February 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Point Forward child care grant raises questions about procedure

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Earlier this year, the Crawford County Commission awarded more than $700,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to Point Forward, a local non-profit, to develop a childcare center at the former Washington School site in Pittsburg, Kansas.

The former Washington School in Pittsburg, Kansas, being redeveloped as a child care center by Point Forward Inc. Point Forward Subsidiary Washington School LLC lists the building at $1.9 million, but Crawford County appraises it at $73,040.

However, the award has raised questions about why and how the money was awarded after the commission simply ignored its own procedures to give the money to Point Forward Inc.

In the Spring of 2021, several entities approached the Crawford County Commission regarding a need for more childcare options in the county.

After some study, the commission agreed to contract with the Southeast Kansas Special Education Center at Greenbush to create an application process and online portal to facilitate application.

A records request shows that under “large childcare,” six entities: the Family Resource Center, Harmony Child Care, New Foundations, SEK-CAP, Sonshine Child Care Center, and Sugar Creek Child Care were selected.  Point Forward is not among the initial awardees.

Point Forward does not even enter the picture as an entity until late 2022 and does not fully enter the discussion until March of 2023 when Dr. Jackie Youstos of Harmony requested her money be transferred to Point Forward.  As of this writing, Point Forward does not have a website, and its Facebook page has an email but doesn’t list a phone number.

At the Dec. 8, 2023, County Commission meeting, Commission Chairman Bruce Blair said in response to questions by the Sentinel that Point Forward had “been part of this since the beginning.”

There is no documentation to substantiate that statement, however. While local businessman Ron Scripsick, who is chairman of the Point Forward board of directors, may have been involved in conversations about child care at the beginning, Point Forward incorporated on August 24, 2022 — long after the window for applications had closed in May of 2022.

When pressed about that fact, Blair said it “didn’t matter” and whether Point Forward existed prior to its incorporation date was “a matter of opinion.”

Indeed, despite the commission voting 2-1 in October to simply “deem” that Point Forward had applied — Commissioner Tom Moody and Blair voted for the motion, Commissioner Carl Wood, who has been critical of the way this was handled since taking his seat in January of 2023, voted in opposition.  Emails between the commission and Greenbush make it clear that Point Forward had never submitted an application.

In fact, in an email chain dated March 9, 2023, requesting information about releasing funds to Harmony/Point Forward, Youstous supplied an Employer Identification Number for Point Forward after stating she had signed an agreement with them to renovate the Washington School and “they will be drawing the funds at this time for construction.”  It does not, however, appear that any construction has even begun at the school.

Greenbush Project Manager Bonnie Houk responded, “Given this info, it sounds like I need to reissue the MOU under Point Forward’s name.  I am assuming to cover all bases, we would need a copy of their agreement before we change the MOU since Harmony really applied?”

Crawford County Counsel Jim Emerson asked to see the agreement before proceeding and Monica Murnan, director of community support services at Greenbush, replied, “We have no information on Point Forward. They didn’t apply.”

Moreover, questions directed to Emerson by the Sentinel asking for an MOU between the county and Point Forward revealed more ambiguity surrounding the situation.

As of Dec. 12, 2023, no MOU or contract has been signed.  “It does not exist,” he said. “I do not know when it will be completed.”

Emerson further stated he does not know what the delay is in completing the MOU but confirmed Point Forward will not be able to draw funds until it is. 

The agreement between Point Forward and Harmony stated Point Forward would renovate and own the building, and Harmony would be the “official service provider.”

Youstos has apparently since pulled out of the project entirely for unspecified reasons, and Point Forward apparently now does not have an “official service provider.”

The commission’s decision to ignore their own procedures — while perhaps troubling — was not, however, illegal.

According to an official at the Kansas Association of Counties, there were very few strings put on the use of ARPA funds, and since the procedures the county put in place were specific to Crawford County, the commission was free to ignore or modify them at will.

Point Forward’s claimed assets raise more questions

A tax filing for Point Forward raises further questions. The organization’s Form 990 tax return says it is organized as a 501c(3) charitable organization and shows a bit over $2 million in assets.

The form was filed in May of 2023 and lists $1,036,900 in cash, $805,000 in net pledges and grants, and $197,656 in “other assets.”

It also lists “Washington School LLC” as a subsidiary and the owner of the old school building. The form values the structure — which was built in the 1930s and has been abandoned for decades — at $1.9 million.

According to the Crawford County Register of Deeds office, Point Forward purchased the building from Randy Villela on August 29, 2023 — just five days after incorporation.

Moreover, rather than being valued at $1.9 million, the Crawford County Appraiser’s Office lists the appraised value as $73,040. The sale price is unknown because the building was purchased from a private owner, and therefore that record is not public.

 

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