An open letter from Mosdos to the CH-UH BOE

[This was submitted to the Observer for publication as an open letter to the CH-UH Board of Education.]

Mosdos has been negotiating with you privately to buy the old Millikin School property. Recent public comments made by your board president have been one-sided. They inferred that Mosdos had been nonresponsive and uncommunicative in negotiations, without mentioning that most delays were due to religious holidays that forbid the conduct of any business whatsoever by members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Your board president also leaked an early private offer by Mosdos to purchase the Millikin property for $215,000, suggesting that Mosdos had made only one unreasonably low bid. He did not mention that an appraisal estimates the value of land at $215,000. Your lawyer argued that even a building which may require $3.5 million in improvements has some value. Mosdos responded with a most generous offer of $600,000 [in December 2013] to try and make a deal. Your board president neglected to mention in his public comments that this higher offer was even made.

Mosdos offered $600,000 for two parcels. One has a blighted building on it. The other includes property used for storage and the dumping of refuse. You are refusing to sell this other parcel. Mosdos needs both parcels to create a viable land use plan. Your board president did not mention this need in his public comments.

Millikin is a test case of how you will recycle abandoned school buildings. You can convert an unused asset now into cash, decrease your maintenance expenses, and stabilize a neighborhood. On the other hand, failure to make a deal with Mosdos instead may encourage certain families to relocate outside Cleveland Heights to the detriment of the tax base. The price of failing this test therefore may be high.

Your recent public proposal to relocate a theater and trades people into Millikin raises many questions. Where will you find $3.4 million to repair your buildings? This cost was not mentioned during the recent bond issue campaign. Will the cost come from funds raised by that bond issue? Or must future bond issues or levies increase in size to cover this cost? Or will funding come from your operations budget and therefore require program cuts? And, will use of buildings other than for a school violate the city’s zoning code?

Families who use private or parochial schools pay taxes that fund your programs. You have an opportunity now to show them that they can benefit from a public system that supports the education of all district children. Otherwise, why should that majority of all voters with no direct relationship to public schools support bond issues or levies, including elderly and single people? You must not assume tax issues always will require only a large turnout by your current core constituency. Without expanding your constituent base, you risk our community becoming like Parma, where tax issues routinely fail at election time.           

The board needs to resolve its differences with Mosdos. Mosdos remains open to the sale of both Millikin parcels. It asks you to reconsider your position and discuss such a sale before condemnation and demolition become the only realistic options.

[Editor's Note: Ron Register, CH-UH Board of Education president, responded to this letter. Click here to read his statement.]

Alan Rapoport

Alan Rapoport is an attorney for Mosdos Ohr Hatorah and is a former mayor of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 7, Issue 3, Posted 8:52 AM, 02.28.2014