I gather from recent newspaper reports that you are once again turning your attention to affordable housing for teachers. Those reports also include some scary data about the overwhelming number of first year teachers who say that they are leaving because they cannot afford housing. It would be interesting to examine the veracity of those statements, but for now, let us take them at face value.
As you attack the situation, it will be interesting to see what options you believe are viable by the Board to help teachers with their housing expenses. According to one report, Chairman Griffiths noted that the District owns a number of parcels of land in the county that might be suitable for affordable teacher housing should the District choose to build on one or more of those properties or to sell some real estate to a developer inclined to construct affordable homes for the teaching staff.
The prospect that the District could conceivably build some teacher housing got me to wondering. Is not 2016 the 10th anniversary of the purchase by MCSD of the Marathon Manor nursing home and property adjacent to Marathon High School? If memory serves, the building and grounds were bought for some $7.2 million in 2006. One of the justifications for that purchase was to provide teacher housing in the old Marathon Manor nursing home or to erect houses on the property. What has ever become of that grand proposal?
When I ran for the School Board in 2012, I called attention to the vacant and otherwise unused Marathon Manor property. My hope was to generate sufficient interest to do something about it, ideally sell it. Then Board Chairman John Dick blew it off as a “$7.2 million fiasco”, but offered no solution. Then Board member Robin Smith-Martin deadpanned that it was “a non-performing property”. I failed to attract sufficient attention amongst the public or the Board with regard to disposing of Marathon Manor. Then, as now, it was a non-issue. While Marathon Manor remains clearly in sight, it is very much out of mind.
The best that the District has done over the years with the property is to pour money into it. We have all heard the definition of a boat as a hole in the water into which you pour money. In many respects, the District has treated Marathon Manor as a hole in the ground into which it poured money. Specifically, there is a borrow pit on the property in which District spent $100,000 to dump 450 truckloads of soil in a vain and futile effort to fill it. When then Superintendent Jesus Jara proposed spending another $100,000 to continue filling the hole, the Board balked and rejected the proposal with a 2-2 vote. Interestingly, the two votes in favor of spending yet another $100,000 to fill a seemingly impossible to fill hole were current Board members John Dick and Ron Martin!
And, there it sits, ten years later. I cannot imagine that the building has done anything but deteriorate over the last decade. That certainly was the case with the Hickory House restaurant on Stock Island, the county’s equivalent of Marathon Manor. As we all know, Monroe County finally unloaded the Hickory House at a loss. There does not appear to be anything in the works to “unload” Marathon Manor as no one seems to want the building or the property at any price. The District got lucky with the old Harris School that they sold for a loss, but it is not likely that will happen again.
I certainly agree with John Dick that the purchase of Marathon Manor was a $7.2 million fiasco. Had the District taken that money and invested it, even in the era of low interest, it could be $10 million or more today. Think of all the classroom applications, computer purchases for example, that that amount of money could buy. If the District truly wanted to help teachers with their housing expenses, that same $7.2 million could have been equitably distributed and would amount to a $12,000 bonus or nice leg up on a down payment.
Tragically, those options or any other options are unavailable if and until the School District resolves as to what it intends to do with Marathon Manor. I fear that there is nothing to be done with it and that it will continue to sit vacant and unused, an ever-present reminder of the “cost” associated with an impulse purchase simply because you have the money. Once again, the School District is “back in the money” and let us hope that no one has any wild ideas about how to spend it.