by Jack Mayne
The Port of Seattle illegally gave the Highline School District $13.6 million for the construction and operation of Aviation High School.
“The Port is not authorized to contribute funding to construct and operate public schools,” the Washington State Auditor’s Office said in a recent audit report.
Most of the money was supposed to pay for airport noise mitigation, but the auditor said the Port “did not conduct a legal analysis to determine if the payments were within its authority,” the auditor said. Additionally, the agreement with the school district provided “an additional $6.5 million for construction and operation of Aviation High School.’
“The Port views the payments to Highline School District as contributions rather than payment for specific activity and did not attempt to align the timing of the payments to the (school) district’s funding requirements,” the auditor said.
The money was given to the schools earlier than the district needed money and this cost Port taxpayers any interest income it could have obtained from the money if it had been appropriately invested pending its need by the schools district.
The Port said the money was to be used to mitigate airport noise at the school, now housed in “a very old facility” that is out performing many other schools. Further, the Port said its support of the Highline School District “represents a strong commitment to mitigating the impacts of a successful international airport on the surrounding community.”
But the auditor noted that Aviation High School’s new location is located a long way from Sea-Tac and next to the King County airport which is managed by the county and not by the Port.
“We have considered the Port’s response and reiterate that no funds under this agreement were or will be used for noise mitigation,” the auditor’s report said.
The audit report said the state recommends the Port stay within its legal authority and that it not give funds to other agencies until they are actually needed. Additionally, the Port should “adequately monitor agreements to ensure the funds are properly spent.”