District 189 oversight panel OKs sale of closed school

News-DemocratOctober 1, 2013 

— The former Curtis Miller Alternative High School building will be sold to a scrap yard owner, according to a vote Monday by the East St. Louis School District 189 Financial Oversight Panel. The money will go to buying math and language arts textbooks for the city's schools.

The vote was 4-1, with Milton S. Wharton voting against the sale. He could not be reached for comment.

Talking through tears, Alorton Mayor Joann Reed said she was devastated.

"I can't stop crying. I took him in good faith," she said, that the matter would be tabled. Reed had wanted the building for community use.

She said the East St. Louis School District 189 board voted two months ago to sell the building to Grand Street Salvage after District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver made the recommendation. He acknowledged that he made the recommendation to gain some money for the district, which is facing a $4.9 million budget deficit.

After his recommendation was made, the matter went to the FOP board, which was established to oversee the district's finances, to make a decision.

"He (Culver) told me that barring any legal matters, he would send it back to the board to vote on it. I believed him," Reed said.

Reed said after the board came out of executive session at the last meeting, she had a one-on-one conversation with Culver. Culver did not deny the meeting.

"He was very concerned about me turning the building into a charter school. I assured him that was not my intention. We shook hands. He told me the FOP was going to table it. He said it was being taken under advisement," she said.

Based on her conversations with Culver, Reed said she was under the impression the board would not approve the sale.

"This is devastating. It saddens me very much. These children really needed that building. And, we had so many positive things planned for that building. We submitted our plan to him. He knew all of our plans. We were going to do plenty of good things for the children inside of that building. When there is inclement weather, we have nowhere to take our children. During the summer, we are outside in the hot temperatures and mosquitoes," Reed said.

"It's about the children of this community -- or is it?," Reed asked.

Culver said he is sorry that Reed feels that way. He said the FOP tabled the matter at its previous meeting so it could study the issue to make an informed decision. It would not go back to the board until after the FOP made its decision.

The administration recommended that the building be sold to Grand Street Auto for $104,000 and the board approved it two months ago, Culver said. Then it went to the FOP, Culver explained.

Culver, in addressing his concern that a Charter School might go into the old Curtis Miller Building, said he did express that concern to Reed, but after she assured him that was not her intention, he moved on.

Culver said that while the FOP panel, Linda Matkowski, Julia Huiskamp, Chairman Ranadore Foggs, the Rev. Jerome Jackson and Wharton, was studying the situation, callers from different communities including Centreville and East St. Louis called with similar situations, and in some cases they wanted us to give them buildings. Culver said some people from Centreville wanted Brown School to use for a similar situation as Alorton, as a community center.

"Some people said if you do it for Alorton what about them? Some people in East St. Louis said if the board was giving buildings away, people in East St. Louis could benefit from a similar situation. People called to say Wilson School was given to Washington Park. ... That happened before I got here. Now, it's an eyesore and they want us to provide the funds to demolish the building," Culver said. "It is no longer our building," he said.

Culver said money from the sale of the Curtis Miller building will be used to update the district's math and language art textbooks.

Huiskamp, who said she lives near Alorton and understands the situation there, voted with a heavy heart, she said.

"They (FOP board) promised that the money was going to be used to help fund textbooks. It's been 10 years since the district has had new math and language arts textbooks."

Foggs said the decision for him was very important and difficult -- one that he did not take lightly.

"Our role and jurisdiction to make the decisions that will make the district more financially viable and able to provide resources to as many students as they can now and in the future," he said.

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