Sunday, April 01, 2012

Note to SPS: Ask Amazon And Vulcan to be Good Civic Partners

Today's front page headline story in the Times is about Amazon, "a virtual no-show in hometown philanthropy."

The story points out that while it even took the Gates Foundation awhile to start opening its vast pockets, Amazon still hasn't.  Their model?

"Our core business activities are probably the most important thing we do to contribute, as well as our employment in the area," Bezos told The Times.

In a 2010 interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, Bezos expressed doubt that philanthropy was the best way to solve social problems.

"I'm convinced that in many cases, for-profit models improve the world more than philanthropy models, if they can be made to work."

For example, he thinks inventing the Kindle brings more reading opportunities to people worldwide.  Discuss that statement.

But frankly, I guess if Amazon continues to grow, employ and be good employers, that is a good thing for our city.

 From the story:
In 2009, the construction of Amazon's South Lake Union headquarters was considered a pivotal event in Seattle's history. Amazon not only would change the physical face of the neighborhood, said then-Mayor Greg Nickels, but it also represented a new economic hope for the city in the midst of the Great Recession.

The official groundbreaking ceremony, on a bright April morning, drew the mayor and the governor. Notably missing were Bezos or any other Amazon executives.

It wasn't the first or last time that people in the community would be left wondering: Where is Amazon?

It would seem that Amazon is feeling the pressure as this was also in the story:

In the past year — as The Seattle Times began looking into its charitable giving and shortly after Drago questioned Bezos at the company's annual shareholder meeting — Amazon reached out to more than 30 local nonprofits, offering volunteers, in-kind donations and small, often unsolicited, cash contributions.

Amazon gave between $1,000 and $10,000 to a wide array of local nonprofits, from the Pike Place Market Foundation to the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

Of course, it is easy and cheap to hand out out $1,000-10,000 here and there but I'm sure those groups absolutely appreciated it.

So why do I bring this up?

Because I'm pretty sure that Amazon, along with the Paul Allen company, Vulcan, are responsible for the pressure the district seems to be getting for a South Lake Union elementary school.

 You may recall that I reported that two City officials came to the BEX Oversight Committee meeting two months ago with graphs and maps and why they need a school. (It did come out to be a chicken or egg type thing; if you build it, will there be enough students to fill and how long would that take?)

Now don't get me wrong - I think someday soon, we will need a downtown elementary (or K-8/middle school) and a high school.  Vancouver, B.C. has at least one elementary downtown.  It's a swell idea.

But it is NOT part of our problem of capacity management and the district has no business setting aside $32M in the BEX IV budget for a downtown elementary.  It's in every single scenario of the BEX IV preliminary plans.

We have way too many other REAL problems to address and that means EXISTING schools with many facilities AND capacity management problems.

So I read this article and think, so it's the district job to jump when these big businesses snap their fingers?  It is not and I certainly hope that if the Mayor and City Council are hearing this from those businesses, then THEY can get together and figure it out.

If Amazon and Vulcan need a school to help keep the best talent, then THEY can set aside a couple of floors in one of their new buildings and lease it cheaply to the district. Then I have no problem with the district setting up the infrastructure for a new school.

But the district does not have the need, the time nor the money to find land, build an elementary and run it for South Lake Union.  It would be a slap in the face to every single crowded school or run-down school in our district.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am glad you posted this. I was actually struck by two things in the article. This statement:

"Though Amazon is a Fortune 500 company, you won't find the company's name on the rosers of major donors to such venerable local nonprofits as the Alliance for Education..." Gee, why did the Seattle Times mention this group specifically?

Who do they interview in the article? Why Nick Hanauer of reform fame.

This article really stunk in many ways.

-biased

Anonymous said...

Amazon doesn't "do" philanthropy. It's part of Jeff's philosophy to be very low-key about it. Lots of Amazon employees dislike this, but it's not a make-or-break thing for them. And of course, most Amazon employees don't live downtown or in SLU. They live in W. Seattle, Ballard, QA/Magnolia, NE, Cap Hill, Mercer Island, Bainbridge, further north like Edmonds etc.

Wholly agree with you about them needing to pony up, though, if they are trying to get school resources where they are not needed.

--ex-Amazon / NE parent

Anonymous said...

When I read the article, every time somebody complained that Amazon doesn't contribute to this our that, I heard "gimme your money."

Corporate philanthropy is an institutionalized quid pro quo in which the same companies that threaten to leave town if they don't get tax breaks can point to charitable donations as evidence of their big hearts. Buying indulgences.

I especially enjoy them taking credit for donations their employees have made to United Way as a result of high pressure donation campaigns.

And of course, this image rehabilitation is big business, and so we get an ecosystem of nonprofits ready to vend community goodwill to anyone willing to pay for it. And now they get their own front page story.

That said, a school in slu makes little sense, no matter who pays for it.

- follow the money

ben said...

I totally believe Vulcan is mostly behind the pressure for the school since it fits with their residential development for the area. I'd be much more surprised if Amazon has played any part. In general, the lack of lobbying/philanthropy is pretty universal there.

Ben

Amazon's Overrated said...

Just read the article. I'm with Hanauer on this one - Hanauer supports income tax, Bezos does not.

Biased - they mentioned Alliance for Education because it's a group that pumps thousands of dollars directly into the classrooms, something we need more of. Technology, grants, resources, all provided without anything skimmed off by the district. Don't knock them.

Patrick said...

One thing you asked about was whether Kindle is helping people worldwide get access to reading materials. I really don't think it helps in the poor countries. You need reliable electrical supplies to keep them charged. You need reliable internet connections to download new books. Both of those are usually in short supply in poor countries. And books are pretty durable. They may get marked up or the cover damaged, but they can still be read over and over by many people. Electronic devices don't usually last more than 3-5 years so they'll probably be too expensive to keep replacing in the poor countries.

In less poor areas, it may be of considerable help.

Amazon has helped a lot with being able to order paper books quickly and easily for delivery wherever there's good delivery services available, though. In the old days if your village was too small to have a bookstore, ordering by mail was a slow process. Catalogs cost money to publish, so lesser-known books languished unadvertised. Books In Print listed them, but it was such an expensive set of books that you'd need a good bookstore or good public library to subscribe, which were not available in many small towns. And they didn't have stock information anyway. I think Amazon has done more for worlwide readers by the new and used book listings on the web than they have through Kindle.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Overrated, you said

"Biased - they mentioned Alliance for Education because it's a group that pumps thousands of dollars directly into the classrooms, something we need more of. Technology, grants, resources, all provided without anything skimmed off by the district. Don't knock them."

The Alliance has pumped money into the classroom? I must have missed that.

The Alliance is a great idea in theory but they are much more an advocacy group now (and not for SPS) than they are friend to SPS.

seattle citizen said...

Speaking of civic partners, the people over at the League of Education Voters have all succumbed to the bites of zombies. It's quite horrific, poor dears. The staff is simply oozing zombie stuff, (braaiiins and other bits); their organization has become the League of Undead Voters; and their website has been composed, uh, decomposed to reflect this new direction. May we with them success in their search for braaiiins. One of their recent actions was a protest in front of the Gates Foundation:

From the League of Undead Voter's webiste (and don't forget to check out the rest of their site, and see pics of LUV's undead staff, and see the picture of "Christopher Eide, executive director of Zombies United, [testifying] before a House Education Committee. 'Braaaaiins,' Eide said. Repeatedly. Seriously. It's all he said."
):

"AP: Giant LUV Zombies Found Begging Outside the Gates Foundation

SEATTLE - Long suspected puppets of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, giant undead members of the League of Undead Voters were spotted begging outside of the Gates Foundation headquarters. A bystander, who also happened to be an education blogger at Bill Gates Ate My Brains, was not surprised. The blogger, who prefers to remain anonymous, noted that the life-impaired LUV members dragged their feet to the headquarters naturally, like they had an innate sense of the foundation's location. The foundation's staff was unperturbed as they are used to LUV asking for money and don't see a zombie apocalypse getting in the way of that. The blogger reports that they even saw some Gates' staff throwing dollar bills at the brain-eating giants, but the AP saw no evidence of that."

Anonymous said...

To ben: Agreed.

Vulcan (Paul Allen) wanted the streetcar to nowhere and got it fast. Ridership? It's a vanity project. Let Bezos use his own money. He's paying to recover Apollo rocket engines but he's a skinflint with workers:

http://gawker.com/jeff-bezos/
Amazon's excuses for abusing workers

Mr White

Anonymous said...

uh ... no thanks. they'll just be hiring from the same yuppie pool of gate$ / billionaire ass kissers

which means more well paid yuppies singing from the ed deform songbook.

YukYuk

Po3 said...

There are schools near South Lake Union that offer a great K-12 pathway; TOPS and the Center School. If these companies feel they need schools near their companies then the could show corporate support to the schools that exist. That would signal to me they are serious in a creating a partnership with SPS. To lobby, behinds the scenes, for millions of dollars to build new schools is just corporate greed.

seattle citizen said...

Po3, that is a GREAT idea, companies could support (without meddling, one hopes) TOPS and Center for a nice K-12 pathway...Good thinking!
(Of course, I don't know what those schools think about the idea..!)

Po3 said...

I think ANY school right now would greatly appreciate a check (no strings) to their school. We don't need to spend millions of dollars on a fancy school in the SLU area. And it makes me sick to see this type of postering going on right now!

Anonymous said...

After all the unending pissing and moaning over Gates, Microsoft, and any other donating and/or philanthropic entity - why would anybody give a dime to SPS?

-observer

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the only money I've seen from any of these people comes with conditions so they can keep it. Gates could have helped by writing a check for the astounding failure on Olchefske's part to understand accounting principles. Students, teachers and families are blameless in that one. Pocket change to Gates.

I wonder if Gates ever had Olchefske over for dinner?

n...

Anonymous said...

Also, I read somewhere that Amazon was running sweat shops in some midwestern state. Anybody else read about that?

n...

apparent said...

Kristina Feliciano's inspiring M. Arch project, which is to build a K-12 on the vacant downtown waterfront piers near the Acquarium, focusing on the connection to the marine environment. Maybe SPS, Vulcan, and Amazon should all with student architect Kristina Feliciano?

apparent said...

Sorry, what got left out is that Kristina Feliciano's student project is currently displayed on the walls of Gould Hall on the University of Washington campus, on 40th Street NE, between 15th and University Avenues. We just saw it there by chance last Saturday when the UW's Robinson Center happened to hold a math class for interested elementary students.

seattle citizen said...

observer,
No one pisses and moans when kindly and civic-minded individuals and corporations DONATE to schools; it's only when they "give" money in order to further their own agenda that people complain.

BIG difference.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Alliance...."Technology, grants, resources, all provided without anything skimmed off by the district."

Actually, the Alliance skims off the top of every school's transactions that they handle. SCHOOL transactions....you know the ones like auctions that people donate thousands of hours of their time and energy to bring alive, not to mention the items they procure or offer for 'sale'. And then the Alliance skims off the top to 'process' the transactions. I think that this issue is disgusting. And they are asking for an increase in fees.....

Two and a quarter years to go.

Anonymous said...

Also, I read somewhere that Amazon was running sweat shops in some midwestern state. Anybody else read about that?

Well, I read somewhere that the blogosphere is full of poorly-informed people who spread unsourced rumors. Can't remember where I read that, though. Maybe it's not true? Nah, it kinda sounds true---or true-ish, at least. I bet it IS true.

- follow the money

Anonymous said...

To n & follow the money: See Gawker link upthread. It's not a rumor. It's a business model.

Mr White

Anonymous said...

I'm good with Amazon not giving anything if they don't want to. Bezos should build his spaceship and leave earth, infinity and beyond. It's not as if all the local charities in the ed sector (like LEV, stand for kiddies, etc.) do anything in the classrooms anyway. Just more hands open for more hand out. Uggh, enough yak!

-what a racket!

Anonymous said...

Seattle Citizen, kindly citizens do not donate to SPS in any significant way. People who make large donations - want influence over how that money is used. Duh! You can moan about it by calling it "furthering their own agenda". Most of us would call it responsible giving.

Big Difference.

-observer

Melissa Westbrook said...

Observer, I have a feeling if we checked on just "donations", the PTA would almost match anything that the Alliance "donates".

If you know of some large donations that the Alliance has made, let us know.

Anonymous said...

@Observer -

"People who make large donations - want influence over how that money is used....Most of us would call it responsible giving."

Utter hogwash. Responsible givers make choices about their donations based on their assessment of the work of the receiving organization, and because of the desire to further the work of the organization. Responsible givers do not give in order to buy influence and manipulate the work of organizations to which they give.

Oompah

Anonymous said...

I've had kids at two different schools and both schools got a decent amount of money from Amazon by having families shop Amazon via a link from the school website. Amazon then donates a percentage of all those purchases to the school PTA. I assumed all Seattle schools did that. Is that not true?

Amazon Shopper

Melissa Westbrook said...

Amazon, you would be wrongly assuming that. It's great that your PTA set that up and that parents at your school shop at Amazon and that your school ends up with a percentage. But it's done on a school by school basis (and thank someone on your PTA for setting it up and tracking it).