Fred Stephens, Former Seattle Schools Supervisor, Faces Questions from the Blogosphere About Another Financial Deal

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As if the Seattle school district wasn't battling enough of a scandal, the blogosphere has raised additional questions about Fred Stephens. He's the man, you'll remember, who ineptly supervised Silas Potter, the apparent scam artist who allegedly wasted $1.8 million of district money on an ill-conceived small-business program. And as blog chatter has noted, Stephens (pictured standing next to Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and, to her right, Potter) has also been deeply involved in the First AME Church--a Central Area institution that received favorable treatment last year during a bidding process for a vacated school.

The district decided to sell the former Martin Luther King Elementary to First AME for $2.4 million, even though private Bush School was offering more than twice that amount. The decision was surprising given the district's ongoing financial woes and earlier talk of maximizing revenue from surplused schools. The district said it took other factors into consideration, namely the church's promise to use the old school for kids' programs.

But a long thread of posts on a blog called Save Seattle Schools, often a good place to find district dirt that goes ignored elsewhere, suggests that Stephens' affiliation with the church was the real reason for choosing First AME (also known as FAME).

"I see that Fred Stephens was a longtime FAME pastor and now is a DOC official under Gary Locke? Please tell me I don't have that right," wrote one anonymous poster.

OK, anonymous, you don't have that right--not exactly. Stephens is now working for Locke at the U.S. Department of Commerce. More important, he was then and is now a member of First AME, according to the church's office manager, Denise Williams.

But, Williams says, it was his father, also named Fred Williams, who served as the church's pastor in the late '70s. (The reverend's grandson, tragically killed a few years back, also bore the same name.)

Of course, that's still a pretty strong connection. And Goodloe-Johnson, now in the hot seat over the Potter affair, has also attended a couple of worship sessions at the church, Williams says.

School board member Michael DeBell says, however, that Stephens' connection, at least, was out in the open. "Because of that, he did not play a role" in the sale of MLK, DeBell says. "That was entirely managed by [district deputy counsel] Ron English."

DeBell defends the board's unanimous choice of First AME, saying it was consistent with previous sales of vacated schools in the University District, Phinney Ridge, and West Seattle, all of which have turned into community centers. "The idea of it was to preserve the value of [the school] as a public property."

Right or wrong, it seems like a plausible rationale, one that belies the speculation of conspiracy theorists.

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