Flint, MI— Flint Community Schools Board of Education reviewed bids it received on eight of its 13 listed vacant properties, but concerns over selling versus leasing the properties kept board members from acting on any offers.
At the board’s Sept. 14, 2022 meeting, attorney Philip Clark noted that all bids Thrun Law Firm received on behalf of the district were for the purchase of the listed properties, despite the school board voting to entertain offers for the properties’ sale or lease back in June.
He also said that five of the eight properties that received bids were “uncontested,” meaning there was only one bid made on each of those properties, and suggested the board start by reviewing the uncontested offers.
Instead of going through the bids one by one, however, school board members began giving holistic feedback on the offers in front of them.
“Some of the bids were rather low, and I don’t see the district giving away no 10, 12, 15 acres of land and a building for 400 dollars,” said Board President Carol McIntosh, who did not specify which property she was talking about.
“I would advise against separating the land from the building because that’s really a lease,” Clark rejoined. “I mean, if you want to lease it out, you can do that, but the bids that were submitted are for purchases.”
Clark’s reply was met with visible discontent by McIntosh, who said she felt leasing the properties’ land was a possible revenue-generating measure for the district and believed the board had “made it clear” that they preferred leasing over selling the properties.
“We’ve been in much tighter financial situations than this,” McIntosh said. “And we’ve never just given away land like that. I don’t see why we would start.”
After further discussion, Clark clarified that leasing the land was an option written into the proposal request language, but no bidders had made offers to lease the properties.
Later on in the meeting, Flint Community Schools Superintendent Kevelin Jones offered his own take on the matter.
“It was my understanding when we met here about this,” Jones began, tapping his index finger down on the table, “That the board wanted to know from us ‘what properties do we want to offload?’”
Jones said his impression was that “offloading” meant getting rid of those properties and taking them off the district’s “books.” So, he said, that was what the administration had provided the board at that time: properties they didn’t wish to keep at all.
“Now what I’m hearing is that we’re thinking about the land—which is okay—I’m just saying that this is a different narrative for some,” he said, noting that the board’s June property selection process “purposely” did not include other vacant properties in the district’s portfolio because of the land they occupy.
Board member Laura MacIntyre said she agreed that there had been conversation about “offloading,” but, she said, “there was at no time, in my understanding of the discussions, that meant giving away our assets.”
MacIntyre went on to say the district’s properties are “public assets that belong to the public,” and lamented former decisions of the board.
“We already gave away the Sarvis Center. We already gave away a lot of our land,” she said. “We’re not offloading public assets. You’ve got to be out of your mind. No way.”
Aside from the discussion around selling or leasing the listed properties, Board of Education Vice President Chris Del Marone voiced skepticism about the viability of turning the vacant buildings into community centers—which seemed to be a common proposed use among the bids, which were not made available to the public.
Del Marone also lodged concern about knowing more about the LLCs behind the bids, saying that some of them could end up buying the properties to create competing schools.
“You can’t refuse to sell a property to interested parties solely, quote-unquote, for the statute because they want to use it for an educational purpose,” Clark said.
After McIntosh suggested the board table the bids so they could further discuss them in a separate meeting, Jones asked for clarity on how the district might move forward otherwise.
“Is there anything on this list that the board is willing to offload?” Jones inquired, adding that Zimmerman Elementary received an offer for $250,000 and Dort Elementary an offer for $25,000. “If we’re tabling it, what are you looking for as a board?”
“I don’t care if they’re offering $5 million,” MacIntyre responded. “We need to be good fiscal stewards of our public trust.”
Board member Joyce Ellis-McNeal suggested the board get appraisals together for the properties and then review them against the received bids, and Del Marone suggested moving the topic forward to a separate special meeting.
Ultimately, McIntosh made a motion to have a special board meeting “to discuss the selling and offloading of the vacant properties” and the potential closure and offloading of other school properties.
Ellis-McNeal then amended the motion to make the discussion into a workshop series, stating that she did not think all of what was suggested could be accomplished within a special meeting.
The board voted unanimously to reinstate Financial Committee Meetings of the Whole in honor of Ellis-McNeal’s amendment as well as to hold a special workshop to discuss the matters McIntosh noted in her motion.
However, no dates were provided for either the committee meetings or the proposed workshop before the board disbanded following an argument about proper procedures.