NEWARK -- After helping struggling families for nearly 35 years, the League of Volunteers has found itself in need after it was unable to reach an agreement with Newark Unified for the charity's use of a school district building.
The school board Tuesday rejected a proposed lease agreement between the district and LOV, which owes Newark Unified more than $66,000 in unpaid rent.
The board's 3-2 vote Tuesday night sent LOV scrambling to find a new home for the bingo games that have become its main source of revenue.
"We're looking for a new space and, hopefully, the school district will see that," said Shirley Sisk, LOV's executive director. "Hopefully, we're allowed to stay until we move, which I hope will be in a few months."
Since October 2005, the nonprofit organization has contracted with the school district for office space at the former Ruschin Elementary campus and to hold bingo games at MacGregor/Bridgepoint High School. In that time, LOV has paid the district about $300,000 in rent, Sisk said. But it also fell behind in its monthly payments, amassing about $80,000 in debt.
When the school district gave Sisk a 90-day notice saying she had until May 31 to leave both facilities, the nonprofit group paid the district around $14,000. It now owes $66,350.
Elaine Neilsen, Newark schools' chief business official, then negotiated a proposed agreement that called for LOV to pay the district a lump sum of $10,000. In addition, LOV would pay $1,800 a month to reduce the debt further, while still paying $981 in monthly rent for holding bingo games at MacGregor.
But the trio of board members voted it down, saying that the debt was preventing the district from spending that money on children's education.
"We all want what's best for the students," said Charlie Mensinger, who joined Nancy Thomas and Gary Stadler in casting the majority vote. "We're talking money for our classrooms, for our children, for things we've cut. What they owe us could have been spent on a teacher for a year."
Mensinger said he also had issues with specific terms of the contract.
"I wanted more money up front and more financial protections for the district in case (LOV) defaulted or found itself again in arrears," he said.
School board members Ray Rodriguez and Jan Crocker cast the dissenting votes.
In the meantime, Sisk said she will look at sites Thursday in hopes of finding new sites for LOV's office space and bingo games. "We recognize that we owe the school district the money," she said Wednesday. "It's not that we want to get out of paying our debt; it's a matter of finding a place for bingo because that will allow us to meet our obligations."
Sisk cofounded LOV in 1979. Ever since, it has offered educational and nutritional programs, free concerts, student scholarships, free holiday meals and more to Tri-City-area families and children.
Dave Marken, Newark's superintendent of schools, said the district will continue to assist LOV as best it can. At the same time, Marken said he will abide by the school board's decision, noting that district officials already have "spent an ordinate amount of time" on the issue.
"At some point, we have to get back to our role of educating our children," he said. "The sooner we can get back to that the better."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.