Earlier today the Ludington Area School District (LASD) went from having five official board members to seven, when Josh Snyder and Stephanie Reed were appointed to the board by the local West Shore ESD.  Both Snyder and Reed had served on the school board since 2017, but were found to be lacking official status recently because of increased scrutiny by locals concerned with the board's overreach.  That overreach manifested itself as a schoolwide mask mandate for now, and would likely continue into the realm of vaccination mandates seen on the horizon, now that all school age children can get vaccinated.

The Ludington Torch has learned through their own research into an often-secretive school district that the three rounds of covid relief funds (ESSER), sending millions of dollars to the LASD for the ill-defined purpose of Covid mitigation, encourages the school to broaden the scope of its mitigation responses to qualify for those financial resources.  

The public was shocked to discover at the last regular school board meeting on November 15th that they had approved the selling of historic Foster Elementary School and the 1.5 city blocks it sits on to a then-unknown developer in a company with less than a one-year history for the incredibly low price of $20,000.  According to the board, which offered nothing in their agenda to indicate the offer or the developer's plans to demolish the Ludington landmark and erect townhouses, this was a good deal for everybody concerned since they wouldn't have to pay for demolition themselves.  

For the record, when the voters passed the bond proposal back in 2019 which signaled the demise of four of the district's community elementary schools into a mega-school about as far away from the Ludington community center that you could get without leaving the district, they gave no indication that Foster School (in excellent condition and in use, still) would be demolished before being sold.  It was established that the buyer would have to pay that cost if that's what they wanted to do.  The smart money was on somebody repurposing the school and paying the district a reasonable amount for the building and land.  Some allegedly approached the district with a plan and some cash.  Not a $20,000 steal in a secret deal that remains completely secret more than two weeks after this meeting.

This reporter immediately sent a FOIA request after the school board made this hasty decision.  And hasty it was.  At their October 18th meeting, the board decided to put Foster School on the market, agreeing to solicit bids on the property.  In the local paper before that meeting it was noted that Foster School property had been assessed at $220,000.  Following the October meeting the local paper reported:  

"Business Manager Jesse Rickard said Monday that the bid timeline would allow the board an opportunity to take the bids to the finance committee and other committees leading up to the Nov. 15 regular board meeting, when bids will be reviewed.  The board could schedule bidder interviews during the meeting, which may be held at a later date."

There was no introduction of the bid(s) to the public or review of the bid(s), just a vote on one bid that the public had no details of heading into the 11-15-21 meeting where it was approved without public review.  It is unclear how they solicited bids for the three weeks between October 19th and November, they certainly did not do so on their website, which only shows a couple of earlier attempts, nor did the newspaper articles detail how an interested party could submit a bid.  The LASD's social media sites have absolutely nothing.  It appears there was no attempt to offer a solicitation of bids out in the open.

The fact that the bidding window was three weeks long, the absence of open solicitations, credible reports of more reasonable offers being made on Foster School before this, and the ridiculously low bid less than one-tenth of the property's value lends credence to those who believe something crooked happened here.  The LASD's secrecy surrounding the bidding process and sale of Foster only adds to this.  Consider:

The 11-11-21 Finance Committee never had a published agenda, there still isn't one even now, nor are there minutes of that meeting where they supposedly reviewed and recommended the sale of Foster School.  The 11-15-21 board meeting agenda packet indicated a 'review' would take place, not a vote to accept, with the public left in the dark about relevant details.  As I noted at that meeting in my comment, section 7300 of the board's policies indicate that the agenda for the meeting should have had minimally the source of offer, date of offer, expiration date of offer, and intended use of property.  That section also indicates the potential buyer shall demonstrate financial capability to meet the terms and conditions of their purchase or lease offer; no evidence of this was put before the public at that meeting or indicated in the comments of the board members at the meeting before their acceptance.

The problems behind this transaction are evident and the latest red flag is turning out to be with the school responding to a simple FOIA request for the materials that the school board had access to at the 11-15-21 meeting.  I made this request later on 11-15-21, figuring that it would be simple for the school's administrators to supply me with the papers and/or .pdfs of everything they gave to each of the five board members present just hours before.  It wasn't.

The FOIA Extension letter sent three days later indicated my request wasn't so easy and needed a ten day extension.  

You read that right.  An extension is claimed to search for responsive documents, even though each board member had those documents the day I made the request, and they need to separate out exempt material without claiming why there would be any exemptions at a meeting discussing purely public business (i.e. school bid reviews, sub teacher pay increases, an audit, superintendent contract, resurfacing pickle ball courts should have zero exemptions). 

So the school receives, reviews, and approves a ridiculously low bid from an unproven limited liability corporation in a period of five days, but cannot provide the public with a readily-available board member packet in fifteen days (I'm still waiting).  This school board has some explaining to do.

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Amazing story X. There has been something fishy going on since before the $101,000,000 millage was passed to build the new school complex and the fishy smell is getting stronger. $20,000 for a property assessed at $220,000 is just plain obscene. I think that $220,000 is a phony number anyway. Many of the houses for sale not far from the school are selling for that amount.  The existing building is not quite 100 years old. In 1991 it was completely remodeled at a huge expense. In 2007/08 it was again completely remodeled with new classrooms added. The cost for the 2007/08 remodeled work was almost 2 million dollars thanks to a millage tax increase. That 2 million was paid out just 12 years ago and now the school board is trying to pull a fast one and rob from the tax payers once again. A lot of money has been invested in Foster school alone. Add up all the money spent on remodeling the other schools and I think we would be shocked. Between 2003 and 2013,  $4.000,000 to $5,000,000 was been spent on renovating the elementary school buildings. We tax payers have been duped for many years now. I hate to use the word suckers but the people voted for this.


Thanks again, X, for another eye opener, and Willy, excellent comment to make ones eyeballs roll backward. Majority were duped and deceived by the marketing Mr. Kennedy (I voted NO).

FS, it is an interesting financial history for Foster. Another interesting historical tidbit is the fact that the person for whom Foster school is named after, Luther H. Foster, was a murder victim and his death, according to the MCP, is Mason County's longest unsolved murder.

Your welcome, FS and thanks for the supplemental information, Willy. 

Back in 2018/2019 when they were adding up numbers to help sell their pitch for a new consolidated elementary the LASD had their architects go through the existing elementary schools and create lists of what needed to be done.  At the time, I presented their plans for Foster School and the mostly elective suggestions illustrated completely why they were never interested in the option of saving the school, only making any rehab of it look prohibitive by high costs. 

This would be a great facility to be used as a community center of some type, and it would help solve the practice facility issue that the multiple coaches brought up at the last meeting.  I know of people that wanted to purchase and use the property for those purposes, and they would have spent over $200,000 to do so.  Unfortunately, the school board decided to be fiscally and socially irresponsible once again, and I suspect that city hall had a hand in the decision, for they will see 1.5 blocks that brings in zero taxes currently, go golden if the development happens.


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