Times: State investigating Seattle district’s sale of MLK School to AME

The State Auditor will release a report later this month looking into possible conflicts of interest behind the decision to sell the MLK Elementary school campus to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Seattle Times reports:

When an affluent private school in Madison Valley offered to pay as much as $9.7 million for an empty public school in 2009, the choice for the cash-strapped Seattle school district seemed obvious: Sign the papers.

But what could have been a straightforward real-estate deal turned into an elaborate chess game that ended with a well-connected church buying the closed Martin Luther King Elementary School with $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars. more…

Issues around the deal have been surfaced on the Save Seattle Schools Community blog and in CDN comments since it was approved 5-2 in an October school board vote.

While the $9.7 million figure represents the calculated valued from a long-term lease the Bush School proposed in its bid for the property, the private school did make the largest cash bid in the process at $3.75 million, CDN reported when it documented the four competing projects for the campus back in fall 2009. But dollars weren’t the only factor in making the decision as community use of the space was also weighed. Now, the Times says, state investigators are looking at the transaction to see if these other factors represented violations of the law.

The Times also casts a skeptical eye on the AME’s efforts to date to put the campus to use:

Today, seven months after the School Board’s vote, First AME has one tenant lined up for the building — the church’s Head Start administrative offices — and no firm plans for its promised youth services beyond a two-month summer day-care program run by another agency. A church leader also said groups can book the gym as long as they provide supervision.

Church leaders recently hedged on making the playground accessible to neighborhood children — a requirement from the city when it changed the property’s use permit. The church said it has liability concerns about someone getting hurt there.

AME held a public meeting at the end for April to “discuss projects in your neighborhood, identified community center characteristics and interests, and your ideas,” according to the event flier. 

“We’re going to talk briefly to the community about what we had submitted and get from them what they would like to see in terms of the community center,” said Norward Brooks from First AME, who described the event as a meet-and-greet. “I hope that we can get more of the community involved in having the center operate because it is a center for the people in that community.”

0 thoughts on “Times: State investigating Seattle district’s sale of MLK School to AME

  1. somebody (probably somebody named English, since Goodlow-Johnson is gone) loses their job over this.

  2. This is a travesty – did we find out why the highest bidder didn’t win here? I’m very confused and hate the fact that I still have to see the windows boarded up. This smells like some bureaucratic gerrymandering.

  3. in a neighborhood with kids is the first travesty. If we (note I say we, the public)do sell school property we could debate the philosophy of and how to determine the balance between community use vs highest bidder. But, in this case, the next travesty came when the other community group offering a higher bid was held to a much higher standard. This was a rush job. No other property even slightly resembling a school has been sold so fast and should never happen again.

  4. You are so right! I have said this before, but this property should not even be sold. SPS will never be able to get it, or another equivalent property, back if they need it. Based on school enrollment and overcrowding, that could be sooner than later.

  5. This was a dirty deal from the start but fame defenders cried racism and no one looked any further. They can’t even cut the grass now that they own it, at least the district did that.

  6. “We’re going to talk briefly to the community about what we had submitted and get from them what they would like to see in terms of the community center,” said Norward Brooks from First AME, who described the event as a meet-and-greet. “I hope that we can get more of the community involved in having the center operate because it is a center for the people in that community.”

    Unless you are a neighbor,, then if no one else is using the playground and you ask permission, they may let you on it, as long as you stay with your children. That is what a white neighbor was told, later when a black lady asked about using the playground she was given a different answer.

    It would not look good for them if the predominantly non-black community around the school actually used it.

    The pastor wanted us to email suggestions, he didn’t want to hear us in person at all

  7. We walk by the property everyday and have seen nothing until today. My skeptical side says :lets see, its brought up on the radio this morning and boom! 8 cars are parked and there is “action”. then give it a week or two and things will blow over and the school will sit again. My optimistic side says, well, they have a renter, there will be more as they work on it over the summer…. We’ll see. Its been so dad since SPS closed it down..no kids, just wasted space.

  8. Haven’t seen much at Horace Mann either…I took part in the Microsoft “do gooder” paint job this past fall but haven’t seen jack since then…..might be worth a follow up.

  9. This property belonged to all Seattle taypayers. African Methodist Church does not serve most of Seattle any more than the Korean Budhist Temple, Russian Orthodox Church, Mormon Temple, or Orthodox Jewish Synagogue does.
    When people say it benefits “the community” it is a euphamism for a small but vocal group of people who are already receiving the vast majority of attention and social services. Ironically enough they are always complaining that they are “underserved”.
    No, they are way overserved and funds need to start being distrubed more evenly.
    I firmly believe this is a violation of the seperation of church and state. And I don’t think the school board would have been willing to do this for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddists, or Christians of any other ethnicity.

  10. members are ultimately responsible for this decision. We the citizens have to hold them responsible for such decisions. AME is not the only group that can push the Board to act in ways that are not to the benefit of the District as a whole. Hold those who made the decisions and recommendations responsible and don’t forget what happened at election time or at election filing deadlines. I love the comments here: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/reader_feedback/p

  11. My child, who attends Thurgood Marshall, brought home a flyer, securely sealed in an envelope, advertisting FAME’s “Low Cost Fun Summer Learning Program” to be held at FAME Martin Luther King School.
    It is offering childcare, with *free breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks* from June 22 – Aug 31st, 7 a.m. – 6 pm. Cost is $150/week.
    It lists Norward J. Brooks Ph.D as the project chair.
    They are saying “Lots of fun plus learning in Reading, Math and Science, Monthly Field trips, (that would mean 2-3 I suppose?) Science Center, Flight and other museums. Target age is K-5…
    It also says, Limited Space. Call today to register.

    Anyone else, at another school get this? Does anyone know who the teachers/leaders are or how many kids they are having?

    We don’t normally get these handed out at our school. They are made available at the office, but handing out in each classroom is not the general rule. That said, it sounds like they are trying quite hard to drum up some kids for summer – quickly.

  12. I live close to MLK fame and lots of kids in that age range near here, too bad they don’t try to get people that actually live in the neighborhood. No fliers, ads, or anything around here. It sounds and costs the same as the seattle parks dept. summer camp program offered at miller and montlake community centers.

  13. …and at Montlake or Miller you won’t have to worry about the possibility of your child being indoctrinated with ‘religion’…and the facilities are at least up to code.

  14. Travesty, favoritism to “black church”, skepticism, dirty deal and finger pointing and even suggesting that your children could be indoctrinated with “religion” because the property was sold to a church …wow,these comments are harsh. Really look inside yourselves and come to terms with where this is coming from. I knew that regardless of who acquired the MLK property, somebody would not be happy. So now it’s done… throw rocks at FAME? Why not try to really come together as a community and help to make it the best it can be. I’ve tried to remain optimistic about the decision to sell to FAME. I hope to see them succeed or anyone else who has the greater good as their mission…do you honestly believe that FAME does not? If for some reason it’s found that the sell was flawed, best that we found out. If not, bottom line…let’s not create divisiveness or a wedge in our community behind an organization who has a long historical commitment to serving the community.

  15. I was until very recently a teacher at FAME. We were told at the time of the bidding process ( A time in which we were, as now, deeply in debt) that the building would become a new school for FAME, and several sites would move their classrooms and children to the site when it was ready. This was a time in which FAME was firing special-needs specialists and canceling field trips due to lack of funds, so teachers needed to be convinced that this was needed. We were told the new school would be larger, have a playground (which several FAME sites do not have) and that the Feds would feel more comfortable when the FAME site that was in the basement of the FAME church itself was locating outside the church. We were very surprised when the new executive director (who arrived after the bidding process) told us,while delivering info about the new school, in response to a question about when classes would start moving to the site, that “Children will never be at the new building. It is for management”. When we told him that we were informed it would be a school, he very firmly repeated several times that “It was never going to be a school. It was never going to have children.” He repeated this several times, as though it was very important for us to remember this. As teachers, we all felt something fishy had happened. He described the building as only being used by FAME, and only one wing. The rest would be kept empty and “might be used by the community, in exchange for rent”. When a teacher asked if she could being her class over to use the playground, he told her no, as it was an insurance liability.
    I am in no way surprised that individuals on both sides of the bidding process were members of FAME church. You could not get into many positions in management if there was another person in the company who went to FAME church who wanted it. They would privately be given the position, then the position would be posted. If you asked about applying for the position, you would find out it had already been filled by a church member. Over time they stopped even informing people positions were open. Middle-management at FAME is filled with old-school teachers who are FAME Church members, who, when they become incompetent as teachers and unable to manage a class of pre-schoolers, are promoted to management and tasked with managing teachers. It has created an atmosphere of stress and tension between the older, less-educated African-American managers who are FAME Church members, and the better educated, largely East-Asian and Hispanic teachers who are not. I quit after a teacher who had been there for years (seriously, almost 30) was repeatedly reported to CPS for emotionally and physically abusing special needs children was simply removed from the school where she was reported and moved to another school. FAME protected an abusive teacher because she was part of the old-school Fame Church network. The incompetent and abusive protect each other, at the expense of the children, teachers, and now, apparently, tax-payer money.

  16. supersalad, Sincerely, you need to contact the Seattle Times/PI with your inside take on what goes on at FAME.

  17. Three-ways seldom work out well…..education, politics,and religion is a bad cocktail. This is such a non-surprise….when can the old 80s affirmative action, black-centric minority mentality be erased from SPS? SPS needs to get out of social engineering and focus on providing great educational opps for the kids. And people in Seattle need to hold the charlatans who worked this deal accountable.

    AME should be ashamed.

  18. School administrators or teachers at the public Thurgood Marshall school promoting a church summer program? How is that ok?

  19. Sorry, what makes you think a summer program run by a church will not have religion as a part of it?

  20. My tax dollars paid my entire life, and my parents and grandparents’ entire lives, paid for MLK school. When it was sold and there was a GIGANTIC multi-million dollar profit to be made to give BACK to the tax payers by adding it back to OUR pot. Instead, that profit was given to a church which is exclusionary and serves only a tiny group. That’s theft of taxpayer funds given in a subsidy to a church, violating seperation of church and state. That’s like if I took your 9 million dollar house, sold it to a church for 2 million, and told you that you were a nasty person for whining about the 7 million dollar loss. It’s FRAUD and now FAME is sitting on a 9 million dollar property they can sell any time, at an enormous profit. A profit that belonged to the tax payers and was given away through cronie-ism!

  21. Lots of activity at the building since the times articles. I live close by and they still have not informed the neighborhood what they have planned this summer..maybe they don’t know either.

    If there is a summer program for kids, apparently those that live in the neighborhood are not invited.