>Meeting with Parents
August 25, 2009 7PM to 8PM
August 26, 2009 2PM to 3PM
A little background on our situation at present with the court case:
Grace purchased World Club land and buildings; Grace improved and added buildings. School grew from 174 students in 1999 to 530 students in 2009
Key points to keep in mind about our shared values here at Grace:
1. GIS was established to prepare students to achieve academically while living in Thailand with hearts for service. GIS students, faculty, and staff have served local communities, Thailand, and the world in many ways.
2. GIS serves 320 families from 23 countries and offers a college prep program.
3. GIS is a gateway for other charitable organizations in Thailand.
4. GIS is not for profit. Lands and buildings have been purchased with gifts from donors.
5. The school desires to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors.
6. With all the respect to the justice and the final court’s verdict, GIS wants a judgment that proves a legitimate right to own and use the land and buildings purchased in good faith.
7. Grace was planning for growth despite the uncertainties of the lawsuit. Because of space and logistical limitations of the present site, GIS was already making plans to relocate before the lawsuit. The move was intended to be implemented in such a way as to have the least negative impact on all the communities concerned.
On August 29, 2007 almost a year to the day before the suit was brought against the school the Board of Trustees of Grace made the following declaration…an Affirmation of Dedication
They wrote, “To Whom It May Concern: Today, August 29, 2007, we, the undersigned hereby record the affirmation of our dedication of Grace International School to the Triune God– Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We as trustees, administration, faculty, staff, students and constituents hold it as a gift and trust from Him. We will continue to make use of it for the education of students for the furthering of His Kingdom for as long as He allows. This includes all the lands, facilities and equipments– including the Sports Complex, the Secondary school, the Elementary Building, the Multi-purpose Building, the music building, the playing fields, all and any future buildings constructed and grounds acquired. God has given us Grace International School. We give it back to Him.”
The Nittibukon or neighborhood association has sued three parties almost one year ago: the original developer of the mubaan (World Club), the bank who took over the loans and helped sell some of the property to us, and the third party is Grace International School Educational Foundation. They sued for many things, those of which pertain to the school was suing for the return and control of the sports club complex…property and buildings as well as for the return of the facilities to their original condition, and 4.9 million baht.
The underlying problem is that people who originally bought property from WC Housing were promised lifetime access to the Sports Facility according to the advertising brochure. There were 970 land titles which were part of the original development. There were only 300 “lifetime memberships” issued.
When Grace first began using the facilities the developer had control of the Sports Club Complex and started limiting access to certain portions of the facilities, then came a period of time where we rented, and then we bought the Sports Club and further restricted access to “sports club hours” which are in operation now. When we bought it, there was no law that said we couldn’t do what we did – it was all legal and it was all done properly. The complaint was that residents rights were limited, hours changed, and some facilities shrunk. The benefit promised was limited, the plaintiffs claimed.
The letter we sent out to World Club residents and our GIS community recently stated, “we would like to make sure you have correct information. Title deeds to all the property used by Grace International School were legally transferred to the school when Grace International School Education Foundation purchased the property in 2001. At that time, no questions were raised about the legality of the transaction. All papers were properly filed in government offices to transfer ownership to GISEF.”
On the 25th of August 2008 a new consumer law was passed in Thailand – some mubaan residents used this new consumer rights law to claim that their rights as consumers had been compromised and filed their suit on the 26 of August. They claimed they have the right to take possession of the original sports complex. They claim that the developer had broken the promise of lifetime memberships. Roads, nursery school, and the water tower are other items that need to be turned over, the Nittibukon claimed all of this in their suit against the three plaintiffs.
GIS claimed in its defense that the contract was between the developer and the residents – we bought the property legally, and assumed no responsibility for the “contract”. We paid a fair market value considering the fact that there had been a market downturn at the time with the economic meltdown in the early 90’s. We claimed we still provide access to the sports club and have not taken away any rights. After months of presenting our evidence and waiting for the verdict, the court ruled against us and said that we must turn over GIS property and titles, and also pay a fine, with interest and return the property to its original condition. The plaintiff didn’t win the back rent, the playground or the property adjacent to it as they filed in their suit against GIS. We are exploring every avenue to see justice and fairness prevail in the appeal process.
Our lawyer requested an extension to submit our appeal to 21 September (30 days) because we did not receive the written verdict until late afternoon on August 26th. Our appeal was to be submitted August 21st. We have been granted the extension.
Other steps are being taken to ensure we explore every avenue possible prior to our appeal and each step that ensues. Many are stepping forwards to assist GIS however they can.
If the appeal proceeds according to schedule the verdict at the appellate level will not exceed one year. Some suggest that a decision will be made in December. While we are working on our appeal we are also looking into the future in terms of next steps. For example…further appeals to the Supreme Court. The information is too sketchy at this point to say what this option might look like or hold for the school.
In all of this the administrative team and I would like to reassure you as we trust the recent letter that was sent out helped by stating once again, “Regardless of where we meet, we are committed to continuing to provide an excellent education for our students.”
The admin team and I also want to assure you that we do have contingency plans. We envision finishing the school year here this year. By the first of December and before re-enrollment we will announce our plans for where school will take place for both secondary and elementary students during the 2010-11 school year. As a crisis back-up contingency scenario we’d use the elementary campus for a split secondary/elementary program should that be the only option available. However, the administration and those involved in the temporary re-location plan are working hard to find a much better solution in the next 2-3 months for the 2010-11 school year. If you know of sites we should be checking out please let me know and we’ll take a look.
The recent letter you received also stated, “As we spend time this year looking at options, we want to keep you informed. We would appreciate your prayers for wisdom and provision of the resources that will be required in the days ahead.”
Part of the keeping you informed is to let you know that the property search for a new campus has started up again in earnest. We are also working on hiring an architect in the coming months to begin the work of helping to design our new facilities. A US Foundation is poised and ready to partner with Grace to help us get the word out about our needs for teachers and to raise awareness and support for our financial needs for land purchase and new campus development. The end of this week the president of the foundation, Tom Matyas, will return to CM to meet with the leadership, faculty, staff and parents of the school and to once again share how we might all work together to realize the plans God has for Grace’s future. One of those points I’m sure he’ll touch upon is the fact that a donor has given $30,000 USD as a matching gift. The idea is that for every dollar raised before the end of September the donor will contribute up to $30,000 USD. Please help get the word out that we have the opportunity to raise $60,000 USD in the coming weeks for Grace with their prayers and potential gift. Also if you are willing to host a tea, coffee, dessert meeting in your home for parents who would like to hear more about how parents can be part of helping discover much needed funding for GIS we invite you to sign up on the sheets on the back table. Bill Clark who’s the Advancement Director this year will be back there to answer your questions and show you where you can sign up.
I trust you see these days we’re in as some of the brightest for Grace. If we’re not careful the larger picture in your minds could be of cloudy overcast skies looming overhead with ominous flashes of light just before the suspected onslaught of a raucous and deafening clap of thunder. Just remember there is a sun that sits above all of these distractions and that the noise comes from a toothless wanna-be masquerading lion. Let that be the bigger picture in your minds. I have hope….my admin team has hope…the Board of Trustees have hope. Our prayer is that you will practice hope with us and in the One who is and will make a difference.
Before I go to a time for questions I want to close this part of this meeting with these thoughts: it is likely that all of us sitting in this room today are at very different stages of reacting to the news that we’ve lost the court case in this first round. Some will have just found out, some have thought about it for awhile and some know just how much this could cost us. Our natural fleshly response to this kind of news tends to be somewhere along the lines of fear, anger, discouragement, and worry. The leadership of the school believes that this is an opportunity for us to model a response of faith and to spiritually encourage everyone to also respond in faith and not fear. In the end the leadership believes that this call to faith and a response focused on Christ is more important than our being able to provide you with all of the answers to calm your fears. If the truth be told we don’t have all the answers. I gave a message related to the topic, “Faith for the Future” at the 10th anniversary celebration at the close of last school year. I want to say once again here as we begin the new school year in these present circumstances that this is the time for exercising Faith for the Future and these are the circumstances in which we get to exercise that faith. We invite you to walk this way with us…walk with us in Faith for the Future.
Questions and Answers:
It seems the environment is not Grace friendly. For those that buy property in this country or live in close proximity to Grace, how can we give families confidence we are not jumping from one problem to another? We are considering many things including not buying property in a muubaan. We are being extraordinarily careful. While there are no 100% guarantees in life, we are doing everything we know to do to be intentional on being law abiding.
What was the reasoning to apply a new law to something that happened seven years ago? About a year ago the new consumer protection law that came into place which opened the door for people to bring suits. There is no statute of limitations it seems with consumer cases.
Would it not be an option for someone to buy land and build a new sport club? That was put out there at one point, however, our sense is the Nittibukon would still prefer to have the present Sports Complex.
Is it a possibility since we own the elem. site and adjacent fields to expand here? When I first came four years ago I began to look at what needs GIS had in order to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors. We have done some things stellar and we have done some not so stellar things. One of those issues is parking. We wanted to look at purchasing adjacent property for parking. To buy land in this present community we would have needed for expansion, we could build an entire facility for the same price. Another solution was to turn the front of the school towards Ratchaprueck Road and have that land be for expansion, parking, and the front entrance of the school, etc. When we went into the lawsuit we realized we do not have the right environment to be able to accomplish this.
Does the whole muubaan realize what’s happened and are they behind this? Do they realize what will happen to the property that people rent? We have tried in the right attitude to share the consequences but unfortunately there is a higher goal they have and that is to possess this property.
Parent – comment to school that it is very difficult to have a plan because the consumer protection laws.
Even it an appeal was successful – do we have a rough timeframe to relocate? We have mapped out a timeline what it would take from beginning to end to do everything is 4-5 years.
Does Grace have to pay for everything? What has been mentioned in this talk is the financial judgment against Grace. The other two defendants have financial judgments against them that are not included in the financial judgments against Grace.
Does the 4.9 million reflect the amount of money to return this facility to its original condition? No, we don’t know how much more it will cost to return it to its original state.
Is the elementary school and sports field part of the lawsuit? No, nor is the music room or the two plots of land beside the music room. The Nittibukon also lost their claim to two titles – the playground and property next to it. They were claiming this was the muubaan playground.
Is that side of the property safe? That is a good question. When we built the property, it all went through the proper channels. We actually got permission from the Nittibukon to build the stables. Could a problem still arise with this land portion? It is possible. Again, we did everything at the time according to the law and muubaan regulations.
Is it true that some people that could help the school (e.g. absentee owners that are renting their property) didn’t get copies of the letter the school sent out? The letter was addressed to the owner so it is the responsibility of the resident / renter of the home to forward it to the owner.
Is there any chance for settlement outside of court? One of the things that GIS has attempted to do all along is to have face to face arbitration, which has met with no success. We were told by those bringing the lawsuit against us, “give us the property or we’ll see you in court”. Early in the court case we approached the bench to see if the judge would assign a mediator, which the judge did, but the negotiations met with no success. We have made attempts to negotiate. We learned today the Nittibukon is going to appeal the judge’s verdict and what he has awarded them.
What else can we as tenants be doing to alert the owners (residential)? Anything that you can do such as copying them with our official communiqués from the superintendent’s office.
Misc Comment: There was a petition signed by some residents. There was no statement on the petition stating that it would be used to sue the school.
How does the Nittibukon move from having access for lifetime membership to getting ownership? They claim this property was a public utility, such as roads, sidewalks, lights, water tower, and sewage treatment. They used the brochure as evidence against us. This piece of property the sports club was built on is labeled “a big piece of land” on the original plot plan laying out the muubaan. In Thai law, this statement would refer to a piece of property for sale which is allowable for purchase similar to other pieces of property for sale in the muubaan. The gymnasium and tennis courts were not a part of the original property laid out in the plot plan approved by the land office but we have lost these two properties as well.
How many times can we appeal? We have to first go through the appellant court, then we possibly can go to the supreme court.
Will this case ever go out of Chiang Mai? I don’t have an answer for this question at this time.
How much money are we needing for the ideal facility and if we had the money today, how long would it take to build and move? We’ve spent over a year on this case and looking at over 50 properties and had narrowed the search down to three then two then one and were poised to make a decision but then the suit came up. While this was going on we had a series of meetings with parents to gather ideas to submit to architects. In the process of dreaming of the new purpose designed campus, we are looking for 50 Rai to have room to grow, create a buffer between school buildings and neighbors, and possible space for dorm facilities, etc. The cost of the new campus will be approximately $8-10 million US dollars. Our time frame would be four to five years maximum to complete the site. (We don’t have any of the 8-10 million at this point…these are funds that will need to be raised.)
What are the cost breakdowns?
• 4.9 million lawsuit judgment for GIS
• court did not clarify the boundaries or cost ascribed to putting the facilities back to the original condition.
• Interest that accrues from the time the court case was filed to when we’re done with appealing
• Back rent that the Nittibukon is appealing for, plus interest
• Approx. 8-9 mill USD. (50 rai of land and buildings)
• Cost of Appeal process
Some of the equipment in this facility was here when we acquired the building so some of that would stay here. We have costed this out yet.
Are we still looking at other property? Yes, we have given permission for the property search to begin again. We have focused our search based on input from GIS community in terms of criteria. We would like to find something within 5-10 kilometers to the present facility.
Hasn’t the muubaan association thought about the economic impact of GIS moving out? We think some have but what overshadows that is their “righteousness” to get this property. They are standing up for what they believe is right.
Has the muubaan association realized the cost to run or keep the facility up? We have passed that along to them but they do not appear to be interested in what we say. The actually cost is around 2-3 million baht per year. For the longest time we have wanted the facility to pay for itself but we’ve kept it free for lifetime members and land owners. We want to be good stewards and want to be generous but the funds collected from sports club users has not been enough to pay for up keep.
Do the 300 lifetime members expect the facility to be run free for them the rest of their lives? I think yes. The original developer ran it as a business. They think the money they will get in the judgment will help them run this facility for awhile. We don’t know – we can’t make sense of it all.
Was there expectation for us to lease the property back? They thought they could lease but the judge said no.
Misc Comment: The MOE recommended the glass wall be installed separating the main school from the sport club.
Do we know any World Club land owners that have supported the school who might be able to help? What I know about Thai culture is to make a Thai stand up against people they have to live with, they will not do it and we should not ask them to do this. We want to protect and hold relationships. If we damage relationships because we held the land in too high priority, shame on us. We want to bring glory to God. We also want to honor the relationships we have with our Thai neighbors.
Are the two other defendants in the appeal process as well? Yes, they are. If they don’t appeal they are almost admitting guilt. The appeal costs are quite high. We have learned that the plaintiff is also appealing as they want back rent and all properties (including the two they did not win – the playground and adjacent land).
What kind of communication have we had with founding organizations? Through the board members who are represented, it is their responsibility for linkage between the board and the organizations. Also through family and community as most leaders are somehow connected to GIS as parents or in some other way. What are we hearing from them on commitment? They are all over the map on that but we are trying to get on the same page. The same passion that started Grace, has to be re-built in order to move forward. What keeps Grace in the front of most org. minds is the help we need for teachers. We cannot do this on our own. One of our core values is to keep tuition low for our families so in order to do this, we don’t pay our foreign staff. Now our needs include money for land and buildings.
Is the appeal being moved forward as one case with the other defendants? No.
What decision do we want to make by December for the next school year? I want to create confidence in our community that we have a plan for after this year. We will be providing the word about where we will be.
What role can the MOE play in all of this? There is a bit of shame for the MOE because they authorized us to be here and we would be inviting them into a process that they may lose face so for them to stand up and support us in Thai culture may not good for them.
How do we model to our students that we model what it means to be Christian in this situation? We have the opportunity to model what faith looks like and not fear and not anger and frustration. We are calling everyone in the community to live out relationships with love for their neighbors.
How do we guard and protect those around us so that when they look at this situation they are not feeling embarrassed? We can stand with each other and love and comfort them in those times when we know what’s happening.
Do you have Thai advisors? We don’t do much of anything in the school culture without Thai advisors.
One of the things we have found that with people that have knowledge on the legal system here is it depends on who you ask and when you ask. We will press through the avenues we feel are the legal steps. Many of the issues we are dealing with are first time dealings for this country and the outcome will bring about new laws and precedent for future suits. We are moving forward in the strength of God and when we look back on this we want to be proud on how we interacted with each other but also how we proceeded and ran this case. We are holding this loosely as it is all Gods.
Comment from one parent: appreciate what Don and the board is doing. Through the process of wrestling with God and moving a school in India, we were helpless and maybe that is where we need to be. It is during this time we can sense more of God’s power than any other time. The parent wanted to encourage us the community to come together to pray and worship the Lord for His Glory to be revealed.
Our Spiritual Life Director, Mike Wood, is working on helping to bring our community together for times of worship and prayer.
Last Comment: If you are asked to give an interview or respond to the press as a parent regarding our court case in all instances if you would, please use the pat line, “all communication regarding this case comes through the superintendent’s office”. Please defer the person or agency to the superintendent’s office. Thank you and thank you for coming.
Don encouraged everyone to be thinking on how they can help financially, with property ideas, and through PRAYER! Things you can do – sign up to host a dessert, tea, coffee. Tom Matyas will come talk about how you can assist the school in this time of great need.