Director Martin-Morris on Oversight

This transcript comes from the November 17, 2010 Board Meeting. You can watch it for yourself here. Go to 15:50.

The discussion is over the annual approval of schools. Essentially, the Board vote is to confirm to the state that there is a Continuous School Improvement Plan for each school. The Board Action Report, dated November 3, 2010, claims that "All CSIPs are also posted online on our district website."

This statement was false at the time it was made. There were at least two CSIPs missing from the web page - one missing a link and one blank report. The missing link and the blank plan were not corrected (to make the statement true) until the afternoon of the Board vote.

Had the Board members tried to perform oversight and confirm the existence of the CSIPs, they would have seen that at least two of them were missing.

Director Carr spoke to say that, because she was unable to confirm the presence of the CSIPs, she would have to vote against the motion.

Then Director Martin-Morris spoke on the oversight role of the Board:
This is actually, I guess, for my fellow Board members. The thing that I want you to understand is what is being done here is that our Chief Academic Officer, who has reviewed and has looked at all of those documents, is saying to us as a Board that she has done her due diligence and has complied with state law. She is certifying to us that she has done what she was supposed to do. Whether we go in and look at all of those or not, shouldn't be germaine to the vote. The vote is really about the certification that we trust and believe in our Chief Academic Officer that this work was done. And that's what she's doing and that's what this vote is about.
Director Martin-Morris is saying that the Board not only does not have a duty to confirm the statements made by staff, but actually has no business confirming the statements made by staff. He is denying all responsibility of oversight and means to school his colleagues on their role. His little talk was to warn them off of trying to do any oversight or seeking independent confirmation of staff statements.

Of course, what was so ironic about all of this was the fact that Director Martin-Morris was saying that the other Board members should just trust Dr. Enfield without verifying her statement and his example was a statement that proved false. That didn't slow him down one bit. On the contrary, it made his point ever sharper. He seemed to be saying that this was a prime example of why the Board shouldn't try to verify staff's claims - because they may prove false. Proof is the opposite of faith and he believes that the Board should have faith, not proof.


curious said…
That was shocking to me. More shocking that the TFA vote, which I was sure about (the outcome, I mean). Him comments about the Board's role just blew me away-- that is more of a signal than anything that we are in big trouble and that they are not going to do anything differently.
And for anyone doubting the change in Harium, this is your confirmation.

Dr. Enfield did NOT do due diligence because the information that she okayed was wrong (per Charlie).

I would disagree with Harium; a dutiful Board Director would go in and look at the reports for each of the schools in their district. If it's important to the state, it should be important to the directors. Are these less important than the new school reports? Is Harium planning to not read those as well?

Something has changed for Harium. Maybe it was too many questions. I thought his blog shut-down was the reaction to that. All I know is that he is not acting as he did when I voted for him and I have to wonder why.
another mom said…
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another mom said…
I agree. Director Martin-Morris has changed. His response to my email about the 17% misrepresentation portrays the situation as a communication problem. Really?

"Thank you for your email. There are some facts that were not communicated effectively by the district and we own that. That being said whether it is 17% or 46%, I am not satisfied is with either and would not have changed our efforts to make improvements."
Sarah said…
Appears Martin Morris does not feel the Superintendent or CAO requires oversight.

Let's look at the 17% figure. Enough said.
Anonymous said…
Harium is smart and focused. That is why I am having a hard time understanding his cart blanche mentality. It is hard when you have a full time job and these board members cannot be analysts to the depth that we expect from paid staff, but, they're not there to say "I believe you because you're YOU" to staff. Have one of the many board advisors told board members that this is how they should define their jobs and demarcate them from the jobs of staff? It's just so confusing. Plus, these reports raise more questions than they answer. Did the scores for students who receive special ed services, for instance, improve in ANY instance? Did schools with the new special ed services model show any improvements? Ours didn't -- the percentages went way down. There are layers and layers of issues with these reports. I would not give cart blanche to the current administration and I do not understand why Harium thinks that is why he was voted in.

Signed, a concerned parent
Stu said…
I would disagree with Harium; a dutiful Board Director would go in and look at the reports for each of the schools in their district. If it's important to the state, it should be important to the directors. Are these less important than the new school reports? Is Harium planning to not read those as well?

Funny thing is that no one was even asking him to read the reports. His due diligence was to make sure that they were there . . . he didn't even do that!

Now THAT'S scary,

gavroche said…
Harium is totally abrogating his duties as board member. Why is he even there?
none1111 said…
Something has changed for Harium. Maybe it was too many questions. I thought his blog shut-down was the reaction to that. All I know is that he is not acting as he did when I voted for him and I have to wonder why.

Totally agree. But don't forget, when we voted for Harium it was because in a practical sense he was running unopposed. What I never understood was why he got the big campaign donations when he didn't have a credible opponent. That's always bothered me.

To circle around to the original point, I feel like Harium's about face came around the time Cheryl lost her seat. Which meant that the previous "gang of four" could no longer rule the roost. I realize this sounds conspiracy theory-esque, but it's just too odd. Did someone, or some group, "get to" Harium? Are there political pressures that we mere members of the public don't have inside knowledge?

While we're on the topic of conspiracy theories, I also find it interesting that different directors come up with reasons to question or even occasionally oppose certain district recommendations, but these oppositions merely cycle through the gang and never get support beyond one or maybe two directors. So while some readers here give credit to a director (of the week) for being the occasional voice of concern, they get no brownie points from me. It feels corrupt and orchestrated. And yes, I know how that sounds, I'm just stating what it feels like from the outside without any evidence whatsoever to back it up.
Charlie Mas said…
In the paradigm suggested by none1111, Sherry Carr's vote against the annual approval because she could not confirm the existence of the plans wasn't sincere, but was political theater to create the illusion that she is diligent and independent without actually risking the defeat of the motion.

Yow. That would be Machiavellian.

I know that the data fits the model, but that gives them way too much credit.
seattle said…
Can we really expect volunteer Board Directors who have full time, paid, jobs outside of SPS to have the time to devote to their Director positions? Enough time, that is, to be effective Directors? I don't see how a persons could possibly work full time, devote time to their husband/wife and children, and be a full time Board Director at the same time. Are we asking to much?
Charlie Mas said…
I don't think we are asking for more than the Board members are promising.

If it is too much, then they need to say so and they need to modify their promises to us.

The Board is free to delegate all kinds of work to their staff. They also have the option of delegating work to interns or volunteers. They choose not to do so. That is a conscious choice on their part. Like Director Martin-Morris, they are making a conscious choice not to perform any due diligence, not to verify staff statements, not to seek independent data, not to find their own research, and not to read the source documents.

It's not because they don't have time to do it.

It's not because they don't have the resources to do it.

It's because they don't think that it is their job to do it.

It's because they don't think that they should do it.

And THAT, my friends, is why they are so messed up and why they need to be removed from office as sooon as possible.
dan dempsey said…
"Are we asking too much?"

Since when is asking for integrity asking too much?

Either Sherry Carr did the cherry-picking or someone in Admin did the picking for her on her TfA quotation from the Helig study.

Here we saw a portion of a sentence used by Sherry in justifying her TfA vote, but the study she referenced was filled with the message that "TfA is not appropriate for Seattle".

As for Harium ... how pointless is it to be expecting him to address anything in the Bizarre NTN fiasco. On 2-3-10 he voted to approve without reading the NTN contract (trust issue). On 3-12-2010 the action report was based on forgery...... but no problem for Harium as MGJ and Enfield produced it. (trust issue)

Does Harium buy real estate or used cars from this duo?

He needs to step up and say:
"It does not matter what evidence shows or what the documents contain, I am going to do what central administration tells me and act as their puppet."

The directors' excess verbiage is the current version of Brita Butler-Wall's "We choose to trust our hired professionals". At least Brita wrote that to me "Straight up in one sentence".

Harium should just skip all the rhetoric and do the same.
Seattle, they know going in what this job is (for the most part). It's an elected job and it's a large and messy district. If it's too much, step down. If it's too much, do what Charlie says.

Just don't make up what you should and shouldn't be doing.
seattle said…
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seattle said…
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Charlie Mas said…
seattle asked: "Charlie, what 'staff' are you talking about? I was unaware that the board had any staff, except their secretary."

There are two people who work in the Board office, Ms Dingfield, Executive Assistant to the School Board, and Ms Oakes, Senior Administrative Assistant to the School Board. The Board could assign all sorts of due diligence duties to either of them.

If you think that sort of work is above their pay grade, then the Board could ask either of them to keep a calendar of staff promises. It could contain items such as "Ms de la Fuente said that she would have data on the use of Singapore materials by Friday, May 14".

That, in itself, would be a big assist.

I am not the least bit concerned by the possibility that volunteers might have a bias. You don't think that staff have biases? You think the Board Directors don't have a bias? The staff are free to challenge the volunteers conclusions if they want to. Then we would have a real discussion of the issues based on data. How is that a bad thing?

The real problem is that the Board members don't really have a grasp of the details or the data. Consequently they aren't able to spot anomalies - such as the 17% claim - right away. They don't know enough about how programs work to question reports about the programs or to consider the impacts of changes in the programs.
seattle said…
Melissa I didn't say that they didn't know going in what the job was like. What I said was similar to what Rueven said. How can we expect this type of oversight from a Board that does not have their own demographer, or staff person to fact check? From a board that may or may not have any skills to perform the job they are expected to do? From a board where many directors have to work full time to support their families? From a board where being a director is just part-time commitment for them?

Sure a director can get an intern, but do you really think an intern is going to be effective against MGJ and staff? I don't. They would get eaten alive. No match.

As for delegating work to volunteers, I don't think that would fly either. Volunteers may have their own agendas or be biased. Even correct data can be used to misguided when presented right. Who fact checks the volunteers?

I think we need a full time paid board, that has their own dedicated staff members and advisors (which could certainly be a mix of professionals with credentials that meet the job requirements AND interns/volunteers)

BTW Charlie, what "staff" are you referring to that the board could delegate tasks to? I was unaware that the board had any staff, aside from their secretary.
CCM said…
I did hear back from both Director Smith-Blum and Director Patu when I emailed the board about the 17% misrepresentation (lie).

The fact that they have only been on the board a year and maybe aren't quite as "tired" or "tainted" as the others did cross my mind. At least they seem to be doing more due diligence than the others.

If Harium really believes that no oversight is needed of district staff - what exactly does he think is his job description?

Give blind-faith "yes" votes when asked because of course everyone who works for the district is doing their job wonderfully?

What a waste.
Sahila said…
You all appear to forget that nice little memorandum the Directors all signed, giving away their power to the superintendent, promising they wouldnt interfere with her agenda....

You forget about the Broad-paid for retreats and the jaunts and the regular visits from Broad people to keep them all on track...

None111... for once you and I agree.... you are not being paranoid... much as we would like it to be otherwise, there are puppet masters behind the scenes pulling our Board member strings...

Nothing of what they do makes any sense in any other context...

As Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) said:
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth..."
Jan said…
Sahila: as far as I know, Kay and Betty never signed that horrible little memorandum. Do you think otherwise? If not -- at least we have two directors who may not be Stepford-directors.
Charlie Mas said…
Okay. Let's take a little poll, shall we?

Let's contact the Board members and ask them how they perceived their duty to oversee. Let's remind them of Director Martin-Morris' little admonition and ask them for a response.

Should the Board verify the truth of statements made to them by staff, or should they accept those statements as true on faith - even after they are proven false?

What, exactly, is scope and depth of the Board's duty to oversee and how is that duty exercised?

Can the Board members offer examples of their oversight efforts?

Let's just ask them.
I wrote to all of them about the 17%; KSB replied but not about it.

Again, "move along, nothing to see, wait for it to blow over, it's the holidays, people are busy" - all things they are saying.
seattle said…
"I am not the least bit concerned by the possibility that volunteers might have a bias. You don't think that staff have biases? "

Sure, everyone has their bias. And, sure most of us would LOVE a board volunteer that was, well, like you Charlie.

But how would everyone feel if the volunteer the board selected had a pro reform bias? Or a pro charter bias? Pro privatization bias? What if the volunteer thought the "Seattle Process" was a waste of everyones time and approached his/her duties with that mindset? What if the volunteer thought SPS was running handy dandy just the way it was and approached his/her duties with that mindset? What if the volunteer thought SSS bloggers were an irrational crew of nay sayers and refused to take input from them? What if the volunteer thought MGJ was the next savior?

What if this volunteer presented their data to the board in such a manner as to mislead to make their bias appealing (not lie or cheat, but mislead)?

What if the volunteer was feeding the board relatively the same crappola as MGJ and her staff were? Might make the situation a whole lot worse, huh.

Just things to think about.
Sahila said…
Jan - I dont know if they have/have not signed it... maybe they had to when they took their oath of office...

but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, though Kay shows signs of blowing whichever way the wind does - I was surprised by her TFA vote...
another mom said…
Again, from Harium when I called him on his response to my first email. The lie is not a problem for him, because they have been open about it? Apparently he has not seen Reuven Carlyle's comments. BTW, I specifically mentioned the Board's oversight responsibility. My conversation with Harium is done.

"We will be proceeding by working on our core mission to insure that "every student" gains access to high quality education and is ready for post-secondary work. As I said either way the numbers are not acceptable to me. We were very open at the beginning as to what the 17% represented and stated publicly that this was a very high standard that we were using. When the standard was adjusted it was stated also in public."
dan dempsey said…
Recall Sufficiency Update

Charlie said: "they are so messed up and why they need to be removed from office as soon as possible.

In regard to the Recall filings for Directors elected in 2007 ...... Judge Inveen ruled insufficient on Nov 18. It is now Nov. 29 and no written ruling has been received.

I went to the Supreme Court today and found that to file an appeal of Inveen's recall sufficiency ruling is $280 per director ... and if one wins one is still out $280.

I think perhaps one appeal is in order ... I am thinking Peter Maier.

This is becoming a very expensive retirement hobby. Sorry I do not have $1120 to go for all four.
Charlie Mas said…

The email from Harium to another mom is just chilling.

He wrote "We were very open at the beginning as to what the 17% represented" That is an absolutely false statement.

This is denial to a pathological degree.
Anonymous said…
Attention Harium:

You are not on the Board to be collegial to Staff. But neither do you have to be adversarial.

"Trust but Verify," my friend.

"Trust but Verify".

Charlie Mas said…
Director Martin-Morris' comment, made to his Board colleagues to correct their misconceptions about their role reminded me, strongly, of a similar lecture by Director Chow in which she scolded her Board colleagues for EVER voting "no" on a motion. Director Chow believed that by the time a motion has made it to the Board it has been fully vetted by staff - the real professionals - and should not be second-guessed by the Board - a bunch of dilletantes. After all, who is the Board to question the staff?

Director Martin-Morris has now revealed his agreement with Director Chow's belief.

This belief makes him unfit to serve on the Board.
another mom said…
Charlie -my response was similar to yours but I will add that I thought his words sounded as if he did not care if he is re-elected or he is not running again. Accountability is no longer necessary? Maybe I am being to harsh.
Anonymous said…
Why would anybody be surprised at Martin-Morris? While it was nice that he kept a blog, it demonstrated no proficiency the basics of writing (or reading)English or critical thinking. Evidently he has gotten by in management by good people skills. That may work well in a long term job. But, how good are those skills when you don't know the person you are managing? How good are those skills when your subordinate knows she can "outlive" you? The only thing surprising is that people ever thought he was capable of more. People voted for him because of his "people skills", and now, the got what they voted for.

Another, another parent
Dorothy Neville said…
People voted for HMM because his opponent was a sociopath. Even then, about 30% of the voting electorate either didn't care or wanted the sociopath.
Anonymous said…
So, sociopath vs illiterate - running against each other for a volunteer board position. Again. Why the surprise that we got what we did?

Another, another parent.
seattle said…
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seattle said…
I have to agree with another, another parent. HMM's responses to questions posed to him on his blog were at times frightening to say the least. They reflected that he either couldn't process, or didn't comprehend, even the most basic of questions posed to him. His responses were often completely irrelevant and hard to follow. At other times his answers displayed a complete lack of connection to, or understanding of, what was happening in the district, and even with his own schools. It was bizarre, and at times I was embarrassed for him.

And to think he ran unopposed.

This was all we could muster up for an unpaid, part-time, volunteer school board director.

If he runs, he will not run unopposed. It's a difficult thing to find people to challenge all the incumbents but Harium will have a challenger.
Anonymous said…
Which is more than we can say for the elections of Maier, Sundquist and Carr.

seattle said…
What are you saying Melissa? Might you be running? I don't always agree with you on all issues hook, line, and sinker, but you have more knowledge of this district than anyone I can think of (except for Charlie who has just as much). You are rational, and you are a realist. I'd vote for you in a heartbeat!
The First Arnold. said…
Martin- Morris does not push- back because it is easier to promote Ed. Reform.

Why question the 17% figure when it creates a sense of crisis? Why question the 17% figure when it helps pass a levy that will fund Ed. Reform Initiatives? Why question the 17% figure when it will be used to pass legislation?

Thanks, Martin Morris. As long as Martin-Morris is in office the Ed. Reform light remains green.

Heck- As long as I am at it, might as well throw a few more directors into this category.
seattle citizen said…
Melissa, Charlie, and others on this blog have shown great knowledge of district goings-on, the ability to listen and adjust thought accordingly, and the stamina to stick with the district for lo, these many years.

If any of them run for board, I, for one, will do my best to assist and to mobilize the citizenry. Not much, true, but I'll certainly do waht I can. I'll also open my wallet. Again, not much, and peanuts compared to what Broad and Gates can donate, but I'll do what I can!
I know someone who is going to run (but it's not my place to say who until he/she announces). I am still thinking about running and will make a decision fairly soon.
Charlie Mas said…
I have written to the Board Directors to ask them for their position on the Board's duty to oversee, what that entails, and how they fulfill it.
Dave said…
Please do run, Melissa, and encourage others to run as well. I would also support challengers in the 2011 school board election with contributions and time.

By the way, what exactly is involved in running for the school board in Seattle? Beyond filing the necessary forms, are there former school board members who might be willing to offer advice to prospective school board candidates on how to run a successful campaign? Would that maybe be a good topic for an article on this blog?
none1111 said…
Yow. That would be Machiavellian.

I know that the data fits the model, but that gives them way too much credit.

I'm not really suggesting that they get together over coffee and conspire on who will vote against which issues (although that would make for an interesting book/movie!). But it's not such a stretch to imagine external pressures that might influence directors to stay the course on a sensitive issue if another director or two have already sided against it. Given the power and resources of the people behind the reform movement you just know there are behind-the-scenes influences that we can only guess at.

It doesn't have to be as direct as "Hey Harium, make sure to back us up and your daughter will have a shiny new car when she graduates!", or Steve walking past Luigi in the alley slapping a baseball bat against his palm. If anything, I would think it's more of a constant push by really powerful people, making powerfully persuasive arguments. And perhaps the unwritten promises of money for various programs IF the right agenda is followed.

Again, this is nothing but idle speculation, with absolutely nothing to back it up. Think of it as "light entertainment".
none1111 said…
By the way, what exactly is involved in running for the school board in Seattle?

Apparently, the primary task is raising LOTS of money. It worked wonders in the last election, and it will be hard to fight next year as well. It will take a well organized and highly effective effort, and I think potential opposing candidates should consider banding together with a relatively coherent platform that can be "marketed" efficiently.

But the biggest thing people (voters) should do right now is push hard for legislation that limits campaign contributions for school boards. Call or email your representatives NOW. That would take care of a lot of these shenanigans.

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