Seattle Waldorf School: Please answer our questions

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Seattle Waldorf School: Please answer our questions

1.       Why did the Seattle Waldorf School board sell the Three Cedars property to a real estate investor but tell the Three Cedars community it was sold to a school? 

2.       Why did the Seattle Waldorf School board sell the Three Cedars land privately rather than on the open market? (For the record, an appraisal is not equivalent to an open market sale.)

3.       How many Seattle Waldorf School board members advocated using the proceeds from the land sale to help fund a school for the Three Cedars community?

4.       What is the exact date the $7.75MM contract for the Three Cedars land sale was signed?

5.       Does Seattle Waldorf School need all the proceeds from the land sale for its own endowment?

6.       If a new school initiative in the Three Cedars community presents a credible business plan, how much money is Seattle Waldorf School willing to give? (This question has been answered by the board on 12/08: Zero dollars.)

Timeline

  • July 2013: Three Cedars Waldorf School received a bequest and used this money to pay off the school’s mortgage and promissory note, placing the school in the enviable position of having no long-term debt.
  • June 2015: On paper, Three Cedars Waldorf School may have been one of the wealthiest Waldorf schools in the country, owning 4.75 acres of land near downtown Bellevue. According to 990 filings in 2015, the net assets of Three Cedars was considerably more favorable than Seattle Waldorf School’s net assets.* However, Three Cedars was experiencing a cash crunch in the midst of a changeover in leadership and could not find donors to plug its budget gap. The school also had trouble acquiring an equity loan for operations.
  • Sept-October 2015: A long-term benefactor agreed to lend money to Three Cedars. In return, the school agreed to sell 1.25 acres to the benefactor if it could not pay back the loan. The loan was to be paid off in five years (or the 1.25 acres would be parceled out and sold to the benefactor). According to the benefactor, the city of Bellevue had put up red flags in regards to Three Cedars' conditional use permit if the land were to be subdivided. **
  • January 2016: All assets and liabilities of Three Cedars transferred to Seattle Waldorf School. Four members of the Three Cedars Board joined the new board of 23 members in total.
  • June 2017: After operating Three Cedars at a loss for a year and half, the Seattle Waldorf School board abruptly sold the Three Cedars’ land for $7.75MM and agreed to permanently close Three Cedars Waldorf School after the upcoming academic year. The Seattle Waldorf School board informed the community that papers had already been signed. The board also stated they would consider giving proceeds from the land sale to a new school initiative on the East side if a credible plan was presented to them. A week later parents began discussions to start a new school.
  • November 2017: A new school initiative, the Eastside Community School, run by parents and faculty forms.
  • December 2017: The Seattle Waldorf board declares they will not give funds to the new Eastside Community School but will grant 500K to the Rudolph Steiner Foundation. The Seattle Waldorf School website continues to state Three Cedars is closing without mention of the new school initiative.
  • January 2018: The Seattle Waldorf School website acknowledges the Eastside Community School for the first time. The Seattle Waldorf board releases the 2017-18 fiscal year budget forecast, projecting a net loss of $4,480 (including a $50,000 provision to close the Three Cedars campus).
  • March 2018: The Eastside Community School leases two buildings on the Three Cedars property for the 2018-2019 academic year.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  • The Seattle Waldorf School board stated they sold the Three Cedars property to the International Friends School. In fact, they sold the land privately to a real estate investor. The board, in essence, had forfeited money to a buyer by allowing him to purchase land with only one competing bid. The Seattle Waldorf School board didn’t even get written assurances the property would be used as a school. It appears that the board put a higher value on secrecy than getting a maximum price for the land.
  • Tracy Bennett said the city of Bellevue would not allow the 1.25 acres of Three Cedars property to be subdivided in order to pay back the 1.5MM loan from the benefactor. However, Tracy and the board did not work with a professional to explore this process with the city, the most effective solution to paying back the loan. 
  • Although contrary to public statements made to Three Cedars parents and faculty, the Seattle Waldorf School board appears to have intended to use the profit from the land sale to “secure the future operation of SWS.”***
  • The Seattle Waldorf board explicitly stated they had not been shopping the property around – yet a second offer from another real estate developer to purchase the land was received. This begs the question: if the property wasn’t shopped, why did two bids come in around the same time? Further, what was the timing on the second bid? The Seattle Waldorf board told Three Cedars parents on June 14 that papers were signed and it was impossible to renege on the deal. 

What can you do?
Write an email to board@seattlewaldorf.org or call Seattle Waldorf School at 206.524.5320 and demand written answers to all of the six questions posed at the beginning of this statement in a letter to both the Three Cedars and Seattle Waldorf communities. Also, please sign this Change.org petition and check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Seattle-Waldorf-School-Please-answer-our-questions-1723604041030231/ for more information.

Is a new school on the East side viable?
Over the years, Three Cedars Waldorf School relied on donations to close yearly budget gaps. The school also encountered space limitations as it ramped up its preschool. Even an optimistic turn-around plan would likely have taken years. The author of this statement does not dispute the decision to sell at least some of Three Cedars’ land. What is being disputed is the steps taken after the board made the decision to sell the land.

So why start another school if Three Cedars failed? New management. Leaner budget. Increased focus on preschool. Potential to become a charter school.

Despite the Seattle Waldorf School board’s insistence otherwise, the financial problems of Three Cedars are not necessarily endemic to all private schools in Bellevue. Three Cedars was in the midst of a change of leadership during a cash crunch and had just completed an ill-timed renovation project. A turnaround plan to boost enrollment by increasing preschool capacity was going to take time. The problems with Three Cedars were unique to the school at the time and it would be presumptive for the Seattle Waldorf School board to predict failure for any school initiative on the East side.

Who wrote this?
The author of this statement is Chris Spurgin, a parent and husband of a teacher at Three Cedars. Chris has taken care to make sure the facts presented in this statement are accurate. However, if you spot any errors or have questions, please email Chris at WaldorfEdJustice@outlook.com. This statement was not sanctioned by the new school initiative, although Chris Spurgin is in communication with the new school board. All opinions presented are my own. Any attempt to penalize the new school initiative because of this statement would be unfair to those working to get the new school off the ground.

* According to 990 filings for 2015, Seattle Waldorf had $8,250,127 in liabilities and $10,243,176 in assets. Three Cedars had $427,474 in liabilities and $3,866,240 in assets. 

** Although the Three Cedars board announced to the community that the woods on the Eastern side of  the property had been subdivided and sold, the agreement was a loan and the subdivided land to be used as collateral. The benefactor handed a 500k check to Three Cedars around October 2015 and another check for 1MM in Jan 2016 after the schools had "merged." Although this petition is steering clear from hearsay, the timing of the money given to the school does imply that the benefactor may have made the loan contingent on a merger of the two entities. Neither the benefactor, the SWS board or previous Three Cedars board have confirmed this.

*** The following quote is from an email sent by Sharlyn Turner, head of the Seattle Waldorf School board, to Chris Spurgin: “Thus, when SWS was approached about a sale of the campus, it was determined by the Board that rather than continuing to operate the Three Cedars campus at a loss, it was in the school's best financial interests to close the campus, sell the property, and use the sales proceeds to secure the future operation of SWS.”

 



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