Editor's Note: This story has been edited to correct typographical errors, and enhanced with information from notes about discussion that continued after the reporter's computer battery died.
We're underway with tonight's Farmington School Board meeting in the Schulman Administrative Center in Farmington, and a crowd is building outside.
Many are apparently here to protest the sale of Eagle Elementary School, which was closed last year, to the Islamic Cultural Center in Franklin. Officials first presented the sale on a public agenda May 24, but the offer was made in January. Those not here for student recognitions at the start of the meeting were asked to wait outside.
Check back with us throughout the evening for what promises to be a lively meeting.
1:30 a.m. Board members unanimously approved the sale of Eagle, after expressing disappointment in statements made by some who expressed bigotry toward Muslims. Look for more on this controversial issue tomorrow on our site.
Well – later today.
11:35 p.m. Betsy Kellman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke to the issue of fairness. She said Akiva School wanted to build in Lathrup Village, and there was great hue and cry. She said 10 years later, the school is a thriving part of the community. She felt the ICA would have the same outcome. "When we hate anyone, we end up hating everyone," she said.
As Kellman left the podium, someone pointed out that she and Wallach have a connection, as he is former president of the Anti-Defamation League. Wallach was president nine years ago.
Linda Brenner accuses the district of making misleading statements to the community and protecting the ICA's offer. She said the district continued to let the public think Eagle would be demolished, while working on the sale. She said it is disconcerting that the district did not notify residents or solicit input, and that the district has breached its fiduciary trust.
Speaking out in favor of the ICA sale, and in strong opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments they felt motivated some objections to the sale, were Robert Cohen, Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and Dawud Walid of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Michigan. Walid felt some of the discussion was "stealth or covered bigotry" disguised in "red herring" arguments.
11: 20 p.m. The first speaker is talking about the message it sends to students to sell the building to an organization that hates Jews and brings in speakers that are anti-semitic and a Holocaust denier. He said by approving this, the board is not fulfilling its obligation to the community.
Wallach is reading a comment from another resident of Farmington Hills who supports selling the building rather than demolishing it.
Jeff Rounds said he was in favor of the sale and felt it would enhance the community. Dennis Jamed, whose comment Wallach read because he left, asked why the district didn't give the land back to West Bloomfield.
Phil Mintz asked how many other offers the district had. "Were there other tangible efforts made to get possible buyers?" Wallach said that in January a member of the public talked about efforts being made to sell the property. The closure process was 6-8 months. Wallach said that night people had known about the buildings being for sale for about a year. A potential deal never materialized; the day after it fell through, the offer came in from the ICA. Others expressed interest, but never presented a formal proposal.
Mohammed Kahn is all for the sale of the school, rather than wasting taxpayer monies and demolishing it. "It's a good opportunity to get some money back," he said. He thinks it will increase the prices of surronding properties or will not affect them, because prices have not been affected around the Tawheed Center.
Myron Borgman is a CPA whose office is across the street from the school. He said he never saw a "For Sale" sign on the building, even though gates were erected. The district didn't advertise after the offer was received, he said.
Dr. Irving Ginsberg of Farmington Hills is a consultant to the Dept. of Energy, a university researcher and said he first found out about the sale in a newspaper article. If the school board asked for public comments on demolition, why not the sale, he asked. He also wondered why there was only one appraisal and why he was not able to get a copy when he asked for one. He said he was informed by a "reliable source" in the Farmington School District that the sale was a "done deal". While Ginsberg claimed the board had an emergency meeting to talk about the sale on Monday, Wallach said no emergency meeting was held. The meeting was a planned budget meeting, he said.
11 p.m. The school district's attorney Joseph Fazio said in January of 2011, retiring director of operations Cheryl Cannon received an unsolicited offer from ICA (Islamic Cultural Association), of $850,000. The District undertook an appraisal of the property by Integrity Realtors of Detroit, which estimated the value of the property at $1.1 million. The district policy, Fazio said, is that any real estate sale must be reviewed by counsel. The district told the ICA that any sale required the board's approval, Fazio said. ICA was advised the administration would not bring the board an offer less than $1.1 million. The district then received an offer of $1,050,000, and Fazio was brought in.
The material terms of the offer: $1.1 million net to the district. All costs associated will be paid by the buyer. A $20,000 deposit will be tendered; $30,000 will be added when the buyer makes a commitment. After a "due diligence" period, the buyer will decide whether to move forward. Fazio said the agreement protects the district's interest and shifts all risk to the ICA.
The proposal contains use restrictions that limit the use of the property to the stated uses of the ICA, residential or office uses. It also contains a right of first refusal; if the ICA decides to sell in the future, the district can buy it back.
Wallach asked two questions: Whether there is any legal obligation for the district to present the property for public offering, and whether there is any obligation for the district to inform the public about the sale. Fazio said no, with the exception of the public meeting. The crowd reacted, and Wallach asked that everyone behave respectfully.
There is also no obligation to conduct any kind of impact study on the property, Fazio said. "Has the district complied with all of its internal policies and any obligation under Michigan law at this time?" Wallach asked.
"To the best of my knowledge, yes," Fazio said.
Reid made the motion to approval the sale of the building to the ICA.
10:47 p.m. Wallach has 83 cards, two of which read, "Don't call on me." He's limiting comments to 2 1/2 minutes. If the people who turned in cards have left, he will read the comments. Wallach apologized for the lateness of the hour, he said the board received a letter from an attorney, Robert Charles Davis, who said he represented two groups. He said he didn't anticipate a very large group would show up. "We really didn't know how many people would be here," Wallach said.
The district's attorney Joseph Fazio from Miller Canfield is speaking about the proposed offer.
10:15 p.m. Wallach alerted people to turn in their comment cards for the Eagle issue. He has 67 cards thus far; only one is for the budget public hearing. The budget presentation is wrapping up; to make a long story short, the district's levy is going up slightly, but taxes paid will probably remain the same for most, because of falling property values. Look for a more detailed story on the budget tomorrow.
9:46 p.m. Supt. Sue Zurvalec is explaining administrative changes effective July 1, 2011. There will now be five direct reports to the Superintendent, as opposed to seven last year. Four positions were eliminated due to retiremet and job elimination; two people will take over those tasks. "Every central office department has experienced expansion of responsibilities," Zurvalec said. The estimated savings is $178,000 annually. This is the first of four reports that have to do with tonight's budget presentation.
9:29 p.m. Kris Gekiere delivered the AdvancED Quality Assurance Review, and as she presented the results, said, "This is why I thought the news people were here." The district in five of seven rated areas scored "highly qualified," which is the highest possible rating. The team that reviewed the district said they hadn't seen that happen. The distirct has some recommendations they have to follow for improvement.
9:14 p.m. Farmington PTA president Chris Greig is giving her year-end report. She thanked school board members for being at PTA meetings and student events. "Your commitment to our children is what makes our district excel," she said. PTAs must continue to strive to reach every family; Grieg said the Farmington council developed a new model for engagement that includes specific initiatives and a range of programs, offered at each school, that personally connect with families. The newest group to form is focused on gifted learners. "The creation of this group is a direct response to the elimination of the DELTA program for gifted children," she said.
"Our challenge is to reach out to and unite all families ... for the success of all," she said. "It's a challenge, but I think we're getting there." She urged the district to treat parents as partners. Parents want to be engaged at up front, in the middle and at the end, she said.
9:03 p.m. Wallach is again asking people who are standing to go out into the lobby or outside. He estimates it will be 10 p.m. before the Eagle issue is discussed.
8:48 p.m. People are calling out from the audience asking why the meeting isn't being held in a bigger room and asking the agenda item for Eagle be moved up. They're saying the board should have known such a large crowd would show up. Wallach's just called another recess.
8:43 p.m. Board President Howard Wallach announces the board has another hour or so of business to attend to, which draws some complaints. "At this point, we are probably violating fire regulations," he said. Wallach's encouraging people who are here for the Eagle issue to wait out in the hall, where the meeting is being broadcast. He said the public comment will continue on the issue as long as people are civil and respectful. "If not, then we'll do something else," he said.
8:34 p.m. Board member Sheilah Clay wrapped up an hour of recognitions by saying these types of recognitions for great accomplishments make the other kinds of issues the board has to deal with easier to take.
"This is what it's all about," she said. "We are one team, this is one mission."
News cameras are setting up, we're taking a short break before presentations by Farmington PTA Council's out-going president Chris Greig, the AdvancED District Quality Assurance Review and a budget presentation and public hearing, plus a few other items before the Eagle sale comes up.
7:49 p.m.: Karen Bolsen gave a legislative update that included tenure reform bills passed in the House last week. East and Dunckel students are being honored for their state titles in the Ecybermission and "You be the Chemist" programs. More than 30 Career and Technical Education students are being honored for their participation at local, state and national level; high school All-State and All-State Academic Student/Athletes and Team, and the world champion Harrison Robohawks are being recognized. Next up, Judy White-Ora Teaching with Heart and Soul Award winner Nikki Schueller and recognition of the 2010-2011 Farmington PTA Council officers.