Disqus

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Over the Line?

By now, I think that we are all aware of the rules around conflicts of interest for school district officials. There are other prohibited activities as well.

A question has arisen about whether Dr. Goodloe-Johnson encouraged other education folks, in this case the Council of Great City Schools, to use the MAP test as a measure of academic achievement in a study they were commissioned to do by the Gates Foundation. Did she try to sell MAP to CGCS on behalf of NWEA? There's no problem with that in general, but she shouldn't use her Seattle Public Schools email account to do it. More deeply concerning, some folks think her email contained a hint of quid pro quo in which CGCS would use NWEA's MAP for their study and Seattle Public Schools would, reciprocally, use CGCS to do the Alternative Education Review.

There is also a lot of reason to dismiss those concerns. Nothing is spelled out that clearly. In fact, the pitch that she made to Mike Casserly at CGCS wasn't much of a pitch at all. But she participated in an email conversation with NWEA people about how to get the CGCS to use MAP for their study and in that conversation she said that she contacted him, implying that she made a pitch to him - although not explicitly claiming to have done so. She represented it as a pitch to them, so it appears that she thought it was a pitch.

This is not exactly a smoking gun, but the barrel is warm.

The concern, the place where she might have stepped over the line, was in her email to Mike Casserly at the CGCS. The questions are:

Was it a pitch for NWEA's MAP?
and
Was there a suggestion of a quid pro quo implicit in her message?

Here is the text of the message, from December 14, 2008:
Hi Mike, I hope all is well. I am curious about the grant from GATES to study the achievement gap. It sounds very exciting. I am curious to know if you have considered using MAP as an assessment tool or if it is even appropriate considering the work you will be doing. Keep up the good work, let me know Seattle can help. Also want to confirm that we need to have an alternative schools audit in the spring. Happy Holidays. See you in January!
I'm in sales, and this is NOT a sales pitch. Nor is it conclusively an offer of quid pro quo.

For me, this is just a reminder that they were going to do the alternative school audit in the spring of 2009, then in the fall of 2009, then in the fall of 2010, and now they aren't going to do it at all and they have never communicated with the public about any part of this changing timetable and they haven't slowed any decisions about alternative schools in the absence of the review.

32 comments:

MAPsucks said...

Why is she even using district resources to do an SPS vendor's business?

"let us know how Seattle can help..."

Sahila said...

well, I've worked in sales and marketing and this is PART OF the pitch... its part of the relationship nurturing and networking that goes on in sales... its how most sales are achieved - the softly softly part that gets you to the nitty gritty of detail and the signed contract...

This is conflict of interest...

seattle citizen said...

I wonder how the Council of Great City Schools would use MAP? They are a nationwide organization. Their board consists of the superintendents of many big city districts, and also a board member from each of the cities.
The Superintendent is on the board of CGCS, as is Director DeBell.

Is the Gates grant just for testing Seattle (with MAP, apparently)? If so, how would that work?

Would they either a) buy the program, run computer labs and somehow get students onto MAP? Lease labs from the district? Hire, oh, I don't know, some unemployed datatechs from around the sound...and on the eastside...

Maybe they have a new MAP version that can be run on any computer: They can send the MAP test on surveymonkey. Those should be interesting results.

Or b) would they merely use the district's data? Would the district, in effect, "sell" the data to CGCS?

If they used the district's data, does each student get a royalty?

MAPsucks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ParentofThree said...

Did SPS have MAPs at the time of this email? If so, then it could be viewed as, "we have it, love it and recommend it."

If it was pre-MAPs in SPS, then MGJ was peddling the wares on behalf of NWEA and dangling the audit carrot.


My guess is that again, she walked up to the line, but did not cross it. And anyway, if she did cross any lines, she would say she did not and that is that...

Curious George said...

I have some questions.

(I think the Superintendent should just be fired because she is incompetent. I don't need any "smoking guns.")

First, what interests are in conflict?

Second, what is the applicable RCW, WAC or school board policy that this email violates?

Charlie seems to be suggesting that the violation is in using the district's email account to make the pitch or solicitation. Sahila seems to be suggesting that the pitch itself is a conflict of interest, regardless of the means of the solicitation.

Charlie would have no problem if she used a gmail account from a personal computer. Sahila has a problem in the solicitation itself.

Have I phrased your conclusions correctly?

If we could look at the applicable legal standard we could then determine which one of you (if either) is correct.

MAPsucks said...

RCW 28A.635.050, that reads, in part:


(1) Except as otherwise provided in chapter 42.23 RCW, it shall be unlawful for...any school district superintendent...to request or receive, directly or indirectly, anything of value for or on account of his or her influence with respect to any act or proceeding of...any school district...when such act or proceeding shall inure to the benefit of those offering or giving the thing of value.

(2) Any willful violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

MAPsucks said...

Good questions, Curious. Recall that, in most every other profession (except politics) the mere appearance of impropriety is damning.

Charlie Mas said...

Curious George reads me right.

I have no problem with the Superintendent using her personal computer and her personal email to promote the NWEA or even solicit business for them. Using her work computer and work email to do it, however, crosses a line.

MAPsucks said...

Charlie, do you think it is okay to hold NWEA Board meetings at JSCEE?

Charlie Mas said...

I think it is fine for the NWEA Board to meet at the JSCEE so long as they have exactly the same opportunity and access to school district space as any other organization.

There are rules for groups that want to use district space. Everyone needs to play by the same rules.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't mean to digress, but my attitude is the same when it comes to military recruiters: I think they should have exactly the same access as recruiters from any other employer or school. The rules should apply equally to everyone and everyone should play by the same rules.

I don't think that military recruiters should be favored by the District, but neither do I think they should be dis-favored.

In the same way, I don't think that the NWEA should be favored by the District, but I don't think they should be dis-favored either.

MAPsucks said...

Like George, I'm curious. I was trying to locate those rules regarding use of SPS buildings by vendors and suppliers for purposes other than SPS business. Can anyone point me to those?

Gut Feeling said...

It just feels wrong.

karyn king said...

Dear MAPsucks,
See Board Policy E54.00
It doesn't seem to prohibit the use of the facility.

MAPsucks said...

Presuming the policy was followed, I wonder if there is evidence of the approval of the Manager of the Property Management Office. And I wonder what the going rate is for use of the Board room? Was this paid?

Given at least the appearance of impropriety (in the opinion of a number of parents), I believe that NWEA's use of JSCEE for a Board Meeting during the time they were marketing and assisting SPS with piloting MAP constitutes a use that would "reflect poorly on the District's reputation in the community" and, therefore, should not have been allowed.

Note that the meeting is three months before MGJ admits to being on the NWEA Board (via press release). I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm thinking if she actually asked the School Board's permission to hold a vendor's Board meeting (that she participated in) in their board room, they probably woulda said, uh no.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's remember that the conflict of interest law provides exemptions if the party discloses their interest in the official minutes and recuses themselves from the discussion and makes no recommendation to those who have the decision.

Let's also remember that the Superintendent never disclosed her affiliation with the Alliance for Education in the meeting minutes, never recused herself from discussion of contracts with the Alliance, and actively recommended these contracts to the Board. The superintendent is pretty clearly guilty of a conflict with the Alliance. If that isn't a knock-out blow then this tap isn't going to take her out.

MAPsucks said...

Well, I think a misdemeanor charge might be more of a nudge or even a shove, not a tap. We'll leave it up to the State Attorney General to decide, I guess.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a funny thing. If a conflict of interest is proven with regard to a contract, state law says that contract is void.

Most of the District's contracts with the Alliance are for grants. The voiding of those contracts will cost the District millions.

seattle citizen said...

I wonder if it's a conflict of interest for one of CGCS's board members, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, to advise them to buy a product produced by a company she also sits on the board of, NWEA.

mirmac1 said...

Dam, if she sits on that board also, she must have disclosed it before awarding sole source contracts for them for all their bird cage lining "peer review" audits. (Of particular value was their Procurement Audit which said SPS did not follow its policy for awarding contracts through an open, transparent and impartial process, tee hee).

So, Secretary of the Seattle School Board MGJ calls CGCS on whose board she sits to solicit interest in the product of a company for which she serves as a board member. Then, she hints her employer might need consulting services in the near future. OOWW! Brain Cramp!

Now, if I could just work in the Alliance and the Broad Foundation, it would be a quintuple whammy! I get it! The conflicts of interest all cancel each other out!

Does anyone really believe she's working for the students and families of SPS?

MAPsucks said...

Just for giggles, I figure I'll include a few more excerpts from MGJ's little howdy.

First, NWEA staffer to CEO:

"I have looked at this for several days now and am at a loss as to how we might become involved - it may be possible, but I don't know how. If they are using NAEP standards as the basis of their work, they most likely have made a decision to use the NAEP assessment for their accountability. If this is so, then it is unlikely we will have much, if any, influence in changing their view of how to measure progress. Further, most people would assume that NAEP is the best measure of NAEP standards.

A few people at Gates seem to like us, but the handful of people I once knew at (CGCS) were largely unaware of us and, more importantly, had close enough ties with USED that they would likely be swayed to avoid us..."

NWEA CEO to Boardd member Joe Wise (who subsequently cc:s MGJ):

"I feel like I'm being a pest these days, but could you take a quick look at this situation? CGSS(sic) has a Gates contract to study achievement gaps, and is using NAEP data rather than considering NWEA. My thought was whether you think Carol Johnson might be persuaded to intervene given that (if I recall correctly) she is leading that council this year. Do you think we would have any shot there, and do you have any ideas on how we might proceed if we do? Thanks, as always for your help."

MGJ (using SPS email account) to Joe Wise and NWEA CEO:

"I...sent Mike Casserly an email yesterday."

Eric B said...

Are the emails and/or a timeline made public anywhere? It's hard to form an opinion based on a paragraph potentially taken out of context.

Also, was MGJ's position on the CGCS Board disclosed in the official record?

Anonymous said...

Pulling Strings for Friends at NWEA

Julian A.

Eric B said...

Thanks Julian. That clears up the issue quite a bit. Note that this was all happening in December 2008, which I believe was before SPS had any direct experience with MAP. As I remember, MAP was piloted sometime in the 2009-10 school year (correct me if I'm wrong). That means that MGJ had no official business with NWEA while wearing her SPS hat, which makes it more clear that this was an NWEA project.

The email to Michael Casserly isn't all that unusual in the business world. I've seen quite a few similar messages, but none by a public official. I agree with Charlie that it should have come from a gmail or NWEA account.

Charlie Mas said...

Oh SNAP!

Another undisclosed board seat!

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson sits on the Board of the Council of Great City Schools, a group that DEFINITELY got contracts from the District without any disclosure of her membership on their Board.

MAPsucks said...

Okay, is that a poke, a shove, or a whack? I guess I'll have to submit another Public Disclosure Request regarding any and all documents that relate to SPS and MGJ and sole-sourcing with CGCS without justification...

Charlie Mas said...

MAPsucks, I would call this a haymaker.

Please see the new post on the blog. I have made an ethics complaint to Mr. Treat. That does not preclude anyone else from making a similar complaint.

MAPsucks said...

Eric B.

Here's the timeline.

1/08 - NWEA executives pay a friendly visit to MGJ, Santorno and our ex-REA guy. In the process she gets invited on the NWEA Board. "Joey" Wise, NWEA Board member emails his buddy MGJ and says the group's just nifty!.

2/08 "Now that it has been a week since we met in the Superintendent's office, I wanted to send you a note... As Matt Chapman, (our) CEO, mentioned, NWEA is dedicated in helping SPS move closer toward its comprehensive assessment vision...I was a privilege meeting you, Maria, and Carla. I look forward to our next conversation" NWEA executive email to Bernatek

Jessice De Barros (SPS' assessment consultant expert!) follows up with NWEA.

3/08 NWEA CEO is just THRILLED at the prospect of MGJ's presence on the board. WooHoo

4/08 De Barros emails Bernatek "I want to follow up with you on the assessment report. I'd be really interested in your reactions and whether it meets your needs, and specifically, wanted to know if I could help you by drawing specific conclusions and recommendations. As I mentioned on the phone the other day, I ended up taking the "findings" out because I wasn't sure whether you wanted this document to make recommendations or not.... I was also wondering if you could let me know when my interview will be with the Superintendent for Broad (guess she was angling for an SPS job. I'm sure this wouldn't affect her expert opinion or anything)

Bernatek's reply "Can you meet with (us) to talk about the MAP pilot? I know we need to talk about the assessment report but I also need to get this MAP pilot moving."

cont.

MAPsucks said...

cont.

4/08 Well, whadya know! MGJ just hears about the MAP pilot from a middle school principal and says "Golly Brad guess what! I've been asked to be on the NWEA Board" Bernatek acts genuinely surprised...

6/08 SPS begins planning and training for pilot.

10/08 SPS uses State grant for purchase of other assessments to pay for MAP pilot. This use of grant monies is not permitted under grant rules.

MAPsucks said...

Oh! one last morsel. Remember that highly vaunted "critical analysis" De Barros supposedly did that as one Board member put it demonstrates NWEA MAP was the only one that met their criteria.

A week before her final report (June 18, 2008) was issued, Bernatek emails her:

"I know we talked about it but I want to make sure that we at least comment on some of the other assessment products in the market as well as neighboring districts."

Y'see, MAP was a foregone conclusion. De Barros' report was window dressing and mediocre at best. They didn't seriously consider any other assessment tools.

seattle citizen said...

Joe Wise, NWEA Board member in the email thread, is a part of Edison Schools.