By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A taxpayer-funded educational facility in Miami-Dade County intended to teach at-risk teens job skills is sitting vacant and unused, which has been the case since 2011.
VACANT: Most of the $1 million grant to build a vocational facility was spent after the grant-school was no longer operational.
The building, in Cutler Bay, fails to benefit the public despite ample initial funding, according to a county inspector general’s audit. It’s also doubtful a single student has benefitted from the project as designed.
As part of a community grant agreement between the county and Bay Point Schools Inc, a nonprofit alternative school for minors with criminal pasts, $1 million in taxpayer money went toward the construction of a 13,400-square-foot building for the purpose of vocational training programs. The Lennar Foundation, a charitable arm of a nationwide housing corporation, pledged an additional $1 million.
Bay Point Schools is no longer a legal entity, and auditors have determined at least 80 percent of money was lost because of poor decisions.
If there’s a saving grace it’s the option for the local government and other stakeholders to find a tenant, but nothing has been secured.
Approved in May 2008, the building was meant to be part of the larger campus that sits on land owned by the Ethel and W. George Kennedy Family Foundation, a Miami-Dade charitable group focusing on children’s issues.
But by December 2008, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Bay Point Schools’ primary funding source, announced it was withdrawing its financial support from the Cutler Bay complex. Three months later DJJ pulled out, and students were either relocated or released. State budget cuts resulting from the economic recession were one reason, a reported “history of non-compliance” another.
Watchdog.org contacted DJJ for examples of non-compliance but did not immediately receive a response. News reports at the time cited escapes, allegations of abuse and neglect and problems meeting basic state standards.
Despite the impending state funding collapse that effectively closed the school’s doors, Bay Point Schools continued building the facility, and the county’s Office of Capital Improvements continued to fund it.
“These red flags and related issues that occurred almost since the inception of this project, which OCI was aware of, should have prompted it to consider that there was a strong possibility that Bay Point Schools would not be able to provide services for public benefit for 25 years, (the term of the agreement),” reads the report.
Had construction stopped when DJJ pulled its funding in March 2009, only 17 percent of the $1 million in taxpayer support would have been lost. But construction continued, and a building that housed no one was finally completed in July 2011, two years behind schedule.
The county closed the project four months later, and the full $1 million grant was gone.
Attempts to verify expenses proved difficult, according to the audit.
About $831,000 of the public funding was spent after Bay Point Schools, Miami-Dade County and the town of Cutler Bay were told the project was likely doomed because of the lack of state support.
The final $121,680 was distributed at the end of the project, when it was clear that Bay Point Schools was no longer operational. The inspector general determined the money should not have been distributed due to important missing documentation. But examining additional records proved impossible.
“We were informed that during the time that Bay Point Schools was being evicted from the premises, records related to its handling of the $1 million of (grant) funds that it received were inadvertently destroyed. This action deprived the Office of the Inspector General (the County or any other oversight agency) of the ability to audit critical aspects of how the grantee administered and expended (grant) funds,” the report states.
Without the records, officials could not verify Bay Point Schools’ use of the $1 million Lennar Foundation pledge.
Watchdog.org tried to contact Bay Point Schools, but several listed numbers were disconnected. The Florida Division of Corporations lists the nonprofit as inactive.
Contact William Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org