This is for Chris Jackins: He told you so. He told you in 1999 the Seattle School District's then-planned new headquarters building was a bad joke on taxpayers. He told you it was being built in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, and that the district would never be able to pay for it. Right, right, right, and right.
A decade after Seattle Public Schools administrators built a central headquarters with a promise it would pay for itself, the district acknowledged Monday it still owes nearly $50 million on the building and has no serious plan for how to pay for it.
This was the building that was supposed to save the district money. As reporter Brian Rosenthal notes: "Opponents, who labeled the proposed building a 'glass palace,' said the plan was too vague to warrant the center's high price tag. Longtime activist Chris Jackins called it 'the school district's Enron.' But district financial analysts insisted the savings would be achieved."
The tab for the building comes due in 16 years but the payoff remains so large that no one knows how to budget for it without further slashing other programs.
Chris was right, as school critics knew he would be. The district was a mess, and as coordinator of the Seattle Committee to Save Schools, he dove into the district's books, reviewing arcane financial documents and detecting errors down to the decimal points.
He was doing the job the school board was neglecting. Under then-superintendent Joe Olchefske, the distict somehow sneaked two "balanced" budgets past the board, both of which were millions out of whack.
The 2001-02 budget was eventually discovered to be $21 million in the red, then $24 million in a recount. That was followed by the 2002-03 budget that was overspent by $14 million.
No one but the chief financial officer, who allegedly covered over the deficits, seemed to have been aware of the ongoing crisis. Olchefske himself waited at least three months to publicly reveal it.
At the same time, the district pushed arrogantly ahead with a $30 million headquarters building that would turn out to cost $55 million. Jacklin insisted that consolidating scattered operations at one site wouldn't pencil out, warning that the project would worsen the district deficit crisis. Nobody listened, nobody acted.
The district has been struggling financially ever since. And now the big shiny headquarters that was to be the solution not only has become the problem, it's an enigmatic dilemma.
Today -- one decade, two recessions, three superintendents and many budgetary quirks later -- the district's new financial analysts agree some minor savings indeed have occurred because of consolidation. But they say they have no way to know where, when or how much.
As we wrote in 2000 after the City Council gave the district its blessings to plop the glass palace in the middle of the SoDo industrial zone:
Jackins' objections include concerns that the district is abandoning a valuable current headquarters site in Lower Queen Anne, that the council is promoting a poor choice and bad law, and that the...district also will take on $26.7 million in debt for 25 years [it turned out twice that amount], without a vote of the public.
However, there's likely no derailing this deal, and Jackins unfortunately expects to someday say "I told you so."
Unfortunately, consider it said.