Thursday, April 26, 2012

Another Black Eye for the District

I knew about this investigation and the results.  I had being holding off on raising the issue until next week out of courtesy to the superintendent search.  The Times got the info anyway.   (I don't have a total for the amount of money that is likely gone/missing but I think it is around $20-30K which is a great deal of money for Van Asselt.)

From the Times:

Seattle police are investigating the possible misuse of school funds by a former principal and a parent coordinator at Van Asselt Elementary School.


Former Principal ElDoris Turner retired March 16, two days after being placed on administrative leave following the release of an ethics investigation that found a "gross waste of public funds."


The parent coordinator, Ramona Fuentes, was fired Tuesday, according to the school district.


The investigation, conducted by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, found $30,000 in unexplained cash withdrawals from an unauthorized school bank account and sloppy record-keeping. In addition, the investigation found that Turner accepted payments from a group using the school gym and did not turn the money over to the district, as was required.

I have read the investigation and frankly, it made me feel sick.

 Principals know better and that this principal either didn't know or didn't follow protocol makes me very angry.

These are public buildings and fundraising funds and NO principal has the right to make up any kind of personal policy for his or her building.

But the 15-page report said neither offered "credible, documented justification for the large amount of cash that was withdrawn from the Account between January 2009 and June 2011."


The Seattle Police Department is investigating, said school-district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers. Police would not release any information Wednesday.

Sherry Carr, as head of A&Finance, was justifiably unhappy but said that the emphasis on telling employees to report any issues had happened in this case.  That is true but it took more than two years to fully come to light.

The probe started last spring after some Van Asselt parents and teachers, interested in establishing a Parent Teacher Student Association, asked how much money the school raised through fundraisers, and how the money was spent, according to the city investigation.


Turner's responses did not satisfy the group.


Investigators said parents relayed concerns about the use of cash at the school. Some said they'd seen a bag of money in a safe at the office, Fuentes counting cash at her desk and a shoebox of money in Turner's office.

The checks written on this account passed muster.  The issue was the cash withdrawals.

"Turner and Fuentes kept terrible records of the money that flowed into and out of the Account," the investigation found.


While it was Fuentes' job to keep records, she described herself as disorganized and forgetful and told investigators she had serious health and money issues.

And yet Principal Turner kept using her to take care of fundraising dollars.  Unbelievable.  

Another issue was the use of the gym.

A school-district employee ran a business that used the gym for youth-basketball tournaments.


The employee said he charged $3 to $5 at the door for the tournaments and sold concessions.
The employee told investigators his business was a nonprofit, but they determined it was not registered as one with the state.


Turner did not seem to think gym access was a big issue, according to the investigation. She told investigators she thought white teachers wanted to stop the employee from using the gym because he is a black man.

And again, we see race rearing its head in our district.  This accusation by Turner sounds like shades of Silas Potter.  We heard this from Greg King at Lowell in his investigation.

No one should be using race - in either direction - as a reason for behavior or actions involving their school.   If there is an issue, they should go to their Executive Director or the Superintendent. 



41 comments:

Chris S. said...

Who was Turner's boss during this time?

Chris S. said...

Who was Turner's boss during this time?

Anonymous said...

Well, we aren't supposed to take the Lord's name in vain, but I'm amazed at how quickly people will use allegations of racism in the same way.

Equally amazing is the apparent ignorance of lesson of The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable among "educators" in our district.

Way to feed the anti-affirmative action wolves, Ms. Turner. How many minority children will suffer from lack of opportunities in the future because of baseless allegations of racism deployed as a lame excuse for incompetence or criminal activity? Whose legitimate complaints of racism will be dismissed and go unheard because the town folk are tired of being mislead, as in The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Note how nothing was said or done about the supposed racist white teachers until the investigators came snooping around looking for the money? Looks real legitimate, doesn't it? WSDWG

Anonymous said...

Chris S.

Methinks that would be Michael Tolley, and now Bree Dusseault

Disgusted

Anonymous said...

Former Principal ElDoris Turner retired March 16, two days after being placed on administrative leave

So help me, Sherry Carr, if this principal was allowed to retire with full benefits I will throw the book at you and your "Boeing Way" of handling management and your assertion that things are getting better with your new! improved! audit procedures.

Then again, if "retire" is a nice name for "fire" and the prinicipal is not getting full benefits, then I'll agree that the creaky wheels of district attention to ethics and taxpayer accountability are beginning to work.

So which is it?

-skeptical-

Charlie Mas said...

ElDoris Turner has been principal at Van Asselt for about six years, so her most recent bosses have been Michael Tolley, when he was the Executive Director of Schools for the Southeast, and, since June of 2011, Bree Dusseault was her boss.

The investigation began in the spring of 2011, before Ms Dusseault took over.

Director Carr sees this as a triumph of the whistleblower tool. I can't help seeing it as a failure of the financial controls. This should have been caught through that method, not as a result of a call to the Ethics hotline.

Charlie Mas said...

ElDoris Turner retired with full benefits.

If she is investigated, tried, and found guilty of a crime, then she will face penalties and possibly owe some sort of restitution, but I don't believe her retirement benefits are subject to forfeit.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, thank you for the news that she retired with full benefits.

The follow-up question is whether, had she been fired, those benefits would have been reduced or forfeited, I will be extremely angry, esp. given the high profile Lowell case and frankly Goodloe-Johnson/Don Kennedy too, plus a number of other sudden principal "retirements" or "reassigned to central office" that come to mind.

Wrongdoers walking off with our taxpayer and for-the-children money is morally wrong. Period.

-skeptical-

Anonymous said...

As frustrating as this is, I'd be satisfied that, if found guilty or even "responsible," Ms. Turner just returns the money by having it taken from her generous pension. 30k or so would be what, 1/3 of one years pension? 1/2?

She'll still retire quite comfortably, and the whole matter can be resolved without another multi-month or multi-year scandal in the papers, which overwhelms all the good work our teachers and schools do.

Fortunately, SI Candidate Enoch recognizes the importance of mentioning that, for a large urban district, Seattle does quite a good job.

Where has that been in the news for the last 5 or 10 years?

I don't want to see a petty scandal of two or three employees pocketing easy cash smear the whole district, again. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

If there is sufficient evidence, either woman could be tried and jailed, I believe.

As for using claims of racism as a way to silence critics, the first time I recall that tactic was Clarence Thomas and his "high-tech lynching". Outrageous.

asdf

Charlie Mas said...

Seattle Public Schools has a long history of paying a lot of money to get rid of problem employees.

It did not start with Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Don Kennedy.

One of my favorite things about Mr. Banda as a superintendent candidate is the fact that his district did not pay a single dime to any employee to get rid of them last year.

I haven't checked Mr. Enoch or Ms Hask's record on this matter. I can only hope that it is as good.

Anonymous said...

The investigative report, completed March 5 but not publicly announced, was obtained Wednesday after a public-records request by The Seattle Times.

I agree with a community post on The Seattle Times. As troubled as I am by the wrongdoing and the racial slurs, I am equally troubled that the district tried to sweep the story under the rug.

Why does this district always try to hide things from the public? Admit there is a problem and move on. The Cone of Silence downtown simply does not work and in fact engenders distrust. Complete distrust.

Ed Voter

Melissa Westbrook said...

Superintendent Husk made a comment, when queried on this issue, that you start with transparency and would have let the public know about the issue (and not necessarily until an investigation was completed). I believe her point was that you get out ahead of these issues to your district community and not let them read about it in the newspaper first.

KG said...

It is to bad that the crime of Central administration being over funded is not seen here as much more of a crime than this incident.

mirmac1 said...

Charlie, where did you find that info about Banda?

Dorothy Neville said...

KG, central actually has been reducing its percent of operating budget significantly. Too late in many ways, since we could have used that money to rebuild reserves (post Olchefske losing 32 million) and now the economy has tanked and state funding has shrunk while needs in the classroom have increased and we don't have enough reserves to soften the blow.

But the truth is, look at the F196s, central used to take over 9% of the budget, it is now down to about 6%.

KG said...

Dorothy,

I belive you to be wrong in this.

They actually took 100 plus coaches originally in the Central Admin. line item and moved that expenditure to another line item.

They are F-195's.

Just because the district lies about this does not mean we have to believe them.

They need to show us all what they did to get down to a supposable 6%

Medicare runs on 3% admi nistration why not school districts?

A lot of Olechefske had to do with General Stanford's Fiascos.

Thanks for your comment.

Dorothy Neville said...

KG, you are correct that they hid coaches in the budget. But not in the OSPI budget, that's how Meg originally found them. They contributed to the 9% central spending. Most of those coaches are gone now.

I am not saying the situation is good or is as transparent as we all would like. But it is getting better. The worry is that if one argues now that central is too fat because they have so many coaches, they can legitimately argue that is no longer the case. There still is fat downtown, unfortunately it is harder to get at. Some of it is due to fancy ed-reform initiatives such as MAP and the Data Warehouse. Unfortunately some can claim that those are necessary costs due to the CBA (and perhaps also state law, sigh).

mirmac1 said...

"such as MAP and the Data Warehouse. Unfortunately some can claim that those are necessary costs due to the CBA (and perhaps also state law, sigh)."

Except what other school district in this state would be expected to spend $$$M of some rich dude's money to do what JSCEE has been doing? Not one.

KG said...

Dorothy,

It still does not excuse perrenial abuse by cenral admin. and the fact
last year that 117 of them received pay increases while many took furloughs. In cluding Mr. Harman whom said he understands what it is to do more with less.

He then took a 18k raise. This is the arrogant attitude they have in the Stanford Center.

KG said...

Until the District is made to spend properly on this monster then many things will not change.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the district forego MAP and datawarehouse due to unfund mandate? If the state legislature can overlook court decision to fully fund education, then why does the district need to fulfill that part of the mandate? Why don't we prioritize funding so money is spent directly for classrooms and kids? Seriously, what is Olympia going to do, close school's doors over this?

PS mom

Dorothy Neville said...

"Why don't we prioritize funding so money is spent directly for classrooms and kids?"

For some of these answers, look at New York, where the burden of creating the assessments for every single teacher is falling on every single district. Recall that article about creating a Band Class assessment?


As for this district and the MAP/DW work, this is considered a priority and a Good! Thing! by folks in power, both in the district and in the city. Therefore, there's no way they will stop it as an unfunded mandate. Writing the CBA in a way to include student growth scores means that they can claim that it is required by the CBA. But that's not the real reason, the real reason is that some in power think it is a good idea, more good than smaller class sizes.


KG, argue based on raises, that is more valid than arguing based on coaches (which is no longer the case, so your points can be dismissed). Bear in mind some of those folks are promotions with lots more responsibility. That doesn't necessarily excuse the raise, but it will to some people. However, a number of those raises were just raises and (in my mind) inexcusable.

Anonymous said...

This debacle is another example of the unethical culture that is embedded in SPS.

For parents who decided to look the other way at Lowell, this is the culture that "moving on" perpetuates.

Ignoring unethical acts in your own building contributes to a
generalized culture of tolerance of unethical behavior.

This will continue to be the culture of SPS as long as "me first" (whether it is manifested in stealing money, lying to OSPI, setting up employees as fall guys or looking the other way when your children's teachers are abused) is the norm.

--enough already

KG said...

Dorothy,

Why would we believe that the district is at 6% central admin. if they hid the coaches in the budget?

If they are hiding things like this then what else are they hiding?

Also raises for people such as duggan harman regaerdless of so-called more responsibility is bogus as many of us that work in the buildings have more responsibility and we got a big fat 0.

Where is the District believable in the area in which they say central admin. is more in line with 6%.

I believe there are as many coaches they probably just changed their job titles.

Been an employee for a long time and I cannot trust the district is all of a sudden in compliance with most other districts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,
Ken Berry here. I have only glanced at the Times article as of yet, but from reading your comments and quotes of the article some things need to be clarified:
1. It's not wise to conclude that any money had ever been taken or kept for personal use by either the Principal, ElDoris Turner or her assistant, Ramona Fuentes.

2. This "sloppy record keeping" did not start with ElDoris Turner. It was occuring one or more administrations prior to ElDoris becoming Principal at Van Asselt.

3. The renting of the gym under improper arrangements had been going on at AAA prior to Van Asselt moving to the AAA site.

4. For Sherry Carr to credited recent district reforms for helping to bring the potential misuse of funds to light shows that she's naive and/or clueless about what goes on Downtown.

"What I see here is evidence that our programs are working," Carr said. "We sent a very clear message to our employees that we wanted them to speak up. Someone did that." A colleague intimately involved in this shared with me that Downtown wanted to sit on this. The city ethics investigator had been quite frustrated with the lack of action from the District. It appears that it took a request from the city in order for this investigation to reach the light of day.

5. "Turner did not seem to think that gym access was a big issue, according to the investigation. She told investigators that white teachers wanted to stop the employee from using the gym because he is a black man." Actually, the person who most resisted giving access to the gym was the custodian. He's black. So this an absurd statement; or, Brian Rosenthal got his notes confused.

And finally, for anyone to think that this is an isolated incident in our District, I've got some dusty shares in MySpace you might want to buy...

ken berry SpEd IA VA@AAA

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights, Ken. Good for the custodian for trying to stop this stuff (whatever his skin color). As someone who is organizationally challenged when it comes to keeping books (I was the treasurer of a non-profit -- once -- and told my spouse later to stop me by whatever means necessary if anyone ever tried to talk me into such a position again -- no money lost, nothing "bad" happened, but it is not a task for the disorganized and forgetful!!!), it would be really great if someone would help schools get into compliance, stay in compliance, and find folks who actually are good at this kind of stuff (and no, I don't mean the A4E, with their 7.5% take).

Braessae

Anonymous said...

enough already: "For parents who decided to look the other way at Lowell, this is the culture that "moving on" perpetuates."

This "it's fixed, let's move on" attitude perpetuates the resentments of the folks who (with reason, it would appear), look at APP families as elitist. The worst at the top stay on top. Families are pitted against one another. More distraction. Melissa has said several times that Seattle Schools will make meaningful progress until these distractions are stopped. DeBell said Pottergate was part of the culture. He is the culture.

And Charlie, related to this I think we can include 2 notable directors in this "we fixed it, MGJ was great, move it along" rot from within. This is why I disagree with your comment calling for us to give the Board their space to follow their process. I'd wondered if your post was sarcasm because you're generally a sharp analyst. I don't buy it because this superintendent selection process is a closed circle with recruiter insider hijinks to boot.

Carr gets to crow about how the new ethics process worked. No it didn't. We'll find out more after the school year is over as to who knew what when. If Bree Dusseault did her job I'll give her the win. If she sat on this she needs to be fired. Carr is endorsing an ethics process that is highly selective and only goes after the weak (Lowell scandal) and expendable (already out the door.) It's ethics in name only and now even more political because the City is involved.

Mr White

Anonymous said...

Ken Berry. Our posts crossed. RE: Carr, you summed it up.

Mr White

Jan said...

Mr White said: "Carr is endorsing an ethics process that is highly selective and only goes after the weak (Lowell scandal) and expendable (already out the door.) It's ethics in name only and now even more political because the City is involved."

Dreadful indictment, Mr. White. What do we need to do (or who do we need to get) to really fix this?

The Real Arnold said...

@Mr. White: "highly selective and only goes after the weak (Lowell scandal) and expendable (already out the door.)"

You have no credible evidence or proof of this. You're just one of the multitudes on this blog that believe the District cannot do one thing right.

And for "out the door", this investigation (if you actually read it) was conducted while the principal was still at the school. There was no indication that she was going to retire. After she got wind of what was going to be in the report, she bailed.

The Real Arnold said...

@ken berry: "Turner did not seem to think that gym access was a big issue, according to the investigation. She told investigators that white teachers wanted to stop the employee from using the gym because he is a black man." Actually, the person who most resisted giving access to the gym was the custodian. He's black. So this an absurd statement; or, Brian Rosenthal got his notes confused."


It's truly amazing that you admit right out of the gate that you didn't read the entire article and that you relied on Melissa's re-cap to make your comments. You didn't even read the report. You say that Rosenthal got his notes confused. No, he didn't. He was quoting the report. The principal said this to the investigator. And, I agree that it is an absurd statement. Not only absurd, but racist - yes, everyone, racist. This is another case of an African-American district employee using race to hide or divert attention from inappropriate or illegal activities. Anyone remember Silas Potter and Fred Stephens?

Then you say, "And finally, for anyone to think that this is an isolated incident in our District, I've got some dusty shares in MySpace you might want to buy..." This could just be a bombastic statement on your part, or you know something that needs to be reported. If you know something specific about inappropriate or illegal behavior, and you can support it with credible evidence, then you need to report it. If you don't report it, then you are part of the problem at the district.

Anonymous said...

Real Arnold:
The evidence is all in front of you if you read here. You'll have to do better than that. Tell me what I don't know.

Jan: Nothing will change until the families who are the focus of the achievement gap partner with the families who already show up, who know all about pushing back. Instead of pushing for themselves they push for everyone. There can be no more L@L comments or director comments about "we fixed it" and "let's move on." Together they have to push for at least two board election cycles to see even the beginnings of equity manifest itself. You only achieve political change when you pick your issue and keep working and never let the issue die. I would take a cue from marriage equality. How many years will that one take? The more your friends and relative know about what's going on in your school (I spread the word to other grandparents about my grandkid's school), the more exposed the system becomes. One group, one lawsuit, can't drive what public schools are supposed to be.

During the years my 3 attended Summit it went from a healthy school with a deep wait list to a pariah. Politics is everything. Your principal is a politician. Your teachers know it. So do your kids.

Mr White

The Real Arnold said...

@KG: "Also raises for people such as duggan harman regaerdless of so-called more responsibility is bogus as many of us that work in the buildings have more responsibility and we got a big fat 0."

More repsonsibility? sure, since there have been layoffs. But do you go in front of the Board at public meetings every time and put yourself on the line? If you are who I think you are, then the answer is no. Are you responsible for budgeting and accounting for more than half-a-billion dollars? No. Will you be the one taken to the wood-shed by the media or this blog if an accounting or other fraud scandal occurs? No. Are you the one that has to try and explain to the Board why incidents like this occur? No.

When you have these responsibilities at this organization, then you will have a different perspective.

There are some executive directors that certainly did not deserve any raises, but Harman is a solid guy. I don't begrudge him this raise.

The Real Arnold said...

@Mr. White: ..."if you read here"

If you call what you read on this blog "credible evidence", then I'm glad you are not wasting the district's money by trying to investigate anything. It's easy for you to say it is all in front of me without taking the time to point out specifics.

Prior to the Silas Potter fiasco this kind of thing would not have come to light. And there is no evidence that they were trying to sweep anything under the rug. There is NO LEGAL REQUIREMENT for any state or local government to proactively share the results of internal investigations. If there is, provide the citation to a state law or rule and I will stand corrected. Otherwise, you are blowing hot air.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"It's not wise to conclude that any money had ever been taken or kept for personal use by either the Principal, ElDoris Turner or her assistant, Ramona Fuentes."

I didn't say that nor did the Times. I said she obviously didn't follow district policy/protocol. If she had, none of this would be an issue.

Anonymous said...

Nice to know that this Jeffcoat person, in spite of his prior conviction, is allowed access to the district's most vulnerable students - the special ed students at Aki. This district just rocks the way it values students with disabilities.

Parent

Charlie Mas said...

The information about Banda - that he didn't pay anyone to leave last year - was from his district's budget. It is a specific line item in the California state budget report that is posted online.

Charlie Mas said...

This whole story - the absence of any record-keeping, the off-the-books account, the gym rental, all of it - is yet another example of the consequences of the District's "compliance optional" culture.

KG said...

The Custodian was right to try and stop it and thank you Ken Berry for reporting this.

The reason the custodian had to try and stop it is that the week knee administration cannot do their job just like Sherry Carr and most of the rest of the school board whom let the Pottergate and Goodloegate explode.