More Flak for the School District

Damned if you do …

A few years ago, as the Seattle school district was facing one of its many budget crises, then-Superintendent Raj Manhas proposed closing underattended schools in order to save money. That provoked an outcry. Oh, no, everybody said. Surely there are better ways to save money. Among the suggestions: Take all the surplus real estate owned by the district—some of which was being rented at sub-market rates to nonprofits—and try to maximize the revenue from those properties. "No-brainer" was the word used then. But now, as the district is considering doing what everybody said it should do, there's another outcry. The district did go ahead and shutter some schools, including, in 2006, Martin Luther King Elementary in Madison Valley. Now several private entities, including the nearby Bush School, want to buy the property. The tony private school wants to build athletic fields there and is offering $3.75 million for the site, according to a KPLU report earlier this week. But community residents object. "Publicly-owned property...should be put to community use," asserted a Friday press release by a group that wants to turn the school into a community center. On KPLU, a neighborhood mom, noting the lack of local playgrounds, griped that taking away public spaces like the school would "rob the neighborhood of its identity." Sure, more public space would be great, and, all things being equal, the district should support that idea. But the district is facing a $49 million budget hole. It's already closed a number of schools in recent years—an extremely painful process. And now it has a chance to profit from one of those closures. What are the alternatives? Closing more schools? Laying off teachers?

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