Monday, March 19, 2012

Ethics Ruling

I filed an Ethics complaint against Director DeBell for his participation in the discussion of the MOU with the Alliance for Education despite the fact that he sits on the Alliance board.

The District's Ethics Officer, Mr. Wayne Barnett, dismissed the complaint because Mr. DeBell's service on the board of the Alliance is ex officio. That is, he isn't there as himself but as the president of the school board and therefore there is no conflict of interest because in both capacities his duty of loyalty is to the District. Mr. Barnett also cited analogous decisions by the federal Department of Justice. This is, it would appear, well-traveled ground in the Ethics business and it has been determined that situations like this are not conflicts of interest. In short, exceptions are made when the person's ties to the other institution is a direct consequence of their work for the District. Case closed.



I am grateful to Mr. Barnett for a prompt, detailed, and clear explanation. I understood everything Mr. Barnett wrote and I agreed with the rationale completely. I still don't like it. While the rules may have been followed, the situation is clearly dirty.

The Alliance for Education is not just a fundraising group. They are an advocacy group. Their advocacy efforts, which started small a few years ago, have grown to become their primary focus. Why is it that the Alliance for Education, alone among all of the local education advocacy groups, gets to have an MOU with the District by which the District provides a quarter of the District leadership team - two of the eight - to the Alliance board? What if Parents Across America, CPPS, LEV, Stand for Children, Teachers United, or any of the dozens of other advocacy groups asked for that in an agreement with the District? By what right or rationale is the Alliance for Education, alone among advocacy groups, entitled to this distinction? This question was never raised.

Also, the Alliance for Education gets a lucrative no-bid contract from the District for providing fiscal services to school fundraising groups. The contract is worth over $100,000 a year for processing less than 10,000 transactions - that's more than $10 per transaction. Even a price-gouging ATM has only a $3 fee. Given the appearance of a conflict (if, technically, no violation of the ethics rules), the least that the District could do would be have a competitive process for the work. Nope. District policies don't require a competitive process for financial services and they don't use one. This question was never raised.

So there is no need for the Alliance to break the Ethics rules, they are already getting everything they want without breaking the rules.

Wouldn't it be great if Sue Peters and Dora asked for an MOU with the District that would make the superintendent and the president of the Board ex officio members of the board of the local chapter of Parents Across America? Wouldn't it be great if the CEASE coalition did the same, and CPPS, and every school PTA? For that matter, why doesn't the League of Education Voters or Democrats for Education Reform or Teachers United ask to have the superintendent and the president of the board sit on their boards as well? By what right could the District deny them after having granted the same to the Alliance? What's so special about the Alliance for Education that they should get this benefit that no other group gets? Come on, wouldn't your PTA like to have the superintendent and the school board member from your District sit on your PTA board and come to all of the meetings?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Charlie -- I think what happened here is that the Alliance DID, in fact, start out as kind of an "auxilliary, fundraising, support" organization to the District. But I suspect its articles/bylaws/etc. were never written in such a way that continued "service to" the District was required -- accordingly, when Big Ed came calling, with lots of money and powerful folks, they were pretty easily able to "co-opt the Alliance, and turn it from a supporting organization to a partisan, advocacy organization.

What needs to happen now, I think, is fot the Alliance to get "outed" for the metamorphosis. They no longer "serve" Seattle Schools. They serve the Big Ed foundations who push ed reform -- and their agenda. The School District could (and, I think, should) loosen, if not sever, the ties between them, so they are, in fact, more like Parents Across America. Their work for the district should be subject to ordinary rules -- bids, audits, competition, etc.

There is no reason the District could not cause the creation of a new nonprofit organization that does, in fact, exist for the sole purpose of supporting the District and its mission -- but that entity is clearly not the Alliance.

There was a time (under MGJ) when the entire District management was so aligned with Ed Reform that I think it could plausibly be said that the Alliance's actions were, in fact, all in support of the District agenda. But I am not sure that is so much the case now.

It would be wonderful if the ST would do a truly thoughtful, investigative piece on the evolution of the A4E -- but I am not holding my breath. Clearly the organization itself would not want their shift in purpose, tactics, etc. to be exposed -- and I suspect they have enough influence to keep it from happening. The Stranger, maybe?

Jan

StopTFA said...

Well, Charlie, if it makes you feel any better, the Washington State Executive Ethics Board is considering opening an investigation into Jennifer Wallace's stewardship of our state's regulatory agency for professional educator standards. You may recall, Ms. Wallace is the one infamous for cooking up the disingenuous "where circumstances warrant" loophole that Holly Ferguson's tried to drive a truck through. I have outlined where she demonstrated clear bias (like our interim superintendent and some of her principals) favoring TFA.

Sahila said...

all this talk about ethics.....

Read this... A smart ALEC threatens public education

and then pass it on to the school board...

Catherine said...

insert sound of screeching brake tires here... the Alliance charges PTAs $10 PER transaction? If you can post the documents that indicate this - or heck - email them to me. THAT carries some discrediting weight.

Charlie Mas said...

Catherine,

When the Alliance handles the funds for a PTA or booster group they recoup the costs of their work through two methods.

First, they retain all of the interest earned on the first $25,000 of every account. That's not a big deal any more, but it used to be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year to them.

Second, they charge the District for the rest of their costs up to a cap set at 5% of the value of the cash flow. The cash flow last year was $1.6 million. Five percent of that amount is $80,000. In this year's MOU the Alliance wants to increase their cap to 7.5% (yes, a 50% increase in the cost) to cover the lost interest income. At 7.5% the cap on the Alliance's invoice to the District would be $120,000.

For this money the Alliance handled about 7,000 deposits and about 1,600 checks - less than 10,000 transactions. Do the math: More than $100,000 for less than 10,000 transactions comes out to more than $10 per transaction.

Charlie Mas said...

I told Director Smith-Blum that I would do it for $80,000.

Anonymous said...

I hope the state auditor takes on Wallace et al. What Stop TFA found in the public disclosure documents in terms of that department's lack of neutrality or any value add was astonishing.

As far as the Alliance, scrutiny is far overdue. This blog has been talking for a couple years about their insider questionable actions. If not illegal then certainly eyebrow raising. This would include, if I remember from past threads, supplying non-neutral conversation leaders to the board and staff. Supplying non-neutral conversation 'mediators'. Unfettered access to staff. And the worst - pushing a reform agenda - noticeably anti-union and anti-teacher in general - and also doing the PTA banking. Be a PAC or be a help organization. Don't be both.

And finally, the tone and actions of the organization have gotten noticeably shall we say 'sharper' since Sara Morris started in as CEO. (And CEO title. Really? WTF.) One might suggest a change in leadership would be meritous for the organization and this community alike. That's been discussed on this blog for a couple years too, I think.

DistrictWatcher

Charlie Mas said...

The Alliance says that the work takes about 1.4 FTE. At that rate each person doing the work is getting paid about $85K.

Anonymous said...

A School Board member who is making policy sitting on the Board of an organization that is advocating for specific policies to be passed by the School Board...?

Conflict of interest is the first thing that comes to mind.

ken berry SpEd IA Van Asselt@AAA

Anonymous said...

That was the thought I had when this was discussed recently - that's a pretty serious chunk of change for a non-profit to pay for the school fund management function.

I do think this whole relationship need some careful "re-examination" given changing times/agendas/budgets. But how does a process like that get started when everything is so intertwined between the Alliance and SPS?

A reader

Anonymous said...

$85K per year? NICE racket! Hey teachers, you should line up for this gig instead. Why put up with all the grief these Alliance folks keep heaping on you? They see to think you all suck at your job. Especially since they seem to prefer 5 week trained kid Galahads instead. And they got Director DeBell on board. I mean it just gets worse and worse.

-can we call them vampire squid now?

dan dempsey said...

About Jennifer Wallace and Holly Ferguson and the Board and Dr. Enfield in regard to TFA.

(1) Holly Ferguson assumed that parroting Ms. Wallace was good enough.

(2) Read WAC 181-79A-231 ... clearly parroting Ms. Wallace does not change the law as written and Ms. Ferguson assisted in producing a chain of events that clearly violated the law.

(3) The Board was repeatedly asked when the legally required careful review of all options to the use of "Conditional Certificates" for TFA CMs took place. Specifically as this was a "Strategy for Closing Achievement gaps", when did the district conduct a careful review of all options for closing achievement gaps?

(4) Six Board members voted repeatedly to ignore the law and move TFA's neophyte teachers into Seattle classrooms. Broadening the hiring pool through the use of illegal practices is hardly a reasonable action. Now we will get to see how many of the Four Directors who initially voted and continued to vote support for this illegal tactic will continue to support NONSENSE. ... Why not just say: The Gates Foundation made me do it.

(5) One thing has been clearly demonstrated, the laws and constitution of WA State in regard to public k-12 education are virtually meaningless in far too many situations. People like Jennifer Wallace, Dr. Susan Enfield, Michael DeBell, Kay Smith-Blum, Harium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr, Peter Maier, and Steve Sundquist, and Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson make this abundantly clear.

(6) All elected officials take an oath of office to support the laws and constitution of WA State ... so what? Check the WA Constitution article IX section 1 on providing an ample education to all students ... then check with the WA Supreme Court on funding and check with the Seattle School directors on the achievement gaps .... the oath of office like much of the legal system is a bad joke. Placing TFA CMs into Seattle classrooms was absurd.

Catherine said...

Charlie - I appreciate your setting out the math on that. I wasn't clear - I need the source of the numbers. Like - LEV's annual report, or whatever your sources are.

I want to be able to take your writeup - cite sources and point out that the PTAs are being robbed and the board is complacent. The PTAs should demand a competitive bid, or put the money elsewhere for this service.

So where do I find the MOU to cite, and where are the transaction numbers available?

dan dempsey said...

math ... math ... try these numbers on TFA.

The District is getting a huge bargain in only having to have the Seattle Foundation pay $4,000/CM to TFA so that Seattle can have undertrained newbies in the classroom. Consider the true costs for each of these TFA Corps members.

The resources dedicated to Teach for America might be better spent on preparing regular teachers.

Veltri provides a table using data from TFA, showing that in 2005-06 the 4,700 corps members were served with an operating budget of $39,500,000, while for 2009-10 the projected figures were 7,300 corps members with an operating budget of $160,000,000. Let’s put those numbers on a per capita basis. In 2005-06 the cost per corps member was 8,400, while in 2009-10 it had ballooned to $21,917, or more than half what most teachers in this country make in their first year. I question whether that is money well spent.

So when the millions to run the TFA organization annually are divided by the number of Corps members in the classrooms ... the cost was in excess of $20,000 per CM in 2010. Little wonder that TFA now has the Federal Government financially assisting them.

How much is it costing TFA per corps member in Seattle?
Dean Stritikus, how are those numbers working out at UW for its only alternative certification offering?

Does the UW have complaints about the level of funding provided it from the state? Is the UW TFA program a good use of funds?
======

How did anyone in Seattle come to believe that an illegal attempted running around of existing laws to place under-trained teachers into classrooms would be beneficial to other people's kids? .... likely no one did. This is apparently all about power and politics and not in the best interests of other people's kids. It is just learning on other people's kids. It is an experiment. It is experimenting with other people's kids.

Why? .... So that TFA can become a larger organization by invading areas where it has absolutely no business doing business. It is about the money .... TFA comes to Seattle not the Yakima Valley. Bernie Madoff would be proud of this pyramid scheme.

I remember when Kay Smith-Blum said her job was to direct the Superintendent..... I wonder what she will say on Wednesday night?

Charlie Mas said...

Catherine, the numbers were reported at the Executive Committee meeting and do not appear in any document that I know of.

Dave said...

In the last year, I know of only one "ethics" charge that was deemed meritorious at SSD; an evening custodian went home for dinner during his unpaid lunch hour.

I have been told that "a lot" have been proven and exposed, yet I've never heard of ONE.

Has anyone else?

I mean after Silas, Don and Maria left and Ron English stayed to answer the phone on the "Hotline".

Melissa Westbrook said...

Catherine, the MOU is available at the Board office (they recently passed it out at an Executive Committee meeting as it is being renewed).

Also, ask the Board adm asst for the minutes from the last Ex Ctm meeting (it was either Wed or Thursday) - it contains the figures that Charlie quoted. The Alliance promised to get some of these figures to the Board in a written form; again, as the Board adm asst if they were sent.

Charlie heard it, I heard it (and I was taking notes with the adm asst) and so did Brian Rosenthal of the Times (also taking notes).

Someone said...

There was a similiar ethics complaint filed in Feb 2011 over MGJ's relationship with the Alliance and discussions of the MOU - wish I could get the link to post correctly, as it has some additional info on what the Alliance does for SPS - found via a goog search using this search string (without the quote marks) "alliance ethics site:.seattleschools.org" - it's the 1st PDF file that shows up.

Patrick said...

In the last year, I know of only one "ethics" charge that was deemed meritorious at SSD; an evening custodian went home for dinner during his unpaid lunch hour.

Really? What's the matter with leaving the premises during lunch hour? Was the complaint that his supervisor wanted him to stay on call during time he was not paid?

Anonymous said...

Well, now we have learned something about Wayne Barnett and the "ethics" committee.

Grade: F

-JC.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering about the campaign donation angle.

How many members of the Alliance
(or board members of the Alliance)
have given campaign dollars to standing board members?

My understanding of the ethics clause is that ties to campaign donors must disqualify a board member from a vote on that matter.

--enough already