Saturday, July 16, 2016

What's not to like about the "Armory Arts Academy"?

Except for the due date.

What's not to like?

What's not to like about the "Armory Arts Academy" proposal submitted in response to the RFP issued by the city of Rochester for Re-use of the Armory? It has kids. It has arts. It has all that money.

With the Senior Center relocating and re-branding (125 Live) sometime later this year or early next year or whenever, the Armory becomes vacant and available. Some months ago in late 2015, the city issued an Request for Proposals (RFP) for the re-use of this building.

The Children's Museum showed early and strong interest, but that waned. They submitted no proposal. There was a car museum group that expressed interest, but nothing seems to have come of that. The folks that have been working for sometime to establish a veterans' and first responders' museum were interested, then weren't, then were. The Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative also was interested in establishing an arts and culture center. There may have been other parties as well.

At the time the proposals were submitted there was some confusion as to whether there were three or two. Most reports settled on two - one may have been withdrawn. Last Monday (07.11.16) there were indeed only two proposals presented at the city council's Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting: the proposals for the veterans' and first responders' museum; and, for the arts and culture center.

At that meeting, there was mentioned something about a third proposal that might be coming. Some folks in attendance caught that. Others didn't. It was duly reported by at least one local media outlet. No one asked about it, even though there is good reason why they might have.

Thursday evening, some city staff members were told that an arts academy Armory proposal would be presented at this Monday's (07.18.16) COW meeting. Sometime on Friday the "Armory Arts Academy" proposal was delivered to the city administrator. Early in the afternoon, he distributed that proposal for review to city council members - many of whom were surprised to see it.

According to the proposal, the "Armory Arts Academy" will be "a comprehensive tuition-free public elementary - middle [K-8] school offering a rigorous academic program while integrating the visual and performing arts into each and every school day." In other words, a charter school.

Charter schools in Minnesota are eligible for state Lease aid. The proposal reports that the current Lease aid amounts to $1,314 "per pupil unit."  The proposal projects that in the first year this charter school will be able to pay the city $257,544 in lease payments. The second year, $310,104. And at full "pupil unit" capacity, $473,040.

So; kids, the arts, and a whole lot of money. What's not to like?

Well, let's see

Set aside for the moment how one might regard the city facilitating the establishment of a charter school in the district and what that might mean. State education funding is arcane and fickle so who knows what impact it will have on the ISD 535 budget.

But, consider how it is that this "Armory Arts Academy" proposal has come forward.

The proposal with its kids and the arts and all that money was submitted 16 weeks after the required due date of 12pm, March 31, 2016. In fact, this proposal was submitted to the city administrator sometime on Friday before 1pm. That's 1pm July 15, 2016. Upon receipt the proposal was not returned by the city administrator with a polite email of regret that due to its late submission it could not be considered. On the contrary, it was promptly forwarded to members of the city council for review.

No doubt sometime very soon the city attorney will patiently explain that there's nothing wrong here. That having set the due date the city can ignore it because it can. Or at least one would assume a legal opinion along those lines will be forthcoming. That's how it usually works.

Folks not familiar with the limitless whimsy of local government might be surprised to learn that the city apparently does not need to first reject the proposals that met the due date requirements and were presented in good faith last Monday. Nor does it seem to need to close out the current RFP then open and publicize a new RFP to allow for additional submissions.

Instead, it appears that the council can arrange for this charter school proposal to be presented 16 weeks after the due date requirement. If that's not the case, then someone's in trouble and since no one in this city government ever seems to get into trouble, all this finagle must therefore ipso facto, abracadabra, voilĂ , actually be OK.

Never mind

Never mind those questions you might have about how it is Dr. Galeazzi came know and be assured that preparing and submitting his proposal long after the deadline had passed would not in any way interfere with it being presented to the city council. Never mind who might have provided him with those assurances. Never mind that unless other proposals are going to be pulled out of someone's, ah, hat, no one else has received the benefit of similar assurances.

Never mind that it was 16 weeks from the due date for submission to the date the council scheduled the COW presentations of the two proposals last Monday. Even though it has yet to appear on the COW agenda, if the council's plan is indeed to hear this charter school proposal on Monday, that would mean it would take place only three calendar days after it was submitted. So, never mind that this "Armory Arts Academy" proposal would effectively be heard by the council the next business day after it was received by the city administrator. At least some processes at city hall are being streamlined. By some. For some.

Finally, never mind how the city has already treated those folks who in good faith presented to COW last Monday. The local citizen groups who played by the rules they were given. Prepared their RFP's. Submitted them by the required due date. Waited months upon the council for an opportunity to present their proposals. Local citizens who came before the council thinking they were getting a fair hearing.

Perhaps there are some who will say these citizens got that fair hearing, but to the extent that any on the council knew of this "Armory Arts Academy" proposal (and one can only conclude that some did) and withheld that specific information (and it is clear that some have) the local citizen groups who presented last Monday were not treated fairly. Not at all. Not even close.

It depends

A process these local citizens thought to be open, was not. A process they thought to be transparent, was not. A process they thought governed by "terms, conditions and requirements" that they each had to affirm they understood, was not.

This treatment of these local citizens by our elected officials will probably be found all nice and legal. Still, by standards of simple decency that others think might also apply, their treatment does not seem at all nice or fair. Familiar though. Sadly so.

So, what's not to like about the "Armory Arts Academy" proposal with the kids, and the arts, and all that money? As always, it depends. Do you mind?

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