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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reviewing the SAO Work Product on the MLK, Jr. Building Sale

One thing is clear - there were people in the district who just did not want the MLK, Jr. Building to go to an affluent private school.  Didn't matter the price - it was a non-starter.  The issue was also about gaining something for the public besides money.    How that was to be balanced in the minds of the School Board is not ever made clear. 

For example, there was a presentation to the Board in Jan. 2010 where the selection committee pointed out that neither First AME nor the CCC at MLK met the "special consideration" requirements to get the property at a lower cost (meaning, providing youth education activities).  From the work product documents:
  • After the selection committee finished their presentation, a board member was quoted as saying "we are not going to sell to a rich private school".   We questioned Board member DeBell about this statement, and he could not recall whether a Board member made that statement or not. 
The Board then decided to give the two groups ANOTHER opportunity to meet the "special consideration" standard.  These groups were given three chances to get there which seems like a bit of overkill (or, at least, it was clear that the district and Board did not want to sell to just the highest bidder).

What I find very odd is that district officials met with both the CCC at MLK and First AME to go over revisions to their proposals.   Why district officials were giving this time to these groups - rather than just providing, in writing, the requirements - is unclear. 

New twist - the district was hoping the City would buy the building (and the City would lease it long-term to some community-based group for youth education).  That fell through apparently.

Then, the state legislature got in the act in 2010 and appropriated $1.5M for the acquisition of the building in addition to the $1M appropriated in the 2008 state budget.  So that made for $2.5M for a community group to have to "buy" the building. 

So then, when that was done, three legislators, Pettigrew, Tomiko Santos and Kline, wrote to the Superintendent, asking her to re-open the RFP process for the building.    The district did so.  Here's what the Auditor's work product says (bold mine):

[Auditor Note: The purpose of the RFP and selection process is to provide full and open competition, transparency, and accountability.  While the District's RFP process was supposed to bring transparency and accountability to reassure citizens that the District complied with state law and was impartial throughout the entire process, it appears the District was being influenced or pressured by state legislators to award the sale of the MLK school to a community group instead of a private organization, (i.e. The Bush School).]  Examples of this are documented at H.2.PS.  This explains why the District asked the bidders to resubmit bids three times (i.e. the community groups needed to improve their bids if the District was to not take the highest bid), why the process came to a halt for four months between January and May of 2010 (i.e. the legislature had not appropriated enough money for the purchase of MLK School), and why three legislators requested the District to reopen the bid process once enough money was set aside in the state capital budget. 

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's decision (bold mine):

August 24, 2010, Ron English, Don Kennedy, Noel Treat, and the Superintendent met in the Superintendent's office to discuss staff recommendations.  Ron and Noel told us in separate interviews that Ron's recommendation to the Superintendent was to seek the highest monetary amount, and sell the MLK School property to the Bush School.  The Superintendent did not echo these sentiments, and rejected that recommendation.  Based on interviews with Ron and Noel, we were told that the
Superintendent wanted to sell MLK School to First AME Church after running through the analysis one more time, saying something to the effect "we haven't done a lot of good things for the African American community lately, so let's give them this one."  Ron updated his PowerPoint presentation based on the discussion with the Superintendent to include a staff recommendation to sell to FAME on the last slide. 


Noel Treat was also present at that meeting and recalled the Superintendent saying something like "The African American Community has not been very happy with me as Superintendent, and maybe they will be surprised by this and be happy.”  During an interview with the Superintendent, she said in reference to those statements "That's a lie".

That the both Ron English AND Noel Treat had very similar recollections of what was said and yet the Superintendent's answer was "that's a lie" and not "they mistook what I said" or "that's not my recollection" seems to be a very knee-jerk reaction.  I am inclined to believe Mr. English and Mr. Treat given that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has not always been completely faithful to the truth.   Mr. English later told the SAO that he did not believe this was just in context of supporting First AME or CCC@MLK specifically.

From the work product about the interviews with MGJ:

It was evident from the beginning of the interview that the former Superintendent would not be able
to provide us with any significant information about the sale of MLK School to First AME Church.  Her answers were short and, for the most part, unresponsive.


She told us that she could not remember: 
2. If she met with state legislators regarding the sale of MLK School. This is unusual because Duggan Harman told us that she attended at least one meeting with the Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, Rep. Santos, Rep. Pettigrew, and Mayor McGinn.  Also, based on our review of emails, she attended other meetings with legislators about the sale of MLK. 
3. Forwarding an email to Fred Stephens about the sale of MLK School.  We read the email verbatim during the interview, evidencing that she forwarded at least one email to Fred about the sale of MLK School after he is said to have removed himself from the process.  After we read the email to her over the phone, she still said she did not remember sending him that email. 
4. She told us "I don't Know" how and when Fred Stephens recused himself from the sale of MLK School process. 
5. Why the process came to a halt in January 2010, and then reopened in May
2010.  
6. In a private meeting, in her office on August 24, 2010, the staff recommendation was discussed and she told us she could not remember what the recommendation to the Board was that came out from that meeting, although she later gave us specific reasons for why the recommendation to FAME was made, in response to another of our questions. 


The work product also confirms that Mr. English just didn't want to read the recommendation to the A&F Committee and merely showed them the slide that stated "Sell the property to First AME."  Don Kennedy read the slide.  But the A&F Committee said fine and sent it to the full Board for a vote.  It is unclear whether the A&F Committee OR the full Board was ever apprised that the final recommendation was the Superintendent's alone and not that of the selection committee. 

The one public member of the selection committee, Chanin Kelly-Rae (who had worked on the SUAC committee) had this to say to the SAO:

Chanin believed the strongest proposal came from the Bush School.  She also believed that this would be a good deal for the District, especially since the District was in the process of making budget cuts.

Chanin said the selection committee met with the executive committee regarding the recommendation.  She recalled the Chair of the Executive Committee (a Board member) saying something like “we are not going to sell to a rich private school”.  She said they were sensitive around school closings and would rather keep it as a public trust.   

Chanin said that Rep. Santos attended a SUAC meeting and told everyone that there was a commitment from the state that there would be enough money for a community group to purchase the MLK School to keep it in the public domain.

She said the Bush School did not have a chance (because they are a private school).  There was too much public outcry coming from the School Board and CCC@MLK.

Michael DeBell

He stated that the idea for the entire program (selling the various school properties) was his.  He said he is the one that convinced his colleagues to sell the properties in this manner, and to adopt the policy/procedure about special considerations. 

He said he does not feel that the decision to sell the property was unduly influenced by state legislators. 

He said the Board was not just thinking about maximizing the price.

Kathy Johnson (in Facilities):

Kathy said that Ron English drew a strict line of separation between her staff and Fred's staff when it came to the sale of the MLK property once the decision was made to go with an RFP process.  She said that Ron made it very clear at a staff meeting, but that it was not put into writing.  
 
However, she said it was common knowledge in the facilities department that Fred wanted the church to get the building.  She said that it was no secret, and that Fred would sometimes speak about it during meetings in which the needs for existing buildings were discussed.


Noel Treat was only involved at the very end:

At the August 24, 2010 meeting, Noel said the Superintendent rejected Ron’s recommendation, and asked which community group should be awarded the sale of MLK School.  Noel said Ron went over his analysis of the two proposals submitted by FAME and CCC@MLK, and under his analysis, he thought FAME would have the most benefit.  Noel recalled the Superintendent saying let’s go with that then.  As an afterthought, Noel said he remembers the Superintendent saying “The African American Community has not been very happy with me as Superintendent, and maybe they will be surprised by this and be happy.”

Legislators:
Email dated 12/11/09, sent from the District's lobbyist (Clifford Traisman) to Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Michael DeBell, Holly Ferguson, Ron English, and Don Kennedy, states in part, "I had a long meeting with Frank Chopp yesterday. He was adamant that the MLK selection be in the best interests of the community.  He wants Rep. Pettigrew and Santos happy in the end, more than anything.  We have meeting requests into the both of them and Senator Adam Kline as well.  I shared more with Ron last night, but essentially if we end up holding abeyance any final decision for a year or two, that option would be fine with Frank.  

Email dated 2/23/10, sent from the District's lobbyist (Clifford Traisman) to Maria Goodloe-Johnson & Holly Ferguson,  "Maria, as Holly knows, I did know about the $2.5 million in the House budget for Seattle to purchase MLK prior to its release, but Holly and I never connected before the Mayor mentioned it this morning.  I look forward to your coming down here on Friday to talk with Frank
Chopp and Reps. Santos and Pettigrew about it on Friday.  We are also using the opportunity to spend an equal amount of time on the budget.  Duggan will accompany us.  Tying these two subjects together is in our best interest; we make them happy on MLK (theoretically) and they do more for us on the budget!"


On April 19, 2010 Ron responded to the 3/11/2010 email chain by sending an email to the District's lobbyist (Clifford Traisman) & Holly Ferguson:  "We began a formal public process last August.  No one has identified a single flaw in that process, yet we have been asked (read 'told') to reopen that process to allow a late bidder in.  We need to explain why we are doing that.  I thought the reason was  that the legislation would state, through a formal legislative history, that the legislature wanted this.  However, what we now have is an email from a staff individual, not the Speaker, which was not part of any record at any time, and even now is not part of the record.  The email isn't even directed to us.  So
I've trying to figure out how to write the letter to the disappointed bidders that explains why we are starting the process all over.  What is that we would say? The legislature hasn't adopted this, or even included it in any sort of record.  I believe we need to discuss this with the Board and ask whether that is what should happen."  


Clifford responded to Ron's email, (copied were Holly Ferguson and Don Kennedy), and said "Ron, appreciate the concerns, but the Board Chair AND the Superintendent both gave their word to the Speaker and the delegation that we would be happy (very happy, in fact) to proceed long these lines, should additional dollars be appropriated.  The dollars were then appropriated.  There is no question to pose, legal or otherwise, as I see it, but the Board should be updated, of course, I agree.  This is a very touchy issue.  I suggest we open the process for whatever stated reason we choose; there are many I could come up with off the top of my head, mostly because we now have more state money. 

Ron English responds:

"Clifford obviously feels everything is just fine, and we need to proceed on the basis of the email from the staff to Commerce, without any direct confirmation from the Speaker that this is requested by him. This is what they promised and have not delivered.  I believe it is disingenuous to suggest (as
Clifford does) that the money is something new and unexpected, when in fact everyone has known for literally years that the new money was coming.  The new information is that there is a new player, selected by the Speaker, who we need to reopen the competition for and give a chance to win. 
I would like direction.  Do we: 1. Talk it over with the Board first? 2. Proceed without any further discussion.  Holly, what is your input?"


Kind of like making hot dogs - you just don't want to know how it all happens.  It's not pretty.

Still waiting for comment from Kline, Chopp, Pettigrew and Santos.  Still not sure how much the Board understood what was going on and, if any of them did, why they didn't say more about it at the vote. 

29 comments:

mirmac1 said...

Wow, great reporting Melissa!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your tenacity! I too believe there is something about this that smells.

A friend of Seattle

mirmac1 said...

Okay, maybe I'll grant Ron English a pass on this one.

One would think that, if a lawyer takes strong issue with a change in process, there would be some legal reason why. Like a law. That might be broken. Who knew?! Turned out to be just another small noncompliance.

WV: Makes me want to sweart.

Jet City mom said...

One thing is clear - there were people in the district who just did not want the MLK, Jr. Building to go to an affluent private school

Scratch "affluent" and insert " Poor" or maybe " Jewish" or " Hispanic".
Still give you a warm feeling?

How much could the district have done with the money they would have received for the property from Bush?

How much is being done for kids from the neighborhood with the property now?

seattle citizen said...

So MGJ said, according to Ron English and Noel Treat, something like either:
""we haven't done a lot of good things for the African American community lately, so let's give them this one" or "The African American Community has not been very happy with me as Superintendent, and maybe they will be surprised by this and be happy.”
That's quite a present. Is it a mere gift ("mere..." ha! Millions...) or a quid pro quo? Note the support of many African American community groups on this list of supporters of the astro-turf "Our Schools Coalition" in the spring of 2010 (the list below does not include many groups on the list, such as LEV, Stand for Children, etc., that use the Achievement Gap, exclusively, to "reform" education, and so play the race game, nor does it include the politicians who signed on, apparently, for race cred):

African American Parent Community Coalition
African American Men's Group
African American Parent Community Coalition
Central Area Motivation Program
East African Community Services
Horn of Africa Services
Kevin C. Washington, Chair, Tabor 100 Education Committee
Rainier Scholars
Seattle Breakfast Group
Somali Community Services
Urban Enterprise Center
Urban Impact
Urban League of Seattle

Anonymous said...

He said the Board was not just thinking about maximizing the price.

No. Closing schools was about maximizing price. That's why they booted the African American and Somali kids out of Cooper & TT Minor, to close Gennessee Hill, closed AA Academy, and tried to close Lowell. 'Cause it cost so much to heat & light those old buildings, you see.

But when actually selling a building, a North-End residing board member can't stare down the The Intimidator SI wanting to rebuild her reputation with the same groups she screwed over the year before.

And nobody blinked an eye...

All politics are local. Indeed. WSDWG

seattle citizen said...

Ah, so it wasn't a quid pro quo, it was payment for past offense. Hmm....Maybe both.

Where has Sundquist been? said...

Am I the only one noticing that Debell has been the one commenting on the last two news stories pertaining to MlK and Potter? Wouldn't one expect the board president to be speaking with the press?

Where has Sundquist been? said...

Am I the only one noticing that Debell has been the one commenting on the last two news stories pertaining to MlK and Potter? Wouldn't one expect the board president to be speaking with the press?

Where has Sundquist been? said...

Am I the only one noticing that Debell has been the one commenting on the last two news stories pertaining to MlK and Potter? Wouldn't one expect the board president to be speaking with the press?

mirmac1 said...

I'm guessing Sundquist thinks he can avoid the sh*t that was propelled towards the fan pre-2011. No guts, only glory.

I must say, DeBelle's regurgitation of the talking points memo is very disappointing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Where is Sundquist, great question. I noticed that today and thought, what? I'll try to write up a little thread on the press conference but one person did ask about the timing of the indictments and Satterberg said the election had nothing to do with it.

dan dempsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan said...

The way the whole thing was handled was bad indeed -- particularly the taint of favoritism shown to FAME (and to a slightly lesser extent, the CCCC) over Bush. If they really weren't going to sell to a "rich private school," they should have said so from the start, saved Bush the time and trouble of bidding, and taken whatever heat that entailed. The way they did it was disingenuous, if not outright dishonest.

But -- I will say two things: first, to my surprise (as I am no Ron English fan), I think he comes out of this better than he might have. He clearly understood, and appreciated, the wrongness of re-opening the bid on pretextual grounds and the horrible light in which it cast the District's decision-making -- and went as far as he could, short of insubordination, or quitting, to protest it. He evidently couldn't find anything completely illegal to go to the mat over (but neither did the SAO). I feel badly for all sorts of folks who had to work under MGJ and Don Kennedy -- and I guess now I add Ron to that group, at least on this issue.

Second -- at the risk of getting things thrown at me -- I am not sure I interpret MGJ's statement about "maybe they will like me now" quite as horribly as others. Before I start -- I DO think that she really poisoned this process by conducting it with a clear bias that was antithetical to the interests (both fiscal and ethical) of the District. And we got a predictably bad result. BUT -- it looks to me like the comment about the decision (once made) as maybe making the black community happy with her was sort of a "throw away" after the decision had been made for a whole host of other reasons. This statement doesn't sound like someone talking about "the reason" they did something. Who knows, really -- especially as she has conveniently "forgotten" almost everything. Was she trying to please legislators (thinking of various quid pro quos down the line if she ran it their way)? Did she like FAME for other reasons (Fred Stephens' connection, connections personally or through her husband?) Her comment seems ill advised to me, and perhaps indicative of a generally cavalier, unprincipled approach to either stewardship of District assets (be we already knew this) or the integrity of the bidding process, -- but it doesn't really seem to tie into the report's description of the actual rationale for the decision.

If there is more on this, I suspect that it is buried elsewhere -- maybe in correspondence between FAME and the legislators (with or without Fred Stephens, the lobbyist, etc.). From the District, we got corrupt, troll-like decision-making from those at the top, a clear willingness to disregard the work and advice of more principled staff --

Boy, am I glad she is gone. Boy, am I distressed that the Board kept her as long as they did, and that they were so cowed by her, or so indifferent, that they failed utterly to either manage her or to evaluate her own glaring shortcomings as a manager. Boy, do I hope that we get turnover at the Board level in this election. With every new disclosure of failed management of her tenure, it seems more legitimate to demand to know why none of the incumbents had the perspicacity to recognize her shortcomings and decline to renew her contract.

seattle citizen said...

Jan, you could be right - The comment about the Black community being happy could have been just a sort of "phew, they were upset, this might help calm things..."

It does sound like that sort of comment, in retrospect and I appreciate your bringing that up: It broadens my thinking! Yay!

That said, given the various issues in play then (and now) it didn't help public perceptions one whit.

Chris S. said...

In the S4C phone conference, they were asked about this and the potter problem. Sherry said that the Times reporting was inaccurate in comparing the AME bid $$ to the Bush $$ becasue the Bush was a lease so it was like comparing apples to oranges.

So I have kids in sardine-schools, so I'm thinking "you coulda leased it?!" and "Haven't you learned ANYTHING from the last 10 years? Like DON'T SELL SCHOOLS you might need them badly someday?"

I kind of suspect they wanted the money right away (like making BEX III a bond so they could spend it as quickly as possible) cuz it's all about the short term, you know.

I also don't get why DeBell is so proud of making it easier to sell schools for a lower price. He should know from his QA/Mag constituents that you should make it harder to sell a school!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris. The Policies should make it very hard to sell schools. Land is finite and will eventually be needed as the population grows. It is very short-sighted to sell.

A friend of Seattle

another mom said...

@Chris S - I also heard Sherry speaking about the MLK sale and initially thought that she was reading from a prepared text. She was so careful to state the auditors conclusion that there was a process and no laws were broken etc. But I did a spit take when she mentioned the apples to oranges comparison and that the deal with Bush was too complicated. What she and the rest of the incumbents do not get is the appearance of the thing. Even though it was all legal, it looked really really slimey. Behind the scenes wheeling and dealing politicians, three rounds of bids, the highest tabled, insistence that it not be sold to a private school, and the final straw the Superintendent over riding a committee recommendation. No laws broken but yuck.

another mom said...

For as long as I was able to listen, I heard nothing of substance.

mom of 4 in sps said...

I think this is a little bit comical - if the district had sold the building to Bush, there would have been an uproar from the usual ardent suspects, certain that MLK was closed just to facilitate the sale to Bush, and people would have been all over the board for it.

This city tortures itself with respect to the African American community and the school district is no exception - it's clear from the contortions involved in the MLK bldg sale and the desperate hope on the part of everyone that the RSBDP would succeed in training for minority-owned businesses - even to the point of helping transition it to a private enterprise.

The district can't possibly solve the ills of a city and a society, especially when it's underfunded, and should not be expected to - but I'm not hopeful it will ever change.

In the meantime, I hope we can move on from the sale -

Charlie Mas said...

I think it's unwise to make conjecture about what people would have done if history were different.

I find it difficult to accept any conclusion based on such a conjecture.

dan dempsey said...

Mom of Four in SPS wrote:

This city tortures itself with respect to the African American community and the school district is no exception - (talking only about financial matters I hope ... as for academics I am just not seeing it.)

Really ?? -- The District is no exception.

So as the School District is torturing itself ... Could someone tell us when it conducted a careful review of all options for closing the Achievement Gaps was performed?

... Could the District come clean? ... since Mark Teoh reported achievement gaps for Blacks are essentially large and unchanged .. yet the District continues to do the same thing over and over again? As DeBell said is the Strategic Plan working?

Visible Learning ... makes clear what works.

Project Follow Through results show what works for educationally disadvantaged learners in grades pre-K through 3.... and the District continues with practices that are largely the opposite of what is known to work.

I'd say it looks a lot more like the district is hardly torturing itself and it looks a lot more like academically the District is torturing the African American community.

Tell me again how:
#1 NOT conducting a careful review of all options for closing achievement gaps
#2 Continuing with instructional materials and practices known not to work
#3 putting inexperienced conditionally certificated teachers into only high minority - high poverty schools ...

rates as the District torturing itself over the African American Community?

Additionally how is the New Student Assignment Plan making every school a quality school?

How is spending on MAP testing improving instructional materials and practices for educationally disadvantaged learners?

These are just a few more reasons that the Incumbents should NOT be reelected.

Note the NSAP could be used to make every school a quality school ... but it is not happening under this leadership. More school autonomy would be needed than the current Centralized no waivers ONE size fits all .. gurus will allow.

Guichon said...

@mom of 4 in sps:

"I think this is a little bit comical - if the district had sold the building to Bush, there would have been an uproar from the usual ardent suspects, certain that MLK was closed just to facilitate the sale to Bush, and people would have been all over the board for it.

This city tortures itself with respect to the African American community and the school district is no exception - it's clear from the contortions involved in the MLK bldg sale and the desperate hope on the part of everyone that the RSBDP would succeed in training for minority-owned businesses - even to the point of helping transition it to a private enterprise."

Very well put!! So good I had to repost it!

Guichon said...

Melissa:

Where can we see the SAO Work Product? Are you going to put it up, or is it online somewhere?

dan dempsey said...

Guichon,

Here is the report from the SAO.

Enjoy.

someone said...

The complete report is here (pdf):

MLK review

mirmac1 said...

Carr's obfuscating. Just another way to blow off constituents' concerns. Here's some contemporaneous documents that provide details on the Bush offer:

Proposal

English email asking for a lease

Board presentation

Not sure why the Bush proposal was presented to the Board as $3M, not $3.75M. And what happened to the community hall in English's email? All around sounds like a pleasant, newly constructed space for community use. And a 40 year convenant vs. FAME's 30.

Carr's right, it's not apples to apples. More like bordeaux grapes to raisins.

Guichon said...

someone & Dan: I am not talking about the published report. I'm talking about the work behind the report. Remember back in March after the investigation report was released there was a 76 page document that gave all the nitty-gritty details? That's what I want to see. Melissa, is that available somewhere, or are you going to post the documents?

The quotes Melissa used are not from the report, and she couldn't make it up, so she has had to have gotten access to some other documents. Let's see them! (Please)

mirmac1 said...

Those documents are readily available through public disclosure. Submit a request through the SAO website. They are very prompt.