equivalent enrollment is 1,816 students, which is slightly down from the 2018-19 school year.

Ames said 843 of the students are from military families associated with Fairchild.

Local schools have added Chromebooks to the curriculum, Ames said. And students and teachers are regularly using GoogleDocs and Google Classroom for coursework.

“Students choose to come to our schools for a quality education,” Ames said.

And the district has more than enough room to accommodate them, he added, noting one school has enough room for 200 more students.

“We have room for growth,” Ames said.

But even with the classroom openings, Ames said the district has a healthy $26.7 million budget for the current year. And if all goes as planned, the school year will end with a $2.7 million fund balance, or rainy day fund to cover emergency.

The district has been able to maintain an adequate ending fund balance by under-budgeting, Ames said.

The district budget this year is based an enrollment of 1,800 students. So the 16 extra students come with an additional minimum state allocation of $8,468 each.

If students live off-base but have parents working at Fairchild, they come with an additional $574 each, Ames said. And if they live on-base, another $2,870 is attached by the federal government.

Roger Harnack can be reached at


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