Like staff forgot to send the Board an e-mail.
So what did the Board have to say? At first, when Steve asked for comments or questions, there was dead silence. That wasn't a good sign. He then handed the microphone over to Michael DeBell, noting that Michael was the only current Board member who was on the Board serving during the audit time period. Michael pointed out that there were 3 different Boards over the time period. Then Michael started something I thought I would see from other Board members but not him.
He started the CYA period.
He asked the auditors to expand on the challenges the district had because of inflation, etc. One auditor pointed out a story where a contractor had refused to do any more work (for 3 months) because the contract negotiated wasn't fair because construction inflation had gone up so much. They also mentioned how the problem of bedrock found under Cleveland was exacerbated by the bad weather that year. But the auditors really were not taking the bait on the question.
(One thing I find so deeply troubling about BEX is that when they encounter problems with historic building remodels, they never think of scaling back. Why, if you are out a couple of million early on, do you not figure out how to scale back? It never happens.)
Michael then went on to explain how multi-layered the work is to get to Board approval so there is a time lag.
Really? Okay, then the solution is to find out how - for capital projects - to speed up that approval work chain, NOT to sluff off Board oversight responsibility.
Peter asked, "Stepping back, did you find sufficient cooperation with staff?" The answer was "Absolutely." Of course, the auditors were gracious enough not to add "cooperative but slow" which is what it looks like from their audit report.
Betty asked a question about the amount of modifications and money "wasted." The auditor stated that these construction modifications are normal and happen in every project. But she said that they need to be monitored and, of course, since it involves money, there should be oversight.
Sherry asked a good question about the terms that the auditors use like "findings, issues, etc." She asked if they were "structurally" different. The auditors smiled and said sometimes the terms are interchangeable and they are trying to standardize them.
Steve asked about the issue that since 2008, the district has stepped up to changing some of its policies. The auditor said that it is great the district is being proactive but this audit doesn't cover them so they have no comment on them.
DeBell asked about other districts and how we compare on this audit. He referenced the Port of Seattle (!) audit. The SAO wasn't buying what he was selling. They said this was really the first school district construction audit done. She said there were no obvious comparables and that in these fiscally challenging times "every single dollar matters." This seems to be lost on our district.
There was some CYA from Don Kennedy about blah, blah following the Council of Great City Schools recs and the Superintendent thanked the SAO.
That's was it.
Do I think the staff will never again try to hide, minimize or put off telling the Board about BEX issues? I do not. It's not their way and all the "changes" put it place won't change that.
I am deeply disappointed at the Board's reaction. For one, it was about covering the district. "We're not so bad." "We'll do better." (Read the district's response to some of what the auditor put forth and ask yourself if this sounds like people who want to change what they are doing.) It's up to the district to cover it actions itself.
The Board is supposed to represent the parents of SPS students and the taxpayers of Seattle. The Board is supposed to be looking out for the money. The Board is supposed to say something like this:
I am deeply disappointed to learn that staff has not been clearly communicating in a complete and timely manner with the Board on issues that are our fiscal duty. It is my intention to communicate to the Superintendent and appropriate staff that this is unacceptable because of my oath of office and my duty to those who I serve. Going forward I will not accept it happening again.
That's it. No chest pounding, no finger wagging, no name calling. Just a pronouncement of disappointment and a clear expectation that in the future, none of that will be tolerated.
So who is it that is in our corner, watching out for the taxpayers?
Judging from their questions to the audit staff, it's not the Board.