Community Post

Accusations and amendments fly as school board decides on fate of MLK school property

After years of proposals, campaigns, and numerous public meetings, today could be the day when the Seattle School Board makes a final decision on the fate of the old MLK Elementary school property. The board is scheduled to vote on the issue in a meeting tonight at district headquarters.

The board’s finance committee voted unanimously in September to accept the superintendent’s recommendation to sell the MLK building and property to First AME church for $2.4 million, turning down competing offers from CCC@MLK (a group of Madison Valley residents favoring a new community center), the Central Area Development Association, and The Bush School.

But two amendments have been offered by board members that could derail the plan to hand over the property to First AME. The first amendment, offered by Director Kay Smith-Blum (attached at left), would delay a decision until February of 2011, giving the board time to consider whether the property should be kept in public ownership to help alleviate overcrowding in other schools around the Central Area.

According to Smith-Blum, all but one school in the “central cluster” are at or near capacity, and a shortage of playfield space is driving Garfield sports programs to practice in far-away locations such as Marymoor Park in Redmond. Smith-Blum suggests that the district may need to hold on to the 4-acre MLK property and use it to provide playfield space for school programs, and allow revenue-positive rental of the space to private sports programs.

A letter sent to the board last night from Adrienne Bailey, a leader of the CCC@MLK organization (attached at left), urges the board to vote down Smith-Blum’s amendment, as the clock is ticking on the deteriorating buildings that the group hopes to turn into a community center. The Seattle Department of Planning & Development have set an end of year deadline for the sale of the school, and a February decision would exceed that deadline and result in the buildings having to be brought up to current building codes before being used, something that is financially infeasible for any of the parties that hope to make use of them.

But CCC@MLK is strongly in favor of a second amendment offered by Director Martin-Morris that would direct the district to accept CCC@MLK’s bid for the school. The short summary of the amendment (attached at left), states that the CCC@MLK proposal is $100,000 higher than First AME’s bid, and is “the only bid that truly keeps the property in the public domain.”

Bailey also launched a series of strong accusations against school staff and the First AME bid in her most recent letter to the board, calling the district staff recommendation “tainted, misleading, and incorrect”. Citing “ambiguities and tainted information”, she urges the board to allow full presentations from CCC@MLK and First AME in public hearings, giving each side an opportunity to prove the value of their proposals.

Tonight’s meeting starts at 6pm at district headquarters at 2445 3rd Avenue South.

0 thoughts on “Accusations and amendments fly as school board decides on fate of MLK school property

  1. It’s not too late to email the board, share your input.

    Or, head down to the John Stanford Center for a first hand view of the discussion and vote. You may still be able to sign-up for a public speaker spot.

    I’m really glad to see that both Kay SB and Harium MM put forward thoughtful, responsive amendments. I do believe public school properties should remain public assets. We’ve seen the long term difficulties of selling schools- Queen Anne HS. That said, I think the CCC@MLK proposal has stronger community support and more secure funding.

  2. I think that Kay Smith-Blum’s proposal has merit; the “unexpected” overcrowding at Garfield this year indicates that times have changed: that the economy is making private school tuition more difficult, that Garfield’s reputation compares favorably with private schools and that more families are willing to live in the city and school their children there. The School District should NOT get rid of more property until they have a better handle on the population issues. They were off base this September and had no answer for WHY at the recent meeting with Director Smith-Blum. She is a breath of fresh air in a large unwieldy organization AND she listens to parents and she RESPONDS unlike the previous director.

  3. jennifer, plenty of us went to the Board’s community meeting on closing TT Minor and spoke out against that decision. As Wave points out, at least the property is still in public ownership. The problem with selling MLK to a private entity (First AME) is that the space is out of the public’s ability to use.

  4. I agree.
    Yes, TT Minor is still owned by Seattle School District and is on lease to a private school and could be reclaimed in 2015 and should be as it is perfectly situated for a neighborhood school. It is still the closest school for 400 public school students who by and large, all would be able to actually walk to it. At the moment most of those students are assigned to schools to which they cannot walk in any reasonable amount of time. Many families were pleased to finally be assigned to Stevens, a known and stable program, despite the fact that it is not walkable. One day some of those closer to Stevens may say, “Well, you know those people aren’t really a part of the Stevens neighborhood and want to redraw boundaries. Such proposals such as this should not be considered until the District is willing to fairly work with the neighborhood families and community to develop a desirable program for all at TT Minor. There is a good population here and it should not be difficult.

    As expressed I agree with Kay Smith-Blum on not selling any of the school properties, especially in this area where the schools and their programs and populations have not been stable and schools have not been closed long. In fact, the District seemingly took steps to destabilized school programs here, a result of intention or mismanagement. Perhaps CCC@MLK could develop a proposal for a lease on the building. All should give some thought regarding what they want in schools here. There is a new emphasis on early learning. How is that piece going to be accommodated?

  5. Jennifer-
    The school closure process and decisions of 2008/9 ignited more than just a “fuss”- Protests, complaints to the US Dept of Ed, legal actions, petitions, highlighting additional data, and more community meetings than you can count.

    The situation at MLK is different as the property is for sale. Those of us who think it’s unlikely that the district will be able to afford to purchase property in the future, suggest they hold what they have- especially as area capacity is now stretched. On top of that, many are concerned with the seeming conflict of interest as the district’s (recently resigned) head of facilities is a FAME member. The FAME bid came very late in the game and is not the highest bid.

    While I wish TT Minor has remained open, I think the lease by Hamlin Robinson School is an appropriate use of the facility and a good fit for the community. And, it’s still owned by our public school system.

  6. wow. Can you tell us the vote break down? What happened w/ the amendments? So disappointing.

  7. Folks probably saw tonight that the School District voted to sell the MLK Jr. School to FAME Church tonight. Both amendments–one to sell to CCC@MLK, and the other to delay the vote until 12/8/10–were rejected.

    CCC@MLK is deciding next steps. We shook hands tonight with Pastor Anderson, and hope to work together to bring about programming that the neighbors and community want and need at that space, and make sure all feel welcomed there.

  8. that they are selling the property!!! We have over crowding in almost ALL the central area schools and, if and when, the district ever takes notice of this they will NEVER be able to buy this property back. Seems incredibly shortsighted to me. Not to mention selling this asset in a down economy! Sell low, Buy High I guess.

  9. I hope the church makes it as open as they can…there aren’t many facilities for kids and parents to play together in that neck of the woods, and I know many neighboring families that are disappointed.

  10. Joanna, I disagree about the southern part of the Stevens area not being walkable. We live at 21st/Union and, while we’re over a mile away from Stevens and our kids usually take the bus, we can walk to school in about 30 mins and can bike there in less than half that time. I think they actually did a really good job when they drew the Stevens boundary in considering barriers and contours — the whole area is relatively flat and, while there are some arterials to cross, none are horrible. Madison is the biggest one and there are lights at 22nd, 19th, 17th, etc. There are bike lanes on 19th throughout the Stevens area, although we prefer to walk/bike on quieter streets like 21st.