Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Seattle School Board Needs to Investigate Sub Payment

Update: here's the explanation of all this from the Audit&Finance agenda for tomorrow, starting on page 57.

From the BAR:

Under Board Policy 6220, Procurement, agreements and financial commitments over $250,000 require Board approval. While this agreement should not have been executed by a District staff member and implemented without prior Board approval, it is being brought to the Board for ratification at this time out of recognition of the legal difficulties in rescinding the agreement and recouping payment, as well as the importance of maintaining our positive relationships with Seattle Education Association (SEA) and our substitutes.
My translation is that a single staff member took it upon his or herself to approve this spending and that, while that part was not legal, it was done as part of an agreed-to portion of the CBA and most of the money has already been distributed.

I think we can all understand that undoing it would not be helpful (in the name of strictly following policy.)

However, the BAR does not name the employee.  Why not? This is just like the Garfield field trip incident to New Orleans where we don't get to know who the employee was who decided that Garfield's staff didn't need to know about previous issues with the problem student.

These people are operating under the authority of the district and we, as taxpayers, are paying them.  Don't we get to know who they are or, at the least, know that they have been appropriated disciplined/reoriented on their duties?

So I'll say who it is - it was Geoff Miller, Deputy of Labor and Employee Relations.  (One reader said it appeared Mr. Miller is leaving in September but I don't have verification of this.) 

More from the BAR:

The District staff member apparently executed the Settlement Agreement without any prior notice or approval of any other District leadership member and it was not presented to the Board for approval prior to execution as required by Board Policy No. 6220. 

During the final processing of the TRI payment called for by the agreement, it was discovered that the Settlement Agreement would cost the district $661,073 for the 2014-2015 and 2013- 2014 school year payments; and $105,425 for the 2012-2013 school year payments. The total financial commitment of the agreement as signed was thus $766,498.
This narrative brings up another point.  SEA knows the rules. They have lectured the Board on Board policies when they were not followed.  And, yet nothing got said here.

More than $600,000 got paid out before the Assistant Superintendent for HR was notified or the Supeirntendent or Board.  I'll be frank and I don't mean any disrespectful but I find it very difficult to believe that no one in senior management knew about this.  That is a heck of a lot of money and it would seem that before that got spent, someone up the food chain would have to sign off on it.

The policy, according to this narrative, says that there IS a procedure with multiple steps and yet every step seems to have been ignored.

"...an existing procedure to staff that requires all settlement agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to be evaluated prior to execution.
So are all those people involved in those steps going to be asked why they ignored them?

end of update

My e-mail to the Board:

Dear Directors,

I am being told that substitute teachers received this e-mail today from their leadership (bold mine:)
In last week's Unity, an update was sent out regarding our long standing grievance to ensure long term (90+ day) certificated substitutes receive TRI. The District recognized the arbitrary distinctions that discouraged substitutes from taking long-term assignments and agreed to pay TRI for these positions dating back to the 12-13 school year. The amount of the settlement on this issues was well above the $250,000 threshold that requires School Board approval.

We have learned from District leadership that the proper procedures for receiving Board approval did not occur. The District is going back to the Board to show the public the purpose of the agreement, and follow the procedure that follows Board policy, and honors transparency. For this reason, the final payment of the 12-13 school year back pay will not appear on paychecks until August 1st because this requires a Board vote which will take place on July 6.

This provides time for the Board to introduce the topic and amount to the public, and approve the settlement. Given the fact that this agreement mirrors the agreement we made in our new contract and addresses a clear inequity in the treatment of educators, we expect the Board will approve the settlement.

To this point, the total amount for the 13-14, and 14-15 TRI payments was $494,316. The District is still in the process of calculating the payments for the 12-13 school year.

This was a big win for our members! Thanks to all who worked to make this happen. We ask for your patience as the District works through this.

Peter Henry, SEA Substitute Association President
You'll note that Mr. Henry believes this is all a done deal and that you WILL approve this spending...after the fact.  (I note that he says it is in their contract and therefore, the district probably DOES owe the money. Why they didn't tell you and just pay it as they should is yet another mystery.)

What the district is saying is this:

SEATTLESeattle Public Schools is looking into a settlement agreement that a former district employee entered into with Seattle Education Association (SEA) for more than $500,000, and without superintendent or School Board approval. The agreement is related to long-term pay for substitutes, some of which has already been distributed.
The district will complete a review of how this occurred and continue legal assessment to decide a course of action. The district will provide updates as they become available.


I am asking you for a complete investigation into what the situation truly is.

Questions:
- Was this "former district employee" an employee at the time this action was taken?  If so, who was it?  Ron English?
- The Superintendent will swear that neither he or any senior level management knew about this settlement? 
- Some of the money already got sent out?  I would like to know the amount and where it came from.

This is VERY serious.  Because, if true, there is a breakdown at headquarters over your role.  There are people who clearly think you have NO authority and that needs to stop. If the Superintendent did have a role that would then make it twice - the Gates Foundation grant being number one - that he has done something without your consent when it was required. 

I myself find it hard to believe that $500K could be authorized out of the district without the Superintendent's knowledge or that of any senior staff.

Sincerely,
Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum blog

18 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

So half a million dollars leaves the district account and no one notices?

Ever since the last scandal the Board gets monthly spending updates in the Audit and Finance Committee, but the Board didn't notice.

The Superintendent, who tells us that he is looking for savings everywhere and closely managing the budget, didn't notice half a million dollars.

The Chief Financial Officer, who should have detailed knowledge of all of the district's money, didn't notice half a million dollars.

The SEA reps who negotiated this knew about it. Surely they knew the rule, but kept quiet about it.

On the other hand, the funds were not paid out all at once. They were paid out over a number of payments - specifically to cloak the expense and make it appear to be current year substitute pay. Someone worked to make this money hard to find. There is a clear effort to break the rules and evade notice.

Harrislsh@comcast.net said...

Charlie,

You make a great many assumptions and conclusions and cast a wide net.

An investigation is being performed as we "speak/write" and I assure you this is being taken most seriously by the Board (pls. note that I speak only for myself as the President speaks for the Board.)

I have learned a great deal from your analysis and commentary. Thank you. In this case, I prefer to sift the facts and evidence when received.


Cordially,
Leslie Harris
SPS Director No. 6
Leslie.Harris@seattleschools.org




Lynn said...

Charlie,

I don't believe the board had an opportunity to notice the unauthorized payments. It appears they were made just this month.

From the proposed BAR on this matter:

In winter of 2015, SEA worked with the District staff member to draft a Settlement Agreement to document and implement the previous verbal agreement to settle the grievance filed by the Union on June 11, 2014. To this end, a Settlement Agreement was executed on February 19, 2016 which purported to agree to pay the equivalent of TRI for substitute teachers, who worked longer than 90 days for the 2014-2015, 2013-2014, and 2012-2013 school years. The District staff member apparently executed the Settlement Agreement without any prior notice or approval of any other District leadership member and it was not presented to the Board for approval prior to execution as required by Board Policy No. 6220.
During the final processing of the TRI payment called for by the agreement, it was discovered that the Settlement Agreement would cost the district $661,073 for the 2014-2015 and 2013- 2014 school year payments; and $105,425 for the 2012-2013 school year payments. The total financial commitment of the agreement as signed was thus $766,498.
Given that this is well above the $250,000 threshold needed for School Board approval, the Superintendent and the Board were immediately notified when the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources was alerted to the value of the payments. Because the payments for the 2014- 2015 and 2013-2014 school years had already reached final processing, it was not possible to stop the payments before they were issued on May 2. While the 2014-2015 and 2013-2014 payments have already been processed and paid to employees, the 2012-2013 payments ($105,425) are on hold pending Board review and action on this matter.


The staff member was Geoffrey Miller. The April Personnel Report states that he will be separating from the district at the end of September.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lynn, where did you get this BAR? I asked for any further info and told there was none beyond the press release.

Anonymous said...

What it "TRI"?
NwMom

Lynn said...

Melissa - The BAR is attached to the current Finance Committee agenda. I think it was just posted last night.

NwMom,

From the BAR:

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
In 2011, SEA and the District went to arbitration over the issue of whether long-term substitutes were entitled to Time, Responsibility and Incentive (“TRI”) pay under the 2010-2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). TRI pay is compensation made to teachers for the considerable time teachers must work outside of the normal classroom hours for things such as parent conferences, report cards, curriculum nights etc.


Here's a link to the current schedule.

Anonymous said...

Attention Parapros! IEP meetings, with approval and signature from your administrator, can be used for Professional Development Credit.The form can be signed by the attending administrator at the IEP meeting.

This is in the UNITY newsletter too. You're kidding me, right? There are so many disgusting bad practices going on in IEP meetings, that is the LAST PLACE we should look for training our precious IA resources. Who thought of this?

InTheKnow

alicia said...

Thank you for your great work on this blog Melissa. I read it daily. While being part of SPS is so disheartening at times, I am grateful to feel like I am somewhat more informed now. Now, after reading this post, I will go bang my head against a wall.

Anonymous said...

A staff member wrote a $600K check and there was no co-signer on it. That's the bottom line. And it shows the "checks and balances" this district has supposedly had in place since the bad old MGJ debacle fallout to be a sham.

So what happens now? Everyone goes tsk tsk and goes about their business? Where is the accountability that the central administration mouths ad nauseum? Funny how accountability always seems to apply to the lesser-paid school staff, while the 6-figure-salary bureaucrats make 6-figure mistakes with nary a mea culpa.

This is the same central administration that threatens to fire school secretaries and teachers if they don't achieve perfection on reconciling $20 receipts for food and office supplies.

Think about it.

DistrictWatcher

Anonymous said...

Mr. Miller's departure is listed on this Personnel report from May 4 2016 Board meeting

http://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/15-16agendas/05042016agenda/C02_20160504_PersonnelReport.pdf


reader47

GarfieldMom said...

If you look at pages 13-14 of the presentation linked here Agenda you can see that Geoff Miller's name is not listed in the org charts and his position is marked VACANT. So, yeah.

Anonymous said...

I understand the Stevens Principals has submitted her resignation. Usual strategy. Move along, nothing to see here.

Naked Gun

Anonymous said...

Nationally the average amount for non board approved non-budgetary expenditures is $15,000. $249,000 is totally crazy and risk fraud and corruption. Maybe someone should propose lowering the amount need for board approval.

Tax payer

Cathy said...

Serious problem. But has everyone forgotten that the Superintendent himself committed the exact same error-- failing to submit an expense of well over 250,000 to the Board his first year? Somehow -- I missed HIS separation notice.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Cathy, he says this one he didn't know about. An investigation by the Board is being launched. Stay tuned.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's what we know:

This was caught, but not before the checks went out. So something is working, but it's too far downstream to be effective.

The Superintendent is in a tricky position. He can't say that this is a very grave failure because he committed the same failure himself and shrugged it off. He approved a contract in excess of $250,000 without Board approval without any consequence at all and said it was no big deal.

This reflects on HR as the most dysfunctional department in a dysfunctional bureaucracy. The errors and problems that come out of HR are both the most frequent and the worst. Someone in HR processed the additional pay without questioning the authorization.

I'm not sure what more an investigation will reveal. What is the Board hoping to learn?

Ed said...

In the HR of the last couple years, you have been required to check your morals at the door and not question anything. This is what happens. Miller and Donahee were friends before hiring into their roles.

Dave said...

Here's what I know:

Miller gets a "Settlement" and stays on the payroll thru SEPTEMBER!

All the tough talk in committee won't change THAT.