Monday, December 22, 2014

Africatown Update

The District is considering an MOU with Africatown, but something familiar is proving an obstacle: Africatown's use of a District building without paying any rent or utilities.

See the minutes of the Finance Committee meeting of November 13. I've copied and pasted it here. I did the highlighting.

Directors asked about how rent has been paid in the past and Mr. Ruiz confirmed the City of Seattle provided $8,000 to pay for the first 6 months of the lease, but the last 6 months have not been paid. He spoke about a letter that the District’s former Superintendent wrote to Africatown indicating the agency would only be charged 50% of the rent after finalizing the MOU with them and that this would be retroactive to January 2013. If this were to happen, the $8,000 that Africatown received from the City of Seattle would cover their rent at a 50% rate below fair market value until October 2015. It was noted that Africatown has not made any payments for utilities or rent.

Directors asked about the urgency of the memorandum of understanding and resolution being approved immediately and Mr. Ron English noted that Africatown never exercised an extension on the lease so there is currently no agreement in place. Directors noted their concern that the District has allowed an organization to remain in the building since May with no contract and no compensation. Directors spoke about the risk of this being determined a gift of public funds.

Directors asked about how Africatown has improved African American student success at Seattle Public Schools, and whether the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching & Learning has been active in the determination of student academic progress or lack of.

Directors asked how the rent would be paid going forward and Mr. Ruiz noted the Africatown program director has spoken about opening an escrow account with the funds to cover at least three months of rent at a 50% discount from fair rate market value but this has not been confirmed and we have not received proof of such account.

Directors asked if there is a department managing properties and Interim Superintendent Larry Nyland agreed to research and provide this information to the Committee. Directors asked about mechanisms in place to flag issues such as this one and Mr. Gotsch confirmed there is a department responsible for real estate transactions.

Mr. Gotsch thanked Mr. Ruiz for his hard work and Directors agreed to send questions, concerns and other feedback to Mr. Ruiz and Mr. Gotsch so that the item could return to the December 11th Committee meeting agenda. Mr. Gotsch noted he would ensure the item was near the top of the agenda.

The Committee did not recommend the item for consideration or approval by the full Board until more information could be provided.

The MOA with Africatown was, in fact, on the agenda for the Finance Committee meeting of December 9.


Anonymous said...

Oh sigh. Issues with the District never seem to be actually resolved. They just fade from view for a while, only to reappear at another time, when the problem festers a bit more. Usually with new people.

If we don't have an agreement with a tenant, and they're not paying rent, and we don't yet know if they are having a positive impact on students, is there any reason why we don't lock them out?

- The Obvious

Channeling Nyland said...

Gift of public funds. Are we looking at an audit finding?

Hina Khan said...

If this were to happen, the $8,000 that Africatown received from the City of Seattle would cover their rent at a 50% rate below fair market value until October 2015.

8th Class Result 2015 PEC

Legality said...

I am wondering how this is legal. Are public school executives allowed to rent public facilities for below market rates?

Melissa Westbrook said...

One, Legality, I believe, under some circumstances, public entities may charge less than market value. (The charter law allows this.) The MLK, Jr. building got sold for less than market value on the premise of public good by the buyer for purposes the seller wanted (ie educational services to the community).

I had reported this previously and I am still unhappy.

There are many African-American groups in this city who have better proven (and can provide proof) track records.

I have consistently asked "where's the proposal that Africatown has given to the district for services with programs, who created them, who will enact them, measuring outcomes, etc." Never seen it to this date and I don't believe it exists.

I believe that - once again - there is something behind the scenes that is keeping the district in a relationship with Africatown that makes - no - sense.

Who allows a group - that didn't pay rent and refused to leave a rented building - to do the same thing AGAIN? Answer: SPS.

mirmac1 said...

Legality - read Supt procedure 4260SP and Board policy 4260

Anonymous said...

What building is being used, and since when? Is it the same building where the protest was held a couple of years ago?

Legality said...

Thanks, Mirmac, but that's probably the wrong one as that is short-term use only. It's actually 6882 that covers long-term leases.

In brief, it says this is illegal. The district is required to seek "maximum long-term economic benefit" and "maximize long-term revenues" in competitive bidding. There is an exception if they can prove direct support and substantial benefit for youth education.

The question is what happens if they violate this policy. Any consequences? And at what point does this get beyond just violation of Board Policy and into embezzlement?

Melissa Westbrook said...

NE Mom, they are in the Columbia Annex, not the Mann building (which is just finishing its renovations).

mirmac1 said...

I wouldn't say illegal. Unfortunately, not following policy is not illegal otherwise we'd have to charge the Supt, Asst Supt of B&F and Dept Supt with crimes.

I suppose the deal works both ways: I'm not sure SPS pays "market rate" to, say, the City to use facilities.

I believe the Y, preKs and FEL health clinics that occupy space in buildings also get reduced rents.

mirmac1 said...

Thanks for the link to 6882. I see:

It is the policy of the School Board that facilities and properties owned by the district which are not currently needed for district purposes will be managed to carry out the following objectives:
 Reflect the district’s short, intermediate and long-term educational needs;
 Provide revenue and other financial support to district needs; and
 Support, to a limited extent, youth education activities.

It goes on to state:

Support, to a Limited Extent, Youth Education Activities: The district also recognizes the importance and value of supporting efforts to address the needs of children outside the formal K-12 educational process. Rent for Youth Education Centers may be adjusted to reflect the extent of benefit provided to youth education activities, and in particular to low income youth, as provided below.

Anonymous said...

"Something behind the scenes" that Melissa speculates about is SPS' utter failure to enact any of the task force recommendations that Carol Simmons continually and thankfully keeps alive.

SPS has never even tried to systemically deal with the achievement gap, but for years has chosen to give power to the loudest voice in the room.

That way, they can look and feel like they are doing something. But more importantly, it keeps those voices off their backs and buys them keep doing nothing.

--enough already

Melissa Westbrook said...

Enough Already, no, I think it's something else. I'll figure it out.

Jet City mom said...

is First Place not paying any rent or utilities to Africatown?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. In the Oct 10 Friday Memo the report was this:
Africatown - Our lease with Africatown Center for Education and Innovation, the group renting
space in the Columbia Annex, ends on Nov. 15. We are working with the group and are in discussion with them to sign an MOU to extend their lease until the end of August 2015. They have met the requirements to continue to rent space from our district and continue to serve our
students. They are providing a concerted effort to change the t
rajectory of African-American
students by providing community voice, leadership and action plans to support our students.
We will report back with more details as the MOU becomes finalized

bold mine - seems like someone thought something was being "done" then - what a wishy-wishy description though.


Lynn said...

Jet City mom,

First Place Scholars Charter School isn't leasing space from Africatown. Africatown has no property and is using space (apparently without a lease and without paying rent) owned by SPS.

Charlie Mas said...

The lease terminated on November 15 and has neither been extended or renewed, yet Africatown is still in the building.

Africatown has yet to offer any data to support the contention that they provide academic benefit. I'm not saying that they don't provide academic benefit; I'm saying that they have yet to document it.

Lynn said...

As I recall, the last time Wyking Garrett and the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation were occupying district property without a lease and without paying rent, it cost the district around $70,000 in fees to the contractor who couldn't access the property.

What else could we have done with that money? Garfield High School will be required to release a teacher at the end of January because the district can't afford to keep him/her on for the second semester.

Does anyone think there's a chance providing space to Africatown provided more educational benefit to SPS students than an actual teacher in the CD's high school?

Jet City mom said...

I guess I was confused after reading an article in The Medium that said First Place was opening in Africatown.
I thought they meant the same building, since I knew that when First Place served homeless students ( as did BF Day) they were far from being exclusively African American.

Jet City mom said...

Homelessness, is still a huge problem in Seattle, with 550 families on the streets.
If the district is not using all its space, what about making space for some of these families, so no child has to sleep outside this winter?

Charlie Mas said...

This may be off-topic, but why would the lease for an academic program terminate on November 15? Why wouldn't the lease run through the end of the school year or the end of the semester?Or even though the end of the calendar year? Isn't November 15 an odd day for the lease to terminate?

Lynn said...

The police cleared the Mann building November 19, 2013. I'd assume the district gave them a one year lease as part of a deal to leave the building.

Charlie Mas said...

Bruce Skowyra, the District's Director of Facilities, tells me that
the lease on the Columbia Annex did not terminate on November 15th. He also says that the Tenant has paid rent and utilities and is current through October. This is, of course, the opposite of what Mr. Ruiz and Mr. English told the Board.

Lynn said...

That's the kind of thing Sherry Carr would be interested to hear. You have years more experience with this than I do - but I'd forward Skowyra's email to Flip Herndon asking him to clear up the discrepancies between that and the information in the A&F committee meeting minutes. (I'd be sure to copy the board members on A&F too.)

As a more general response, I'm not even surprised by this anymore.

FYI - Africatown's board neglected to file the required annual report with the Secretary of State and their registration expired September 30th. The corporation can be administratively dissolved if this error isn't corrected.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lynn, Carr knows very well that this is happening.

I continue to believe there is something else unseen going on. I have no idea why the district would want to encourage and even protect Africatown but that's what it looks like.

Lynn said...

I meant that if Ruiz and English are lying to the board, I don't think Sherry Carr would be OK with that.

Either Skowyra provided false information to Charlie (and Flip Herndon should be able to clear that up) or Ruiz and English provided false information to the Board.