Thursday, August 19, 2010

School Board Testimony

I testified at last night's packed Board meeting (along with several other people who read this blog - I couldn't stay the whole evening). I was asked to post what I said but I decided to cut it back a little for length. I initially spoke on an Intro item, the School Technology Equity Plan, pointing out that there were 2 attachments to the item. One was a blank page and the other was the contract but the bulk of it was in 10 attachments which had no links. (I'll have to view my taping of the meeting to see if any Board member even asked about this.)

I also want to note that I have documentation from the district about the retirement dinner. The only thing I'm not totally sure about is whether there were any other retirees at the dinner. One interesting note is that none of the current Board was invited according to the invitation list.

"On the issue of oversight, let’s talk about the recent State Audit report. Virtually none of you have said anything even though it was unusual and astonishing that the State Auditor chose to call out the School Board by name for not doing adequate oversight of the Superintendent.

Let’s focus on two items. One is the Superintendent’s usage of her credit card. The issue here for the Auditor was two-fold; she went over her daily limit of $1,000 when she charged $3800 for catering and also, under the District’s procurement card manual, you can’t charge food.

Auditor: If the District intends to include exceptions to the rules, it should revise the procurement card manual rules.

The catering charge was for a retirement dinner for SPS employees. That’s fine but as I recall we have a bad economy and the district is in dire financial straits. And yet that $3800 wasn’t the entire bill; the dinner cost $7k altogether complete with a carving station and salmon and $650 for musical entertainment.

Why would we have a retirement dinner when the organization of retired employees already puts on their own luncheon every year? I suspect it was because this was a dinner for former School Board member, Cheryl Chow.

Why were $100 dinner certificates to the Palisades given out?

The District’s answer to the Auditor on this point was this:

Regarding the non-compliance with dollar limits, there is an exception process in place where the user may call the card administrator and request a higher limit.

The reply to the Auditor makes it sound like this would happen on case-by-case basis as the reply from the District and yet the e-mail indicates it as permanent. Yet there’s an e-mail exchange between the Superintendent’s assistant and an accounting employee asking about whether a previous upping of her limit was still there so she could charge this amount. (And the answer was yes.)

Next, to the finding about the Small Business program in SPS. This program morphed into a $1M a year program with over 40 classes, some of them being taught by SPS staff. And, the district’s own lawyer admitted at a BEX Committee meeting that most of those people who took the classes never even placed a bid for an SPS project.

After the audit came out, we saw the dismissal of the head of the program, Silas Potter.

Then that same lawyer tells a group of people at a Facilities meeting that Mr. Potter is starting his own private company doing the same thing with the same name and somehow got an SPS contract to pay for his offices. And, that the district will pay for it because the district doesn’t want the former head to take them to court.

Why would the district pay an obviously bogus contract? Or the bigger question, why is it the more financially prudent choice to pay off this contract rather than take it to court? What is it that the district doesn’t want aired in court?

Last question, according to the auditor, the money used over the last two years for this program, which is roughly $1.8 M, most of it has to come back to the capital fund from the General Fund. I would like to know where the district is finding over a $1M to move from the General Fund to the capital fund.

You talk about “every dollar going into the classroom” during teacher negotiations but it seems clear the money goes in all directions and there really is NO attempt to rein in spending."


Dorothy Neville said...

You go girl! That shocker about the seven thousand dollars was worth going to the meeting for.

As for the almost two million dollars that the general fund has to reimburse the capital fund for... Well, if the November levy passes, they could take it from there, yes?

But why don't we all come up with ideas that don't rely on the levy. Aren't there about 100 coaches at a cost of about 10 million dollars? So fire 20 coaches and there you go. Then take the 80 remaining coaches and put them back into schools to reduce class size.

Maureen said...


I don't even know where to start.

Thank you Melissa for daylighting this!

Melissa Westbrook said...

I left this out. I'm no math whiz but I think for a $7,000 party with 70 people in attendance that works out to roughly...$100 per person.

For a party. When our district is going to voters with their hands out for more money in November. When $7k could support an art or music program at some struggling school(s).

Is it a drop in the bucket in the overall budget? Sure but if Dr. Goodloe-Johnson wants to lavish attention and money on her favorite Board member, she should have done it on her own dime and not off the backs off the children in SPS.

Unknown said...

Thanks Melissa. Interesting stuff. I agree that the expense for the retiree dinner seems high and out of sync with a tough economy, but I'm curious about on thing. You say, and I quote directly "I suspect it was because this was a dinner for former School Board member, Cheryl Chow." Earlier in your post you say, and I quote directly, "One interesting note is that none of the current Board was invited according to the invitation list."

It strikes me as pretty unlikely that, if the dinner was actually some form of recognition of Cheryl Chow, no other Board members were on the invite list. What leads you to suspect that the purpose of the dinner was Chow-related?

dan dempsey said...

If what Melissa reports is correct, Seattle is truly a "Major League" city in the educational corruption category.

Dinner for Cheryl Chow $7000 and no current board members invited.

Did Sally Soriano get an invite and why not Michael DeBell who served with Cheryl for an extended time?

Of course Maier, Sundquist, Harium, and Sherry got no invite they only were on the Board for two years with Cheryl Chow.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I suspect it was for Chow because I sent the invitation list to one of the members of the Board for the district retired employees assn and they didn't recognize a lot of names listed (and you would think they would). That Cheryl Chow retired in 2009 and was the only member of the School Board (present or past) invited leads me to believe it was for her.

Eric M said...

It is an interesting moment to consider the psychology of the Board members. Can they even hear testimony like this anymore? They have so thoroughly aligned themselves with Goodloe-Johnson, so thoroughly endorsed without thoughtful examination her every move, and been so thoroughly maligned by the state audit, by teachers, by parents, that's it's difficult to imagine what they're thinking anymore.

I expect it's a bit like finding out your spouse is a serial killer (anyone watch "Dexter" ?) You love them, but you are completely horrified at what they've done, and your complicity in it, and you don't know how to extract yourself.

At some point, we're going to need to provide the Board members with grief counseling. Perhaps along with dismissal notices following a recall.

Meg said...

So... wow. The Silas Potter thing sounds, at this point, perilously close to criminal, if not actually so. I wonder if he had to sign an MOU or a non-disclosure agreement?

And the banquet... just sounds worse and worse. Is there any way to check the years the folks on the invite list worked for SPS? Gift certificates to Palisades? Paid for out of the operating budget... and all of this at the end of 2008-09, when schools were closed because of a financial crisis? This is, of course, a teensy amount of money in context of the operating budget. But it's also an astounding demonstration of poor judgment by district staff.

And lastly, the auditor's report noted that they found issues in 100% of the areas they examined. Not all of the problems were official findings, and so not all were included in the report. But exception 24 noted that yes, indeedy, it was a conflict of interest for the Superintendent to be on the NWEA board and not disclose it to the school board until after the contract was approved. Oopsie. Well, I'm sure that it had no bearing on the choice of NWEA as a vendor, as she later said when it came out. I wonder if Brad Bernatek or the consultant who helped choose NWEA as a vendor (after what I'm sure was a thorough analysis... at least of what the Superintendent wanted) knew that the Superintendent was on that board?

Thank you again, Melissa, for bringing the Silas Potter/capital issue and the banquet information to light.

beansa said...

Well, I just wrote to the school board asking what they intend to do about the things Melissa brought up in her testimony last night.

Hopefully everyone else will send them a little reminder to do their jobs too.

Sahila said...

Eric - love your analysis and its something I've been thinking for a long time, given the apparent lack of logic applying and the apparent lack of impact other information seems to have on the Board...

My question remains though - if they're stuck like deer caught in the headlights with no concept of what to do now they are in deep-shit, what's left for us to do?

As Dan Dempsey and some of us have come to realise - nothing, except recall!

The Recall petitions have been refiled and now its time to get up the momentum to pull that off....

Sahila said...

For those of you who dont know, Brad Bernatek is a Broad graduate/plant...

MGJ - Broad & NWEA
Bernatek - Broad
Jessica de Barros - Broad
Cordell Carter - Broad

and I believe the budget has in it monies for at least another two - MGJ wanted 4...(we get to pay for the privilege of having these people come in and undermine public education!)

see here for an analysis of Broad strategy at the District level...

see Page 28 here, for Broad's reach nationally...

and bear in mind MGJ brought the CFO (Don Kennedy) and Michael Tolley with her from Charleston...

Really interesting reading, that Broad report... the head of the Center for Reinventing Education (UW Bothell) sits on the Broad Prize Review Board, while Wendy Kopp of Teach For America sits beside MGJ on the Broad Board, as does her husband, Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP charter schools, as does Michelle Rhee, most recently famous for firing more than 400 DC teachers, whose fiance the DC mayor (and former Obama/Duncan basketball playing buddy) is accused of having sex with underage girls and who paid off a previous complainant...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sahila, what does Broad have to do with this topic? I don't need a long explanation, just why you wanted to put that in?

Sahila said...

Melissa -

Meg mentioned that Brad might have been the person involved in/pushing for the NWEA transaction and she wondered if he knew MGJ was on the Board of NWEA...

and my thinking is: MGJ and Bernatek are both Broad plants, so its reasonable to think he would know she was also on the Board of NWEA...

dan dempsey said...

OK on the Broad Data Connection...
(a bit OT)

I have 20,000+ pages related to the NTN contract decision and I do not see this Broad crew doing any data analysis of NTN School data.

The only Data person I have any faith in is Dr. Eric Anderson the Gates Data Fellow. He seems interested in finding solutions the rest of these folks are apparently toadies. Note his memo to MGJ on 1-29-2010 was not very positive toward NTN.

Cleveland Math Department Chair Terry Cornelius wrote:
Dan Dempsey has provided spreadsheets showing inferior performance in math at NTN schools in CA. We need to contact NTN for a response to this.

Well the Board "4" just ignored the entire issue as Maier, Sundquist, Carr, and Martin-Morris don't give a rip about evidence.

$800,000 NTN contract approved twice with these four and only these votes voting "for" approval.

Charlie Mas said...

Holy Cow! It's a freakin' weapons cache of smoking guns!

- Ha! I knew that $3,800 wasn't the total cost of that event. The retirement party was a private affair at a cost of $100 a plate with live music! Talk about extravagent! While laying off teachers!

- They passed out $100 certificates to Palisades?!? How is that not a gift of public property to a private person - specifically prohibited by the Washington State constitution?

- Silas Potter got the District to pay the rent on the office for his private business?!? Again, a gift of public property to a private person. Hello? Is there anyone in charge around here?

- The non-chalant response to the news that the District will have to transfer $1.8 million from the operating fund to the capital fund is astonishing. It is just one more example of how the District has no trouble at all coming up with six- or seven-figure amounts for pet projects or to protect themselves from scrutiny, but cries poverty for anything for schools.

gavroche said...

"Let Them Eat High-Stakes Tests!!"
--Maria Antoinette-Goodloe-Johnson

Clearly what needs to be "transformed" in SPS is the John Stanford Center itself. We need to flush it out, rid it of corruption, create an Ethics & Oversight Committee that has parents as members, and maybe even run the district ourselves!

The Broad Foundation (yep, ever-relevant to the discussion!) and now Bill Gates like to talk about school districts' being "ripe" for their brand of ed reform intervention. (Nice, hey?)

Well SPS is "ripe" for a parental takeover. So ripe, in fact, it is rotting from the head down and stinks.

Note that I said "parental" -- not "mayoral." The latter is part of the Broad/Gates plan for circumventing democratically elected school boards, which they find a nuisance and harder to control or collude with than a single, fellow-billionaire mayor like, say, Michael Bloomberg, to choose an entirely random example.

I am not kidding. As the state auditor has found year after year, SPS is corrupt, flouting the law, and there is no accountability.

At the core of this is the unconscionable truth that our kids are being shortchanged by this incessant District malfeasance.

So let's see, our kids had their schools closed, communities torn apart, hot meals and transportation canceled, teachers RIFed, and were jammed into overcrowded classrooms -- all in the name of fiscal crisis -- while Maria and pals wined and dined on the public dime.


Sahila said...

And then there's the fact that the district's maintenance crew (sorry guys, cant remember your designation), who came to the board meeting last night to complain that 16 of their 35(?) members were being RIFed in the name of budgetary constraints, actually completed work in the district that had been costed out to private contractors for more than a million dollars, for around 10% of that cost!

And they're getting rid of these guys only to claim later on that these jobs have to be contracted out cos they dont have the staff to do them inhouse???

Anonymous said...

What makes me so sad is that the resource teacher at my school told me that she gets only $25-$35 (I forget exactly) per student she sees for any tools to help them. Many of the items that these students could use cost more than that. Only $35 a year for a student who needs additional help, yet these people got a $100 per person for a party. I can only imagine how an extra $10 per student, much less $100, could help in just this one case. Just think of all of the schools that can't get something they need because they don't have a few hundred extra dollars in the budget. Very frustrating!

Meg said...

I should clarify, because I am in NO WAY suggesting that Mr. Bernatek conspired to mislead on the NWEA stuff. AT ALL. Could the Superintendent have put subtle or explicit pressure on Mr. Bernatek or the consultant he worked with? I think it's possible, but I have not a shred of evidence of it. I'm guessing. I used to be a consultant. Keeping your client happy (and your client's boss) is good business, if you want good word of mouth and repeat business.

MAP was used in the Charleston schools. Nothing would have smelled (very) off if the Superintendent had right away said to the school board at the time a consultant was hired "My previous district used this product and I liked it. I am now on the board of the company and have been since August 2008."

Awareness would have been raised before the consultant made any recommendation, and the board would have been able to decide for themselves whether the recommendation was biased. Given this board, at least 4 of them would have been totally cool with it. So... can anyone really say the result would be different if the Superintendent had disclosed immediately? No. And there's plenty of debate on whether MAP is great, terrible or somewhere in between.

What I don't understand is this: since the board's the Supe's poodle, why didn't she just go ahead and disclose, since they would have been okay with it?

I wouldn't take the non-disclosure as smoking gun evidence of gross misconduct. But it does, with the many, many other examples, paint a worrying picture of a district leader who appears to think that rules are made for everyone elseto follow.

p.s. The consultant was Jessica de Barros

Charlie Mas said...

Regarding the superintendent's disclosure:

The superintendent's disclosure document failed to note that she sits on the Board of the Alliance for Education. That's an odd ommission, isn't it?

There were no consequences for this failure to disclose either.

ARB said...

(sorry for typos, I'm writing on my phone...) I live near RBHS. I was driving by the school with a friend and remarked, it is a shame that the school doesn't seem very good... it is so close to home, but I don't know if I'd send our kids (both in preschool) there. My friend, who graduated from Renton HS in the mid 80s said, yeah, I know what you mean, many S Seattle kids took the bus to my school.

This reinforced that our school system has failed to most vulnerable in Seattle for generations despite a consistent rise in federal funding for low income students over past Dem and Rep administrations. I don't know how to fix things, but My impression of the contract negotiations is that the district wants to change (maybe in bad ways, I admit) and the union wants the status quo. Is love to hear what the union's proactive proposals are because things may be able to continue as they are for schools like Roosevelt, etc., but not for the places that need to change.

I am sharing today's NY Times op-ed:


Montessori in SPS said...

I am encouraged by parents who raise their voices to remind leaders that we are deeply concerned.

…About the expensive retirement party…Is this a predicament that reflects an old saying from Depression times, ”Rob Peter to pay Paul”?

When our Seattle Schools eliminated the last CTE Child Development Lab program in Seattle that was devoted to strengthening understanding about human growth and development, they removed an authentic context where high school students could engage in the life of a real working community on their own campus during class time

Along with other Career and Technical Education CTE 'hands- on' classes and the outstanding academies at Ballard High where high school students build robots, sail on Puget Sound, or create outstanding award winning videos, the Child Development Laboratory model contributed unique opportunities for student learning. Family and Consumer Sciences high school students researched information about developmental learning theory and broadened their understanding about psychology and stages of brain development. They recognized the value of practicing child guidance skills in a place where they could exercise their growing abilities in compassionate communication.

Seattle Public Schools provided a rent- free designated childcare space available to a non-profit charitable organization so that a community partnership could thrive. The Lab School Program was self- sustained. The tuition from parents of children who enrolled in the licensed early education program paid the Montessori teachers, raised funds for self- help improvements, and covered materials and operating expenses.

Both Learning Partners were dedicated to the mission of CTE to prepare High School Students for jobs and careers. Outside grants and donations helped support this educational partnership making community outreach possible. Additional support came from the Seattle Foundation, King County, Humanities Washington, the Puget Sound Network for Compassionate Communication, The Pacific Northwest Montessori Association, Child Care Resources ,Microsoft and the Ballard High School PTSA.

Seattle Public Schools is taking a new direction. Space issues are causing the removal of a licensed childcare resource that was especially designed and created for little children and high school students as a learning lab.( Caring parents in a family crisis would plan to work vigorously to find a more equitable solution for all their children. )

Our model may seem small compared to the countless crises that the Superintendent must face as a leader. Each program needs careful consideration.

As parents and teachers who want all children to be ready for life, we appreciate thoughtful decisions aligned with equitable responsible support that keeps successful programs operating.