Northwest Center KIRO
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) announced that it would not renew the lease it has held with the non-profit school for disabled children for 28 years. The district told Northwest Center the news in mid-December leaving them with only six months to find and retrofit a new building to meet their needs. (KIRO Radio Photo/Colleen O'Brien)

Seattle Public Schools emails indicate officials were told to mislead school for disabled children

A trail of email evidence shows major inconsistencies in the story Seattle Public Schools is trying to weave as it drops the lease of Queen Anne's Northwest Center school.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) announced that it would not renew the lease it has held with the non-profit school for disabled children for 28 years. The district told Northwest Center the news in mid-December leaving them with only six months to find and retrofit a new building to meet their needs.

SPS said it made the decision to drop the lease in order to use the North Queen Anne building for its own, growing student population. Since the initial announcement, KIRO Radio learned the district-run program Cascade Parent Partnership, which also serves special-needs youth, was supposed to move into the building.

That program is currently housed in the derelict Wilson-Pacific School in Greenwood, which is slated for demolition in early 2015.

Northwest Center's administrators are asking for more than the six months notice they were given by SPS because finding a new location that fits the needs of their disabled children will take time.

Initially, SPS spokesperson Theresa Whippel said they couldn't give Northwest Center more of an advanced notice.

"It was never anything that was definite and we never said definitely to them that they wouldn't because we didn't know, we didn't know for sure who was going to go there," said Whippel.

But the district did know who was going to move into the building Northwest Center has long called home; SPS knew for a year and a half before they told Northwest Center.

KIRO Radio first learned of the school district's plans through Cascade Parent Partership's principal, Treena Strek, who said the North Queen Anne location was promised to her in 2012.

"We had been told of October of 2012 that we'd be placed in the North Queen Anne building," said Sterk.

Emails between SPS officials, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, confirm what Sterk told KIRO Radio. The emails also show that a district employee was instructed to tell Northwest Center's CEO Tom Everill that they had no plans for their building.

"They received my email and they say, 'What should we tell them,' and someone said, 'Tell him we have no plan.' And they told me, 'We have no plan.' But they did have a plan and there were so many missed opportunities to include us in the conversation dating back to the middle of 2012 so that we could plan and could have the kind of orderly transition that we're asking for now," Everill said.

Two years of emails between school district officials regarding plans for the North Queen Anne building revealed multiple attempts by Everill to see if Northwest Center needed to start looking for a new location. The email attempts date back to October of 2012.

Everill said that if the district had been more forthcoming, then it would have given his school adequate time to move. But because the district waited until this past December to tell them that they're taking back the North Queen Anne building, Northwest Center is worried about the future of their school.

"The way Seattle Public Schools has operated in this case hurts families, it hurts children, the lack of transparency, the lack of collaboration with all parties, the lack of a strategic plan that includes the whole system [...] This kind of dysfunction hurts families, it hurts children, it's hurting Cascade, it's hurting Northwest Center families and I can't imagine what else," said Everill.

According to Everill, even as Superintendent Jose Banda has laid out a possible new plan, which would give Northwest Center an additional six months to figure out where to move and subsequently leave the Cascade Program kids learning in a school that will be simultaneously demolished. At the time this story first aired on KIRO Radio, the district had not reached out to Northwest Center in two weeks. On Tuesday, Everill said Banda invited him to meet Friday to discuss the lease situation. KIRO Radio has put a call out to SPS for comment.


Colleen O'Brien, KIRO Radio Morning News Anchor
Colleen O'Brien anchors The Morning News on KIRO Radio, weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m.
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