Seattle school district attorney Ron English is firing back at the Seattle Times for what he says is a misleading article on the sale of the MLK school property to First AME Church.
The Times reported Monday that the State Auditor's Office is investigating the sale of a Seattle public school to First African Methodist Episcopal Church under questionable circumstances. The Seattle School Board voted to approve the sale to First AME for $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars instead of the private Bush School, a higher bidder, because a revised district policy allowed it to sell the property to a lower bidder if it promised to use 50 percent of the space for support services. But questions were immediately raised about whether favoritism was involved.
The Times interviewed English and tried to talk to the district's former facilities director, Fred Stephens, a member of First AME, who some say was determined to give the church the property. The auditor's office says that it's looking into whether the sale complied with district policies and procedures and state law, as well as whether there was any conflict of interest.
English's letter to the Times is copied in full below, but he is specifically miffed about the article having "several factual mistakes about the process used to evaluate proposals for the sale of the Martin Luther King School," and is requesting a retraction and a copy of his taped interview. I have asked English for comment. The Times managing editor Kathy Best commented on the Save Seattle Schools blog that "editors and reporters have carefully reviewed all the points of his [English's] complaint. We did not find factual errors and we disagree with his assertions." From English's letter:
Your article of June 6 is misleading and contains several factual mistakes about the process used to evaluate proposals for the sale of the Martin Luther King School.
First, you state that I could not remember why Bush did not get the building. That is not true. I specifically told you in your interview of me on May 16 that I recommended as Property Manager that The Bush School be sold the building, as it made the highest offer. However, as I also told you, the School Board policy allowed consideration of benefit to youth education and the Selection Committee's review included extensive analysis of that factor and concluded that the First AME proposal provided more than twice as much support as the CCC@MLK proposal. This is contained in the August 24, 2010 analysis by the Selection Committee and was provided to you on May 16.
As I told you, it was consistent with the Board policy for the former Superintendent to not take my recommendation and to recommend the award to someone else. The staff recommendation (as stated in the Board memorandum provided to you on May 16) was:
"The Superintendent recommends award of the contract to First AME Church because the value of keeping the building available for support of youth education and social services creates an intangible benefit to the community which outweighs the financial gain offered by the higher priced proposal."
Second, your article states that I held the CCC proposal to different standards: "Yet, English challenged the CCC proposal and held it to different standards. For example, he questioned the group about some youth programs it planned to offer - and disqualified one that included helping adults." As I told you during our interview on May 16, the School Board adopted a Policy that requires consideration for support of youth education. Help to adults is specifically excluded by School Board policy. I carried out the School Board's Policy.
In fact, the two proposals were compared side by side to the same standards. The powerpoint presentation to the School Board (which I also provided to you on May 16) specifically compared the First AME and CCC@MLK and noted that both organizations provide roughly the same degree of youth education and family use, but that CCC@MLK charges significantly higher rental rates. See page 8 of the August 24, 2010 Analysis, also provided to you, which quantifies the difference, showing that the First AME proposal provided over twice the benefit to youth education.
Third, you state that I "failed to check key components of the First AME proposal." The same day as our interview I forwarded you a detailed 8 page report I prepared on August 24, 2010, detailing the Selection Committee's evaluation of the proposals. Your article contains none of the information from that analysis, which critsized a number of aspects of the First AME proposal.
Fourth, you state the Times did check the First AME proposal, stating: "But The Times did. For one: The church claimed in its bid that it had a "verbal agreement" with Seattle's parks and recreation department for "youth activities." In fact this point was covered by my evaluation. The review I wrote on August 24 specifically rejected this claim. The August 24 review states: "FAME also takes credit for assumed rental by Parks of rooms 136 and 137, totaling about 1,800 SF. Since these are classrooms, it is not apparent why Parks would rent them. Also see room 131, which they claim will be for an unspecified youth activity." The report goes on to conclude "The total square footage of the rooms with questionable support for youth activities is over 4,500 SF, which could reduce the support amount by over $27,000."
In conclusion, you state that "The district staff changed the way it handled and evaluated offers for the building, which pushed the church's proposal to the head of the pack." that we "held the two groups to different standards" However, both of the examples you give are invalid. A review of the August 24 analysis proves the same standards were applided throughout. Both offers were evaluated on the same basis, in accordance with School Board policy, and the results were presented to the School Board for decision. I provided you with the actual documents presented to the School Board.
During our interview, you stated that you had information that First AME's actual use was different than represented to the District. I asked what it was, and made it clear that if this were the case, the District would seek to apply the penalty clause of our contract. You declined to tell me either your source or the information you had. The statement in your article that I said "it would not have made a difference" is deliberately misleading. I stated that while the sale is final and cannot be reversed, but there are protections included in the contract for the public and I asked you to provide me your information. You did not do so.
Finally, you called me to fact check the article while I was on vacation and after receiving my response, you sent me an email that you would call me the following Tuesday (May 30). Yet you did not call that day, even though you had both my business phone and personal cell phone numbers.
I request a retraction and correction, with equal prominence, in the next newspaper edition. Please also provide me a copy of the tape of our interview of May 16.