Monday, February 28, 2011

A Legislator Pulled into this Mess?

Ah, so the plot thickens.

A reader alerted us to a story in the Seattle PI online about lobbying that Silas Potter did at the State Legislature for more leeway in running business development programs. In the Auditor's work documents, it notes a couple of times that Potter had been told not to go to the Legislature and lobby (but he apparently didn't stop). As well, a former legislator, Velma Veloria, was paid by his office to lobby as well (even though lobbying for the district is strictly limited and must go through Legal and neither person did).

Apparently there was little opposition to the bill (which passed) but:

Larry Stevens of the Mechanical Contractors of Western Washington and National Electrical Contractors Association, testified on March 15, 2007 that he was concerned about a lack of oversight. "There needs to be some parameters around it. This bill...is a little too wide open," he said. "It just throws it open....there are no public works police out there."

Right, nobody but us gadflies.

So perhaps who else seems to need to be questioned in this case? Rep. Sharon Tamiko Santos. According to the story:

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle. Santos told seattlepi.com on Monday that the legislation evolved from discussions she had over many years about how to increase government contract opportunities for minority-owned businesses.

"This particular approach was , in part, drafted upon a model of success that was brought to me by constituents," she said. "They did point to the Seattle Public Schools as a model of success."

Really? And who might those constituents be? And did she check with anyone on the Board or in upper management to see if this program was really "a model of success"?

Astonishingly, in light of what is now happening, she still says:

Santos said she didn't think the law need to be changed in light of the ongoing criminal investigation into the Seattle Public Schools program. She said local governments should have their own, rigid review process for how public monies are spent. "The state shouldn't micromanage. We expect their (sic) to be tight oversight," she said.

And the fact that there wasn't in this case doesn't tell you anything?

In January she pleaded guilty to negligent driving charges stemming from a July DUI arrest.

Help Daniel Bagley Get a New Playground Covering

Daniel Bagley Elementary has entered a contest to try to win $6,000 to re-cover their asphalt playground with a softer surface.

Please vote for Julie Allen (#21 on the list) at this website, Verity Mom. The voting ends at noon this Wednesday, the 2nd, so please do this soon. I note that nearly every entry has a person doing a cartwheel (the theme of the contest) and so this is a unique entry.

Good luck to Brown Hair Rabbit and Daniel Bagley!

How Did This Get Started?

I actually don't have time to get into this in depth but let me explain what I know about how this idea about outreach to small businesses that are minority/woman-owned. (I will try to flesh this out more later or, hopefully, some media-type will do it.)

This started with an idea from former School Board member Mary Bass. It became a policy (but again, I don't have the policy number or date in front of me). What I understood it to be was merely a way to say to those smaller companies, "Here is a staff person you can call with questions. He/She can help guide you through the process." In addition, I think they were probably going to make a small brochure with tips and maybe have a couple of classes a year on doing business with SPS.This work would be part of one person's job in capital.

That's it. No roster of classes, no roster of instructors, no personal service contracts so that prominent people in the community could do outreach. Just a way to broaden the base of vendors and show that SPS was trying to offer business on capital projects to companies big and small.

But it got away from upper management (or not) and morphed into the behemoth that Silas Potter created.

There are great questions like:
  • why did this program have its own website away from SPS?
  • why did the Port of Seattle, Tacoma Public Schools, etc. - why didn't any of these governmental entities ask, "Why would SPS be doing this and not, say, the Chamber of Commerce? Would would SPS give classes on doing work for entities not affiliated with SPS projects?"
  • why, after the program was dissolved, did the district absorb the 3 staff members working on back into Capital? If the program was gone, so were their jobs. Why keep them when we are a district lacking funds?
  • why were some payments to vendors funneled through either the Urban League or other vendors like QuickSource?
I believe this program (actually this policy) was created with the best of intentions and created as something very small. How it got to be what it was is hard to fathom.

Also, Phyllis Fletcher of KUOW did some interesting pieces about some of the community members who got paid for their "work." Here's one that was on the news and here's her segment from today's The Conversation.

She got some great quotes from Eddie Rye, a long-time activist in the African-American community.

Rye: "I tell you what. I almost lived this. I've been working for 40 years and never got paid because I believed in the program and I saw what it was doing for these small businesses. I gave far beyond what I billed for."

Fletcher: "Some people might hear that and think, 'well, just because that's something you have a passion for, does that mean that I have to pay for that?'"

Rye: "No, but I had a contract to do that. You know, it's almost like the vendors are the villains. Everything we did was approved by the Seattle School District."

From The Conversation piece:

Fletcher asked Mr. Rye about the Superintendent saying that Potter's program was too far down the chain of command for her to know about the problems.

Rye: (low chuckle) "Boy oh boy oh boy, that's a doozy there. The school district knew all about it. Maybe the Superintendent didn't know about it, there's a lot of things she don't know about, apparently."

Also, Charles Rolland has declined to talk to the Auditor except through a subpeona but he managed to open his mouth when the Times came calling. He declined to speak with Fletcher.

Also in the Conversation story, Phyllis points out what the Auditor also pointed out. Not only was Silas Potter going to Olympia and doing lobbying but the district paid former legislator, Velma Veloria, to do that as well. The district's legal counsel made it clear that no one had authorization to do this and that lobbying for the district is restricted. She says she was a victim of Silas Potter.

She said the County Prosecutor is investigating and that she wondered if the feds could become involved as the other entities who were sponsors of the program may have used federal funds to do so.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is in South Carolina with her ailing mother. No word on when she will return.

Lawyers help me, wouldn't Mr. Potter have to be charged with something (and arrested in Florida) before he could be extradited? You can extradite someone just to question them, right? Silas is the key (but also the Nderu, the recently forced out Internal Auditor) to unraveling the whole story (if he were to tell the whole truth). It might be interesting what he might say if he knew he could get off if he outed everyone involved.

Who Failed and How

There can be no doubt that Mr. Potter failed in his duty to properly conduct the business of Seattle Public Schools. That's not in dispute.

There is no doubt that Mr. Stephens failed in his duty to properly supervise Mr. Potter. That's not in dispute either.

Mr. Kennedy doesn't acknowledge any wrongdoing. He says that he relied on Mr. Stephens to supervise Mr. Potter and that Mr. Stephens assured him that the supervisory work was being done. Mr. Kennedy had a duty to supervise Mr. Stephens, which he failed to fulfill. It isn't enough to periodically ask people if they are doing their jobs; a supervisor also has to periodically check that the job is done. It's an old rule of management: you can't EXpect what you don't INspect. Mr. Kennedy failed in his duty to supervise because he did not supervise. Asking someone if they are doing their job is not supervision.

In addition, Mr. Kennedy failed to:

1. Take appropriate steps following the Sutor Group report
2. Take appropriate steps following the 2009 audit findings
3. Take appropriate steps when the RSPDP over-spent its budget
4. Take appropriate steps when developing the budget
5. Take appropriate steps when looking for budget cuts
6. Provide the Board and the public with clear financial reports

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson doesn't acknowledge any wrongdoing. She says that the RSBDP was too far down the org chart and too small for her to have detailed knowledge about the program. This isn't the case at all. Mr. Potter was three steps below the superintendent on the org chart (MGJ -> CFOO -> Stephens -> Potter). That's as far as a principal is below her on the org chart (MGJ -> CAO -> Exec Dir -> Prin) and she would not claim that principals are too far down the org chart from her for her to know what they are doing, would she? The program cost the District about $900K a year, which is not too little money for her to consider as evidenced by the items one-tenth that size that appeared on the list of money-saving ideas presented to the Board. Moreover, there are a number of excellent reasons to believe that the superintendent knew about this program and should have known about the problems in it.

1. The Sutor Group report
2. The 2009 audit
3. Her Pillar award that she received from the RSBDP
4. Her video endorsement for the RSBDP that appeared on their web site

Three particular failures were her actions in the wake of the Sutor Group report, her response to the 2009 audit, and her efforts to cut the budget. She had no response to the Sutor Group report. She did, however, respond to the prospect that the report might appear in the press. She treated that as a public relations problem rather than a management problem. It appears that she was perfectly sanguine about the RSBDP so long as it stayed out of the media. The superintendent assured the Board and the public that the findings on the 2009 audit were taken very seriously and were all addressed. We now see that this was not the case - not at all. The superintendent also assured the Board and the public that stringent efforts were made to reduce costs in the face of reduced funding from the state, particularly in the central office, particularly on personal services contracts, and particularly on new hires all at a time that the RSBDP was spending profligate amounts of money, establishing highly questionable personal services contracts, and hiring new employees.

Finally, the School Board utterly failed in a number of ways and instances. The School Board had totally abdicated its responsibility to provide oversight. The School Board failed to follow up on the Sutor Group Report. The School Board failed to follow up on the 2009 audit. The School Board failed to demand a transparent budget. The School Board failed to pay attention to the spending in the central office. The School Board failed to follow up on requested information from the superintendent and the CFOO. More than anything else, the School Board failed in its central duty to be skeptical, to be curious, to be critical, to provide oversight. Instead, the School Board adopted a practice of accepting everything they were told by the staff as true, even when they knew it to be false.

What's the Good Word?

We have to stay positive so I want to hear some good news, big or small, from your corner of the district.

First up, Chief Sealth's boys basketball team is rolling on at the state championships. To that end, a great story on their inspirational coach, Colin Slingsby, from the Times' Steve Kelley. Just like all great coaches, it's not just about what happens on the court. Here's a guy who wants to be a teacher:

When Slingsby began his coaching career at Sealth, he worked the night shift at United Parcel Service, punching the clock from 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. He also went to school, an undergraduate at Washington before getting his master's degree at Seattle University.

"He's a new age, old-school coach. A retro Father Flanagan," assistant coach Greg Kalina said. "A lot of coaches profess to do it, but he walks the walk 10 stories higher than I've ever seen anybody else do it."

Of the 40 players who have stayed in his program since he became the Sealth coach eight years ago, 37 of them have gone to college.

And what role did he play in that as a coach?

Four years ago, as the grades of some of his junior varsity kids were slouching toward failure, Slingsby arranged something he called "Sunday Study Hall." He took a group of ninth-graders, including Tra'von Lane, to Barnes & Noble every Sunday morning and made them read for two hours.

"We never had anybody who cared about us like that," said Sealth senior point guard Lane.

"He would tell us (at the bookstore), 'You've got to do your work. If you have bad grades now, you're going to regret it later when you want to go to college,' " Lane said. "He made us understand how important grades are. He's making us into men."

My personal favorite:

"I really love Sealth," said Slingsby, 29, who lives a half-mile from school. "And the teaching side of it has added to my own personal happiness.

His personal happiness is teaching, motivating, guiding and leading his students. That's a teacher.

(Someone had put in some good news about Cleveland but it was anonymous so it had to be deleted. Please either send me the link or repost it with some name/moniker attached. Thanks!)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

This Week

This is late but if you want to be on speakers list for this week's School Board meeting, call the Board office tomorrow morning starting at 8 a.m. at 252-0040 or e-mail boardagenda@seattleschools.org.

Calendar This Week

Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee - 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.

Executive Session from 4-6 p.m. (not for the public but I'd love to be a fly on the wall)
and (oh no)
Diversity Speaker Series: Dr. Barbara J. Love "Bending the Arc of the Universe; How Young People Change the World - 6-8 p.m. at the Stanford Center

Board Meeting from 6-9 p.m.
I hope the room is full of watchful eyes and ears. I don't think going down there with pitchforks and burning torches will help. I think good signage can send a message.

Another Executive Session - this one is labeled "complaint against public employee" and reading that I can only ask, "Only one"?

As I mentioned there are no community meetings for Saturday the 5th.

Looking down the road, I see on March 9th there is an Executive Session on the Superintendent's Evaluation. Here's hoping they won't even need to have that one.

PI Story on Grace of Mercy

Several readers who are keeping up (bless you, I took time out to go to an Oscars party) pointed out this article in the PI. Remember when I said that reading through the SAO interviews I saw one vendor who seemed the most mysterious? And, that I thought this was the one that Potter could be using to funnel money to various people (including himself)?

Grace of Mercy, the focus of the article, is that vendor. No one at the district who got interviewed seemed to know anything about them (and yet know of other vendors). Silas Potter hand delivered their invoices.

From the article:

TACOMA - A non-descript brown house with a heavy door and a "no solicitors" sign stands at the dead end of a south Tacoma street.

It's rental house owned by David A. Johnson and home to two companies - Grace of Mercy and Allstate Surveillance & Security - that, according to the Washington state Auditor, received $353,000 in Seattle Public Schools money spent for reasons unclear.

Why this is disturbing:

Johnson's security firm -- Allstate Surveillance & Security -- was paid $190,000 for services outside the small business program operated by Potter. The auditors did not examine the legitimacy of that contract or review the small works payments on Potters' watch made outside the small business program.

This is in addition to the $163k that that Grace of Mercy received for the Small Business works.

Here's a link to the Allstate website.

Meanwhile, for Those of Us Who Actually Teach

I know that the most important thing going on right now is all of the day lighting of the incompetent and criminal behavior going on at the John Stanford Center for Education Excellence. Please don't let up on this until every rock has been overturned.

However, Cliff Mass wrote an Op-Ed in the Seattle Times that was published on Friday about the possibility that Washington may adopt the Common Core national standards. This would be a major tragedy for our students, especially in mathematics. Now I freely admit that I do not like the books that I have been saddled with to teach Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, but I do have to say that the new standards are excellent and I see no reason to do anything to them. To adopt the Common Core would be a step backward, as they are not as rigorous as out current standards and are hard to understand.

Please remember as we send the current top administration down the road, the idea is to educate children and prepare them for the future. Please don't let this assault on the state math standards pass by unnoticed.


Board's Investigative Report

Charlie went over what he thought striking from the Board's Investigative report. Here's mine:
  • Another factor that may have contributed to decisions by employees not to take their concerns to the Board was the communication protocol developed in conjunction with the Board and instituted by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. The communication protocol was intended to streamline requests for information between the Board and District employees and was not intended to cut off employees’ access to the Board. Although the policy explicitly encouraged employees to bring concerns relating to activities that were not in the best interest of the District to the attention of management and promised no negative repercussions for doing so, some employees, including the internal auditor, believed the policy prohibited employees from having direct contact with the Board or the Superintendent. (bold mine)
  • We also discovered that the Superintendent plays no active role in the budget
    formation and instead relies on CFOO Kennedy to develop an appropriate budget for the Board’s approval. As she explained, she delegated budgeting responsibilities to CFOO Kennedy and trusted him to manage the process.
  • In Feb. of 2007 (before MGJ and Kennedy came), the Risk Manager had warned Fred Stephens about his concerns verbally including fraud. He had also sent a memo to Gary Ikeda. Based on interviews with the individuals who had knowledge of the Memo, it
    does not appear that anyone investigated or further pursued the fraud concerns or other issues in the Memo.
  • Stephens claimed the issues in the memo indicated "sloppy" work, not fraudulent work. He claimed he verbally reprimanded Potter but Potter's personnel file doesn't reflect that reprimand.
  • Interestingly, Stephens and the SPS legal department were looking into a suspect contract and they hired the Sutor Group to review the RSBDP's SWR contracting practices. But, that scope did not include personal services contracts or looking for "kickbacks" or other fraud. It was Stephens who dictated the scope of the investigation.
  • Apparently MGJ, Kennedy and Stephens met in Jan. 2009 to talk about the Small Works program but no one remembers what was said and there are no notes. Two days later Stephens sends an e-mail to Kennedy with the "finalized" Sutor report. It said, in part, "If I understood you correctly, you and the Supt. didn't want us to hand out the report." I think he means to the Board. But he goes on to worry that the SAO could have it as well.
  • Stephens makes it sound like after the Sutor report that he wanted to get rid of Potter. However, the investigation could not find anyone or any document to back up that claim. Stephens also did not include the Risk Manager's memo in addition to the Sutor report in trying to get rid of Potter. "We note that, regardless of whether Stephens actually proposed Potter's termination, the fact that he recalls doing so illustrates the severity of the Sutor Group findings and should have resulted in additional oversight of Potter by Stephens."
  • I get very upset at pages 10-11 which outline the RSBDP budget. Potter hired 3 FTE to work as "counselors." At least one was a friend and roommate. All had personal relationships to Potter and most of them were unqualified to the point where Potter hired someone to train them to be qualified. He did this during a "hiring freeze." Some of them got absorbed into the Capital projects area after the program shut down. I find this highly objectionable and told the Board so months ago.
  • Potter did not, when creating the vendor roster of contractors, pre-qualify firms or check references.
The Money:

Information provided by SPS5 indicated that the RSBDP budget and expenditures were as
follows in the years 2007 to 2010:

• In 2007, the RSBDP budget was $582,614, and the program spent $657,057. Of
that expenditure, $540,560 was spent on personal service contracts.

• In 2008, the RSBDP budget was $850,871, and the program spent $761,796. Of
that expenditure, $494,555 was spent on personal service contracts.

• In 2009, the RSBDP budget was $984,251, and the program spent $1,082,323. Of
that expenditure, $557,929 was spent on personal service contracts.

• In 2010, the RSBDP budget was $848,451, and the program spent $579,303. Of
that amount, $287,463 was spent on personal service contracts.

You'll note that in 2007 he went over his budget by over $100k. He did it again in 2009. How this get miss or why did people look the other way?

Potter Goes to a Sunny Climate - Tampa, Florida

Good for the Times finding him. (I had my own little research going and found out that he went to high school in two schools in Michigan. He claimed he had attended Columbia and a Michigan university but no degrees listed. He also says on his Facebook page, "To know me is to love me."

Well, the Seattle Times has an extensive review of his tenure at SPS so read it and tell me how much in love you are by the end. Me, not so much.

I said elsewhere that I wondered if Fred Stephens, as head of Facilities, took his eye off the BEX ball as several projects had cost overruns. I mean if he gave Silas Potter free rein, then he probably gave Don Gilmore (then head of BEX projects) free rein. I have asked myself WHY Fred Stephens did this. (One thing I can say slightly in his defense is that a couple of years ago a son was murdered. I know it took a toll on him as it would anyone.)

I do want to pose a couple of questions just for input (or just for the heck of it):
  • should the Board just buy out Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's contract as the easiest, quickest way to exit her? Many in the Times' comment section have said they would be very angry if this happened but I'm trying to be practical here.
  • Or should they fire her (and given the list Charlie regularly prints of the Board policies she has not followed, I think they have cause) and let her take the district to court if she wants to?
  • If the Board takes the second choice and she wins, do you think it is likely she could win more than if they just bought her out?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Financial Scandal Discussion

Danny Westneat of the Times has a column about the financial crisis. In his own dry way, he picks out the issue which is says is not what happened but how district leadership reacted. I kind of agree.

As Goodloe-Johnson told one investigator: It was happening "too far down." So far down she didn't know a thing about it, and therefore isn't responsible.

Oops. Wrong answer.

Kennedy, the CFO, said that even in hindsight, and even though the troubled program with all its red flags was in his department, he wouldn't have done a thing differently.

Really wrong answer.

It's never the wrongdoing that gets you. What matters is how you deal with it.

He breaks it down:

This scandal is also a perfect storm of Seattle school neuroses. It was born of political correctness. Nurtured by lax management. Prolonged by timidity about race.

The program, launched to bring racial equity to construction hiring, was considered "untouchable," employees told investigators. Questioning it, even when it went so off-track it was giving free classes to pet groomers and hairstylists, could get you branded a racist.

He gives a nod to what he thinks should (could) happen:

The other reason this little scandal may cause a big housecleaning is that the School Board — in charge of this circus — was at times kept in the dark.

There's no surer way to anger the bosses than to have them surprised by bad news.

Now on that last point, the School Board has seemed to suffer from an abundant lack of curiosity. There was in fact somebody warning board members about all this. You know those parents who show up at every School Board meeting, who seem half-crazed because nobody listens as they clamor that district management is arrogant, bloated and unaccountable?

Well, they were right. Not always polite, but right. Maybe in the future the School Board might fill this skeptical role. Or be replaced themselves.

He's right about the Board. Why aren't they more skeptical? God knows, staff has given them plenty of reasons.

And ah, the ever-popular loud-mouthed activists (or parents). As I say in my comments to Danny, sorry I forgot to wear my pearls and thank the Board for letting me speak. I am so far past worrying that someone won't like me for what I say. I would think as a writer Danny would get that but maybe it's easier to just write things than have to stand up in public and say them out loud.

Here's part of what I said in my comments:

I don't care about being able to say, "hey, I turned out to be right." I would have liked to be wrong.

I really would have liked for someone in power to listen sooner.

I really would have liked for the educational powers that be in this town like Don Nielsen, the Alliance for Education, Norm Rice and the League of Education Voters to have not been major cheerleaders for the district and all the while ignoring the major warning signs.

Two weeks ago I sent a white paper to the Mayor and City Council. It was called "Approaching Storm: the Coming Crisis in Seattle Public Schools." I knew this was coming, I just didn't know when.

Your move, School Board.

Tug on that Pulled Sweater and Watch Things Unravel

Thank you to Michael H for the heads up on another SAO audit document. This one has all the interviews the SAO did with SSD employees and certain vendors. I'm at page 54 of 264 and it's been jaw-dropping.

I cannot believe the leeway and leverage and access to money and resources that Silas Potter had. It is just not possible for me to believe he did this on his own.


  • He repeatedly claimed to many who worked for him that SSD supported the transfer of the RSBDP from the district to his 501c3.
  • Some of the people who had personal services contract through him come off very badly. Elaine Ko for one:

We asked Elaine if she thought it unusual that a public program would be transitioning to the private sector at the expense of taxpayers. She said it was not unusual at that time. “It was not a questionable thing.”

  • Also an administrator assistant reports that several people prominent in the African-American community had gone to Board meetings to complain that minority companies were not being given enough SSD business via capital projects. After they got personal services contracts, she says they stopped going to Board meeting to complain.
  • Silas also told people who asked questions they should "trust me", "my managers and other district managers are supporting me", "do not question my reasoning", "ultimately it is up to me to make the final decision" or "if you do not support me, you are free to go."
  • There does seem to be one group/person who was used as the place where Silas may have been funneling money for himself. It's interesting because even his staff had no idea who this vendor was. (I'm not disclosing the name right now but you can probably figure it out if you read the documents.)
  • On the list of vendors was a pet care company, cosmetologist, several restaurants and a chiropractor.
  • The two Board members and SSD lawyer who went to King County prosecutors met with Dan Satterberg. So, this has gone pretty much to the top.
  • Kathy Johnson in Facilities had a lot to say about Silas. She was the one who hired him first to do moving coordination. (I believe he had a similar job at Microsoft but left there under a cloud as well.) Facilities staff in capital were aware of one of Silas' employees who got a lot of overtime. It turned out that Fred Stephens asked Silas about this and Silas said he had given this employee his password so she could approve her own overtime. There is no record Fred Stephens did anything about it.
  • The training classes? Always catered.
This might make for a very good multi-part series. There are many players in this sad little situation and frankly, the cold bright light of day needs shine on all faces and in every direction.

It's just pathetic and ridiculous. Onto page 55.

Providence, RI's Answer To Financial Woes: Fire ALL the Teachers

Hard to believe but here it is (from the Providence Journal):

The school district plans to send out dismissal notices to every one of its 1,926 teachers, an unprecedented move that has union leaders up in arms.

In a letter sent to all teachers Tuesday, Supt. Tom Brady wrote that the Providence School Board on Thursday will vote on a resolution to dismiss every teacher, effective the last day of school.

In an e-mail sent to all teachers and School Department staff, Brady said, “We are forced to take this precautionary action by the March 1 deadline given the dire budget outline for the 2011-2012 school year in which we are projecting a near $40 million deficit for the district,” Brady wrote. “Since the full extent of the potential cuts to the school budget have yet to be determined, issuing a dismissal letter to all teachers was necessary to give the mayor, the School Board and the district maximum flexibility to consider every cost savings option, including reductions in staff.” State law requires that teachers be notified about potential changes to their employment status by March 1.

They explain they aren't dismissing all of them but want the flexibility to let go who they want to exit.

Union response:

This is beyond insane,” Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith said Tuesday night. “Let’s create the most chaos and the highest level of anxiety in a district where teachers are already under unbelievable stress. Now I know how the United States State Department felt on Dec. 7 , 1941.” That was the day the Japanese government bombed Pearl Harbor.

The union also believe the Mayor of Providence, Angel Taveras, is behind the idea. The Mayor says it provides "maximum flexibility" and, from the story in the LA Times:

Taveras said in a statement that although he was sensitive to the uncertainty and anxiety that many teachers felt when they received the layoff notices, "putting Providence back on solid financial footing will require shared sacrifice across our community."

Okay, Mr. Mayor, what are you sacrificing? What is the district's administration sacrificing?

Why is it all about teachers?

What the Alliance Has to Say

Do not read this if you are drinking something as you might do a spit take. Not one word about the Superintendent (not sure if that is good or bad).

From the Alliance's website:

Seattle – February 23, 2011 – The Board of Directors of the Alliance for Education has released the following statement concerning today’s Washington State Auditor’s report:

“The findings released today by the State Auditor’s Office are deeply disturbing. The alleged actions of a small group of mid-level school district employees and their associates represent an egregious breach of public trust.

As an independent non-profit supporting all students in Seattle Public Schools, we take seriously our role as a steward of private dollars augmenting the District’s resources. We are reviewing the District’s response to the investigative report and are evaluating the set of corrective actions management has indicated it has taken or will take to address the underlying issues. Finally, we are considering what actions we may take to support greater third-party financial oversight and accountability at the district.

Let it be noted that this episode should in no way negate or tarnish the truly heroic efforts of the teachers, principals and other dedicated staff throughout the system who work each and every day on behalf of students.

Through what is sure to be an intense public conversation in the wake of these developments, we call upon all Seattleites to stay focused on our children. Our collective obligation to the 47,000 students in Seattle Public Schools is profound. Each and every one of them deserves no less than our full attention and support.”

Mid-Level school employees? I'm thinking they didn't bother to read the Board's report. The line goes:

Silas Potter>Fred Stephens>Don Kennedy>MGJ

Fred Stephens was not mid-level.

"Finally, we are considering what actions we may take to support greater third-party financial oversight and accountability at the district."

What does that mean? I have no idea. Are they talking about the funding they give the district? Are they saying they should be looking at the books?

Capacity Management Updates

Part of the last Operations Committee meeting was devoted to Capacity Planning and Management and there were several documents released. They finally made it to the SPS website (thanks to readers who pointed that out - I lost track in all the financial crisis tangle).

They are:
Unfortunately, there is one missing document which is the 2010 Enrollment Headcount and Projections by School. It has some data not in the Enrollment Projections document that is interesting. I'll try to get this one as well.

The Enrollment Projections is a series of 30 charts (have fun, kids!) projecting enrollment to 2015. The big number here is that they are saying:

Based on the adjusted projections, the 2015 moderate projected enrollment is 53,969 students. That is a difference of 9200 students.

Let that sink in. Can our district handle 9k plus students? (Of course with the current debacle, that number may be lower.) The biggest growth will be in K-5 which means that it will then flow up to middle and high school after 2015.

The growth seems to be mostly spread out but the biggest jumps will be in the Eckstein and Washington service areas. All the high schools show growth but Chief Sealth and Ingraham. Roosevelt is showed rising quite steadily from 1562 in 2010-11 to 1828 in 2015-16. (Reminder: this is NOT the number at the school or the school's functional capacity; it is the number of students they project living in that area.)

Page 3 of Capacity Management Annual Report discusses functional capacity. I urge you to make a copy of this and keep it handy as the district seems to make this a moving target. This has got to get nailed down. They say on page 7:

District staff has received feedback that there may be some inconsistencies in how the model represents space utilization. Enrollment Planning and Facilities Planning staff is current refresing the model by revisitng the Academic Assurances roll out plan with each Program Manager (Special Educaiton, Bilingual, ALO, and other academic enhancements, programs or services). In addition staff is meeting with principals and walking buildings to update space utilization assumptions. It is anticipated this work will be completed later in the spring of 2011.

That page also has the class size chart. It looks like kindergarten has risen since 2008 when the projected size was 24-23. For 2011, the preliminary number is 25/23.

For grades 2-3 for 2011, it's 25/24.
For grade 4, it's 25/26.
For grade 5, it's 25-28.
For 6-12, it's 30/30.

I don't know why they break out grades 4 and 5 separately and lump 6-12 all together.

Another big line to note:

Portables: For the purpose of this calculation, we are including the on-site portables in a school's capacity.

Pages 3-5 also discuss above capacity and below capacity schools and whether it is a short or long-term impacts.

Severely under capacity schools include:

Short Term
South Shore K-8, Jane Addams 6-8, Sand Point, McDonald, Queen Anne,

Long Term
AS#1 K-8, Madrona K-8, Aki Kurose, McClure, Ingraham, RBHS, Cleveland

While I get the short-term issues for the newly opened schools, I am puzzled by South Shore. It is fully K-8 (and has been for a couple of years), gets extra money pumped into it and has a brand new building. Why aren't people filling this building?

No schools are listed as severely overcapacity.

"Watch List Candidates" - schools either 110% or above of functional capacity or 80% and below of functional capacity.

West Seattle Elementary (113%), BF Day (79%), John Stanford Int'l (114%), Gatewood (116%),Hawthorne (76%), Kimball (114%), Gatzert (78%), Lowell (111%), Stevens (111%), Salmon Bay 6-8 (80%), Mercer (78%).

The reasoning for all of these is given as "service area increase."

This is a little confusing as there are schools with lower undercapacity like South Shore, AS#1 (K-5), Jane Addams 6-8.

This work is behind as they pushed it off from Board Work Sessions for budget work. The next workshop on Capacity Management is March 16th.

They will have "criteria for opening, closing, repurposing" by April.

Staff is trying to create a series of documents on a predictable timetable for capacity management.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Math For All

This from Wallyhood blog:

The Math Salon is an opportunity for everyone – children, adults, families, teachers – to come together and play with math. We’ll have different mathematical games, puzzles, books, and inspirations available.

The next math salon is February 28 from 4pm-6pm at Mosaic Coffeehouse in Wallingford. The event is free. Sponsored by Math for Love: http://mathforlove.com/

This is sponsored by two teachers (Dan Finkel and Katherine Cook) from Math 4 Love which puts on these free salons along with providing services like math tutoring.

How About Those Ballard Students?

Some good news; a great story about space shuttle Discovery and astronomy students at Ballard High School. This from KING-5 tv. They have an experiment with gorwing e-coli cells in space. Congrats to teacher Eric Muhs.

I have tried to say this over and over the last couple of days. We have good things happening in our schools. Please Seattle, don't give up on our schools and our students because of the selfish, unprofessional actions of some of those in leadership.

Best Coverage So Far

I recommend KING-5 tv for coverage of the financial crisis. I was on KIRO-tv briefly but KING 5 has a very good story with a timeline including the fact that the Superintendent minimized the Sutor report to the Board. If the Board had realized how strongly that report had been worded, they might have investigated sooner. (That said, couldn't one of them, out of curiosity, checked it out?) Steve Sundquist said:

"It obviously was a missed opportunity for the Superintendent to share with us the full gravity of the situation," said Sundquist.

I have to say the number of comments after all these new stories slamming the Board is really interesting. It seems like many people feel they should be accountable as well.

One woman on KIRO-tv said the Superintendent isn't God and can't be everywhere at once. I just wish that before people either condemn OR defend people that they get the full story. It's easy to say that she can't know every single thing that happens - that's true - but this is far deeper than an issue like that.

From the West Seattle Blog

The West Seattle blog reports the installation of a new double portable at Lafayette Elementary. I didn't know that besides Lafayette, both Gatewood and Schmitz Park will also be getting portables.

I think the district believes this overcrowding will ease up in the next 3-4 years but I can see where parents caught in the thick of it are probably not happy.

Also, this from the West Seattle blog in one of their forums about the current crisis:


It's getting harder and harder to defend our School Board and District administrators.

Apparently the "Save Seattle Schools" crew have been right about the District's lax accounting and oversight, though I must say I don't care for the way they've presented some of their arguments.

I wish I could talk to this person. Tell me the better way. Honestly, I think I have tried every way I know how to relay this information or make an argument. When Charlie and I get testy or blunt, please keep in mind this has been years of talking, pleading, explaining.

There is no pleasure in say "hey, we got it right." I just wish someone with power had listened sooner.

Seattle Times Calls for Goodloe-Johnson's Resignation


Here's a link.

Please Do This Soon

Please send an e-mail as soon as you can with what you think the Board should be doing.

I can tell you what I think but really, you have to decide what you think is best and LET THEM KNOW. They are going to make a decision this weekend and probably announce on Monday (unless MGJ's lawyer ties them up in knots).

I believe the Superintendent and Don Kennedy should be let go for cause.

I believe that Phil Brockman is the most honorable and believable person to be interim Superintendent.

I believe the Board should careful examine the role of legal counsel, Ron English, in this episode and whether he did do, as an officer of the court, all he should have done.

School Board Considers Firing Superintendent (You Think?)

I feel like today I have to live on the Seattle Times' website. Here's yet another story about the Board and what they are considering. Appearing before the Times' editorial board today, the Board said this:

Seattle School Board President Steve Sundquist said Friday the board is considering firing Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson or buying out her contract in light of a report's findings that she didn't do more to stop misuse of public money in a district contracting program.

He didn't answer questions about any negotiations with the Superintendent except that she has a lawyer. He said, "All options are on the table."

Boy, I hope not. It will stink to high heaven to have to give her any money to leave (although I'll bet it's in her contract).

Hey, and DeBell calls what's happening downtown "a culture problem."

Let's go to the Moss-Adams report, shall we?

If you don't change the culture of a bureaucracy, you change nothing.

I said that on KUOW this morning and I believe it (especially after this debacle).

Links to Everything You Might Want to Read

The School Board page has links to the following:

SAO report (16 pages)

School Board President/General Counsel response

Independent Investigation Report (this is from the lawyer, Patty Eakes - I haven't read it yet)

Exhibits to Independent Investigation Report (197 pages of exhibits - haven't read yet)

Steve Sundquist's Response to the lawyer's Independent Investigation Report

From Steve's response:
In my view, this report demonstrates multiple failures of management oversight and accountability. Systemic failures allowed these absolutely unacceptable activities to persist, and that is not tolerable.

Every day in classrooms across Seattle, teachers and principals are helping students understand what it means to be ethical citizens and to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. The Board will not tolerate unethical conduct, nor will we tolerate a lack of accountability.

It is our responsibility as a Board to carefully consider the hard facts that were laid out in the Auditor’s report as well as the sweeping review of management’s role offered by this independent investigation. Now we need to take decisive action and make meaningful changes to rebuild the public’s confidence and ensure this never happens again.
I give them the weekend to make a decision.

This should be one lively School Board meeting next week. Any bets on if the Superintendent magically has a conference to be at?

New at Noon at the Times - Report to the Board

Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Don Kennedy, the district's chief financial and operations officer, should have done more to ensure that the manager of the district's small-business program wasn't misusing district money, according to the attorney hired to determine who should be held accountable.

This is what the report from the lawyer, Patty Eakes, who the Board hired to investigate the current scandal according to the Times.

She does conclude that MGJ and Kennedy had limited knowledge of the program.

(First, when did she interview the Super? On the phone? Second, every single program is supposed to be in their knowledge base.)

She says:

no evidence that anyone expressed their concerns to MGJ about the program beyond an unfavorable review of the program (somewhat a hilarious statement because really who would go to her? I can't think of anyone who might feel comfortable going to her with the attitude she projects).

MGJ trusted Kennedy to oversee the program and, in turn, he delegated that to Fred Stephens

She says that chain of command led to Kennedy to "missing" the warning signs.

there were no personal services contracts as "hush money" to silence communities about school closures and lack of minority companies working on district projects.

No, I don't think there was hush money but I would allege that Potter was spreading the money around certain communities in order to create relationships that would carry over to his new venture. The circumstances around the payments leads me to wonder if it was a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" mentality being created.

Latest Times Article Uses Some Harsh Language

Update: Checked with the Superintendent's office: she's on vacation.

The Times has another story this morning with the words "financial abuse" in the headline.

It follows with:

Disclosures about the school-district program have put Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's job at risk in what has become the most serious public corruption investigation in years.

The release of the documents — the most comprehensive look yet at the allegations — comes as prosecutors conduct a secret criminal investigation of the financial dealings and the School Board considers whether to force out Goodloe-Johnson, sources familiar with the matter have told The Seattle Times.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag on Thursday called it one of the most egregious cases he has seen in 18 years on the job.

The Board:

The School Board will meet in executive session Tuesday to discuss the audit, as well as a report from its own investigation, done by a private attorney, into what Goodloe-Johnson or other top administrators knew about the problem, or if they should have been aware of it.

That's very fair of the Times to say "they should have been aware of it" about top administrators because I would ask that same question of the Board especially Audit & Finance. No one looked down and said, "Hey, what's this $1M for teaching classes?"

At the center is, of course, Silas Potter. Now I never heard much about him - not on my radar until the last year of so but boy, say his name to almost anyone at headquarters and watch their face. Apparently it is hard to have a poker face about him. From the article:

Investigators have not been able to locate Potter, who some district employees viewed as a "con artist," the documents said.

Potter, 59, operated with virtually free rein for years. And when co-workers — including a district lawyer — questioned Potter's practices, they were told by higher-ups not to worry, or were met — by Potter and others — with threats and accusations of racism, auditors said.

Amid an "atmosphere of fear, intimidation and reprisal," the audit documents say, higher-ups failed to act.

This next part of the article is deeply troubling because it borders on "I was just following orders":

Ron English, an attorney for the district, told auditors he complained to Fred Stephens, Potter's boss, and Gary Ikeda, the district's then-general counsel, about misleading and false numbers Potter gave to the School Board about the small-business program.

Stephens replied, "Yeah, but we need to make the program look good," English told auditors. And Ikeda later told English: "You told your client, that's all you can do."

So Mr. English, despite his doubts, did not go to the Superintendent or the Board, just Gary Ikeda.

The so-called internal auditor:

Even the district's own watchdog, its internal auditor, engaged in what state auditors called a blatant conflict of interest: He was on the payroll of a similar small-business enterprise Potter set up on the side.

So who benefited?

The Urban League, for example, received $595,000 from the school district over four years to help prepare minority contractors for government work — more than any other vendor. Two school employees and a former consultant told auditors that Urban League services "did not benefit" the school district. The problem with many of the Urban League's bills was vagueness.

In a little over a year, the League billed the schools for $297,000. But the invoices consisted of a single page with little detail, auditors said. The League also charged up to $15,000 a month for "general overhead and administration."

Auditors contended the League was using this money to support one of its own departments, the Contractor Development & Competitiveness Center (CDCC).

"In our judgment," auditors wrote, the league billed the school district "excessive amounts in order to fund their own department."

Another person who benefited was former head of CPPS, Charles Rolland. He talked to the Times in an article yesterday but during the auditor's investigation refused to speak to them without a subponea.

DeBell's response:

After he read all the details, School Board Vice President Michael DeBell said his first feeling was shock followed by a deep sense of outrage.

"Honestly, we were almost incredulous," he said. "It just didn't seem that this kind of thing would happen."

But it has happened and things must change in a deep and meaningful way. The whole headquarters needs an overhaul. Bring in Moss-Adams again.

Open Thread Friday

Not a great week for the district but I hope your children enjoyed their break.

The only community meeting this week is with Director Betty Patu at Tully's (4400 Rainier Avenue South/Genesee) from 10 am to noon. It might be interesting to hear her take on the week's events. I have to wonder if the other directors feel a sense of relief not having a meeting this week with community. I note that there are none next weekend either.

Think about sending the Board an e-mail. It's easy to say "off with their heads" and then the Board can sadly smile and shake their heads. Maybe we should work out the best ideas of what we think should happen. I honestly cannot take one more press release "we will create internal controls and have training, blah, blah, blah." Not good enough.

I was talking with Dorothy yesterday and frankly, I think the real search is not for a great overall superintendent. I think we need a national search for a great COO, someone who really knows the ins and outs of operations. That's what's been missing for a long time. That person needs to come in and clean house at headquarters.

That would leave the superintendent to really be the academic leader the district needs. Then we need to have someone who is not busy following national ed reform but is looking at all options and then deciding what will work best for OUR district.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Generation Gap: Are Younger Teachers Really Better?

State Senator Lisa Brown has introduced a bill that the Times labeled, " Older Teachers Would Get Help to Retire Early under Senate Measure." From the article:

Senate Bill 5846 would allow teachers who want to retire before age 65 to get $250 a month over the next three years to help pay for health-insurance coverage until they can qualify for Medicare.

"Looming health-care costs for retiring teachers not only keep the highest paid teachers on the payroll who would otherwise exit the system, they create roadblocks for younger teachers eager to get their start in the classroom," Brown, D-Spokane, said in a statement.

Health care costs for ALL older workers generally go up so why teachers?

Brown said the measure is aimed at teachers within three years of retirement. She expects some, if not all, of the cost would be offset because the teachers leaving would be among the higher paid in the state due to their education and experience.

A full analysis has not been done yet projecting costs and potential savings.

What? Why is she sponsoring a bill that she hasn't done a full analysis on?

Here are some numbers:

Most teachers with at least 16 years of experience earn more than $57,000 a year, according to Brown's office. In comparison, a new teacher with a bachelor's degree starts out at a little over $34,000. Reducing the number of teachers making bigger salaries could lower overall education costs.

Senator Brown's rationale?

Most teachers with at least 16 years of experience earn more than $57,000 a year, according to Brown's office. In comparison, a new teacher with a bachelor's degree starts out at a little over $34,000. Reducing the number of teachers making bigger salaries could lower overall education costs

"The prime motivation is not just fiscal, but to recognize we have teachers who have dedicated decades of service to students and may have some health issues or be in a place where they are ready to move on into retirement and this could give them the opportunity to do that," Brown said in an interview.

"Younger teachers will have a little more space in the system, so it's a win-win from that perspective."

Okay, this might be good for some teachers on the fence about retiring. And yes, younger teachers cost less. But saying older teachers create "roadblocks"? And how old is "old"? Shouldn't legislators have term limits if it's a good idea for teachers?

There are absolutely some older teachers just putting in the time but there are also young teachers who absolutely don't seem to know what they are doing (Michelle Rhee put tape over a couple of kids' mouths in a desperate attempt at classroom management.) A good teacher is a good teacher.

Here's what the comments after the story said:

I really support union rights and senority, but these older teachers really aren't very good. I can't support terminating them because it will upset the unions. Let's pay them off so they will just leave and make room for the better younger teachers.

If old teachers are as worthless as Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Paul Rosier, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators, say they are, why don't we force them to find a new occupation at age 40?

Needless to say, older teachers should view this with skepticism, given the state's proven willingness to break financial promises to teachers.

National Board Certification stipends? Gone.
Voter-approved cost of living raises? Dumped.

Root out all the most experienced teachers just because they cost more and we will essentially root out many of the best teachers because of their experience and have a bunch of inexperienced teachers running every school. Age alone does not make a bad teacher.

One learns to do (anything) by doing! The older, experienced teachers are generally the best. Those who are not performing can be district-evaluated and retired.

No Confidence Petition

There is a petition for a community vote of No Confidence in Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Examine the petition and sign if you agree.

Seattle Times Fights Back

Below is an e-mail from David Boardman of the Times. (I had not written to him; he sent this on his own.)

My take on this issue of whether the Times held this story back - I think it's possible. I say that because of the issues that Charlie has raised, namely, that embedded in the Times' story of the internal auditor's resignation were many possible questions about Silas Potter.

That they were trying to get their facts right is good and admirable but it certainly took them a longer time than I might of thought given their resources. I'm a just one person, a citizen journalist so it is harder for me to press people I call for information. (However, that doesn't stop me from calling. Hey, I just left Fred Stephens a message to give me a ring. I won't hold my breath but it never hurts to ask.)

Here is my take on the issue of a conspiracy at the Times to cover the district and in particular, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Do I think the Times and the Alliance and Stand and the district all sat down in a room and said, "Here's what each of needs to do to move forward what we believe is best for public education in Seattle." No, I don't think that ever happened. I don't think even two of those groups got together in a room and said that.

They didn't need to. Look, the Times (and every newspaper) has a fairly defined POV. When this was a two-newspaper town, you knew what you were getting in the Times and in the PI. I give the Times credit for moderating their tone on some positions. But yes, I think there is a unacknowledged mind-set among those groups about "how things should be". No black helicopters, just that easy sense of being in the same club that controls the admissions door.

People with power tend to think they got there because of some greater sense of reasoning from their knowledge base (or money base). It's the Smartest Guy in the Room syndrome that seems to permeate our public discourse.

Nobody knows everything. Not me, not Charlie, not the Times. No one. We can all talk about serious issues and do it soberly because we are now talking about the very district that 47,000 children depend on for their education. But, no one should take his or herself too seriously. That where you fall into the smartest guy trap.

Was Charlie being sanctimonious to the Times? Maybe. Charlie himself admits that sometimes he just can't stop himself from saying things that maybe he shouldn't say outloud (or in print). But the Times has (and they know it) a greater responsibility to get it right. They have a public responsibility to get news out in a timely manner.

We will see as we go forward what the reporting, from all directions, looks like.

One last thing to Mr. Boardman - I appreciate that you recognize my efforts but at least give this blog the credit for being the first with the start of this story.

Start of e-mails from David Boardman

Dear Ms. Westbrook,

I thought it might be helpful to share with you a note I sent today to an SPS parent who had written to thank us for our coverage of the financial scandal and to share that not everyone buys the criticism of us from a certain "sanctimonious" (her word) contributor to your blog who seems to believe we are part of some vast conspiracy against Seattle public school students (a cohort that included my own kids).

Here it is, and feel free to share it if you like. Thanks much:

Dear Ms. X,

Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful note. I will admit that I have been amazed at and frustrated by some of the commentary accusing us of sitting on the story to fulfill some political agenda. I’m waiting next to hear the sound of the black helicopters overhead.

I can assure you that no such agenda exists as far as our news staff is concerned. It may be difficult to believe in the age of Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann, but the news and editorial functions at The Seattle Times are entirely separate, with a virtual iron curtain between us in terms of what we report and when. It is quite common, in fact, for the findings in a news story to appear counter to a position our editorial page has taken.

We published this story as soon as we felt we had enough facts and verification to do so. Even on her own blog, Ms. Westbrook admitted that she had been trying to “ferret out the whole story” before we broke it.

That all said, I respect the passion and commitment of Ms. Westbrook and others, and we do recognize they bring valuable knowledge and background to this issue. I assure you we will monitor what they are doing as we continue our own dogged pursuit of this story.

Best wishes,

David Boardman

Operations Committee Meeting (Facilities Section)

There was much of interest discussed at last week's Operations Committee meeting. I think the Capacity Management issue will be a bigger item of interest but as I stated previously, I'm still waiting for some documents to be on-line so that I can link to them.

There were three documents related to Facilities (not including the monthly summary which is almost useless). Two were labeled "Annual Report" but I'm not sure anyone would think of them as reports. (One page, both sides? Considering all the work done in a year on facilities, how is that a report?)

The first was was an annual report on "BTA Related Information." It reviewed the work need to be done in seven weeks to get BTA projects done on Queen Anne, Rainier View and Viewlands. (The seven-week period was not specified so I don't know when they are talking about. Summer?)

They point out that there are many unknowns in the work. Now look, I get that some of these buildings are old but they go to this excuse a lot. (In fact, they tried to excuse a huge cost overrun on Cleveland by saying they didn't know there was bedrock under the building. They seriously tried to say there was no way of knowing what kind of soil, rock,etc. was under the building AND didn't bother to look back to the '70s when part of the old building was replaced and they found...bedrock.) But if there are lots of "unknowns", it's a great excuse for needing more money.

They also talk about mechanical issues like HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning). On the one hand, you want to get a competitive bid for systems but in terms of maintenance, buying the same system means it is easier for maintenance to fix because they know the system well. Also, these systems become more complex and harder to understand so using one system in all the schools makes sense.

There is also an issue of the timeline to get Board approval for changes to contracts. I understand that this is a time crunch issue when you are working on a construction project. Maybe the Board could figure out a way to put an express rush on some decisions. But these are public properties and public money so yes, there is going to be oversight done to contracts.

They complain about the time because nearly every, single project is in a rush. Why? Because we use interim sites that constantly have the next project in the line. If one project slows down, we have to rush to get it done so the next school can move into the interim site. (This is not how most districts do renovations. They do it on-site like they do at Hale. Takes longer but if issues come up, you're not rushing and paying overtime.)

The other document was the "Capital Programs Annual Report" on BEX III, BTA II and BTA IIII projects. It was labeled draft which is good because it needs to be fleshed out. It reads more like a levy election document than a serious look at those projects. It also mentions nothing about the recent SAO Construction Management audit.

The most interesting document was the "Report on Backlog of Maintenance and Repair 2006-2010".

Bad news first - the backlog continues to climb and we are now between $535M-554M (depending on how many buildings you choose to include). The increase is due to:
  • 11 more schools surveyed and added to the BMAR (backlog of maintenance and repair)
  • other miscellaneous deficiencies identified and added to BMAR
Good news - the rate of the backlog climb has slowed down

Sort of good news - because of the work done on the reopened schools, the BEX schools and BTA schools, all those schools together are reducing the BMAR (but that is only 69 out of 100 schools)

Double-bad news - we still have a lot of rundown schools

So in considering the BMAR, you can look at the work on BTA projects. For example, in summer 2009, they did work at 21 schools for about $13.2M. But, only $9.2M of that work could be said to be BMAR. They did better in the summer of 2010, spending $24.0M and reducing the BMAR by $21.4M.

When it came to energy efficiency, well, we may see savings over time but we didn't get very far with the BMAR. We spent $43.1M at 50 schools. Of that, the district gets grant money of $13.0M. It only reduced the BMAR by $10.4M.

As for BEX III, well, they did something kind of crafty which was to NOT have surveyed those BEX buildings in the BMAR (except for one). So the BEX III investment is $473M in seven buildings. Of that, the one surveyed reduced the BMAR by $24.8M - the Facilities guy didn't know which building. With a little other work, BEX III reduced the BMAR by $31.0M overall.

So a couple of issues to please keep on your radar.
  • The district is proposing to cut back on maintenance in next year's budget. We have cut back and cut back since the late '70s. We CANNOT BEX or BTA our way out of this backlog. It just keeps coming. When will this matter to the Board?
I told the Board at the public hearing on the Construction Management audit this: it is disrespectful to voters to not maintain these brand-new multi-million dollar buildings. It is wrong to keep putting fixes on truly old buildings. It is wrong to pour so many capital dollars into our worst buildings like Meany.
  • BEX IV is looking like it might just be more of a jockeying for position than ever before. If your school is in a bad way, you might want to continue lobbying for a renovation. They should be able to get more buildings done because (1) they are done with high schools and (2) they are saying they will start using 2-3 blueprints for middle and elementaries to cut costs (finally).
Meany is one of our worst buildings and should be on the BEX IV list. But no, we are going to pour millions of BTA III "fixes" into a rundown building. The City is supposed to put in a health center there for Nova and SBOC and they should...when Meany is rebuilt. But will Meany make the BEX IV list? Nope but we'll continue to pour money into propping it up. Same with Montlake.

I have no idea what might make anyone sit up and take notice but maybe it will take an earthquake. But it is now starting to border on the ridiculous.

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

Those over 45 will recognize the question. We have a number of people to ask about: the superintendent, the COO, Director of Facilities, the Board, and the Seattle Times.

The answers are pretty sad. It turns out that just about all of them knew a whole lot and they knew it a long time ago.

The Superintendent knew about the program, she knew what it cost, and she knew what it did. She is on the record praising it, which means that she reviewed it. She gave Mr. Potter an endorsement for his spin-off non-profit. She was fully informed. It is very likely that she will claim to have known nothing about it. It won't be credible, but even if it were, that would even more damning. The program was identified as a problem in the 2009 budget. Didn't she claim that she follows up closely on these audit exceptions? Is she telling us that she didn't know where the District was spending a million dollars a year? In a capital budget that didn't have money for needed repairs in schools, how could there be a million dollars a year for this project? Isn't prioritizing the spending her job? She needs to go. Everyone accountable - including her. Her immediate resignation would be good; her immediate dismissal would be better.

The COO knew even more about the program. The District claims that 80% of the spending is on teaching and learning, so $1 million a year is a bigger part of the money he's supposed to be watching and prioritizing. He thought it was more important to spend a million on this than on school building repairs. In addition, the problems in the program were specifically mentioned in the 2009 audit. He was supposed to have been watching it closely. He claimed that he was watching it closely on more than one occassion (following the 2009 audit and the 2010 audit). He absolutely needs to go. The internal auditor, in his resignation letter to Mr. Kennedy, wrote "I believe that you are using these claims to hide the fact that you deceived the school board by not letting them know of the early warnings that I have provided." Mr. Nderu claimed that he warned top administrators and the school board that they weren't providing sufficient oversight and that the district was inappropriately using money from its capital levies for a program designed to help small businesses compete for government contracts. Everyone accountable - especially Mr. Kennedy. He should not be allowed the option to resign; he needs to be fired so it appears that way on his work history.

The Board knew about the program and they knew what it cost. Don't they have a responsibility to set spending priorities? The Board has ultimate responsibility around audits. After this program was cited in the 2009 audit the Board should have been following up on it closely, but they don't follow up on anything. They had repeated warnings from the state auditor and their own internal auditor. The four Board members up for election in the fall should all simply choose not to run. That would be the most gracious exit and the one that we should allow them. If they refuse to go quietly, however, their repeated failures to demand any kind of accountability at all, their repeated failure to follow up on any audit exceptions, their poor choices in budget priorities, and their repeated failure to represent the interests of the community should be the centerpiece of their opponents' campaigns.

We have cause to believe that the Seattle Times knew about this at least as early as July when the 2010 audit was released. We know for certain that they knew about it in December when the internal auditor quit/got fired. Melissa was writing about this mess all through the summer, fall and winter and we know that Times staff reads this blog. They knew. When you read the Times story about the internal auditor's resignation it is so full of passive voice and so empty of names that it is an obvious effort to bury the facts. This is from a story dated December 7, 2010:
In letters to Nderu, which Nderu shared with The Times, the district alleges, among other things, that he told a district employee to deposit a $35,000 check into the account of a nonprofit organization, rather than the district's own accounts, where it should have gone. The nonprofit was a new group formed to provide training services that the district once offered.
That's how we can be certain that Linda Shaw knew about this in December. Yet Silas Potter's name never appeared in the paper. The Times didn't write about the program or the mismanagement represented by these failures of oversight - even after the problems were identified by the state auditor. The Times sat on the story.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

District Knew Potter Was a Problem as Far Back as 2009

More updates from the Seattle Times including:

  • The program's former manager, Silas Potter Jr., was stripped of his ability to award small construction contracts in response to the warnings in January of that year. But the district allowed him to continue to award personal-service contracts and approve payments to small businesses that included minority- and women-owned companies, according to a recently completed state audit.

    Despite a reprimand and directives to improve his performance, Potter continued to flaunt rules with little oversight, the audit found.

  • Evidence has emerged that some district employees informed superiors about irregularities with the program but were brushed aside, said a source familiar with the matter.
  • Other employees had concerns but did not raise them because of "fears of reprisal," according to the state audit.

    "We found that many District employees were unaware of the District's whistle-blower and anti-retaliation policies, or did not trust the policies," the audit said.

  • "The reprimand also included an admonishment for testifying and lobbying in Olympia on behalf of the District on two occasions without approval of the District's Government Relations Department," the audit stated. Despite the reprimand, Potter contracted with consultants to meet with state legislators and testify in favor of legislation although he didn't have the authority to do so, according to the audit.
  • In a 2009 story on the consultant's report, the Daily Journal of Commerce in Seattle quoted Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Seattle-King County Building & Construction Trades Council, as saying some construction firms the district used weren't licensed and didn't do background checks on workers, including some who worked near children.

    Newgent also told the newspaper some firms were doing work for which they weren't qualified and predicted criminal indictments "somewhere down the line."

The Board expects to have their own investigation done by Friday (according to some reports).

Financial Scandal Update

More info on the crisis. This from the Seattle PI online:

"We're not passing judgment on vendors," said Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman for the state Auditor's Office. "These are places where the district didn't have systems in place to look at what people are being billed for. Whether people were correctly charging for their time or overcharging, will be up to the district to sort out."

Good reporting over at The Stranger Slog. Reporter Riya Bhattacharjee asked the Auditor's office for a list of vendors who received money from SPS for little work. It's a troubling list. From Riya's piece:

1. The district paid Port of Seattle's former director of social responsibility Elaine Ko, community activist and business leader Eddie Rye (know for spurring King County into changing its logo from a crown to the image of Martin Luther King Jr.), former state legislator Velma Veloria, and former state chair of the Washington State Democratic Party Charles Rolland for meetings with state legislators and testifying on legislation. The audit says that these vendors were unaware that Potter was not authorized to contract with such services.

2. The district paid consultants Rye, Rolland, former executive director of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs Tony Orange, and Ginny Noble to attend weekly meetings at the district's administrative offices. Although these meetings lasted 1.5 hours, the four consultants billed the district two to three hours for these meetings, the audit found.

3. Some vendors charged an hourly rate, yet billed the district for the same amount each month, according to the audit. These vendors "divided the total contract amount into equal segments, regardless of whether services were provided on dates for which they billed": Ralph Ibarra, Contractors Resource Center, and Platinum Group.

4. The district paid Banner Cross $74,780 to develop training materials, but the audit found that most of these materials were copied from other sources.

5. The district paid Banner Cross $7,213 for providing food during classroom trainings to participants who were not district employees, with charges ranging anywhere between $737 to $1,652 per month. The audit says that district records do not "show the public purpose" of providing free meals to the public.

6. The district paid Charles Rolland at least $6,000 to create and maintain a database for the small business program’s apprenticeship program. Although Rolland charged for at least 120 hours to develop the database, district staff said in the audit that it was not functional when they received it. When the auditor's office examined the Washington State Auditor’s Office database, they noticed it only contained a list of student names and other identifying information.

7. The audit says the district paid Tony Orange for attending three-hour meetings up to its entirety, but found that Orange rarely attended the meetings, and when he did, barely stayed for 30 minutes. The audit also said that Orange billed excessively for an apprenticeship program—nearly $60,000—that recruited only 150 people.

8. The district paid community-based non-profit Urban League $25,000 for a software subscription fee for a database designed to match small business owners with general contractors. Urban League told the state auditor's office that this database was not functional and district employees said they never used the database. Additionally, the audit found that Urban League charged the district for indirect costs which sometimes exceeded direct costs by three times.

Congratulations to Roosevelt (and Some Sadness for Garfield)

The Essentially Ellington contest, the premier high school jazz band competition in the country, announced the finalists for the competition today.

Roosevelt made the cut as did Mountlake Terrace High School. Garfield, the first place winner for the last two years, did not make the cut. I'm sure this is a blow to their fine program but I'm sure it will just be a blip and they will come back strong next year.

Good luck, Roosevelt.

Oh, the Fur is Flying

Snappy answers to stupid questions, anyone?

1) Not saying it was timed (really, I'm not) but how is it that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson manages to NEVER be around when things get hot? I saw on the news that she's out of town somewhere. It never fails.

2) I appreciate that we have an Ethics Officer and now a visible whistleblower program but apparently there were people who had doubts, expressed doubts and either got brushed off or left the district. How is the district going to make sure this doesn't happen again?

3) Steve Sundquist, at the Seattle Channel Town Hall, gave the district a grade of "B". I wonder what he would give them now.

4) Who at the Times thought it would be a good idea to challenge Charlie? David Boardman took Charlie on. It went something like this:

Charlie: Just so everyone knows:

The Seattle Times knew all about this and has known all about this for months and months. Maybe they sat on the story so it would not negatively impact the Supplemental Levy vote (and the superintendent). Maybe they are exposing it now to damage the Family and Education Levy (and the mayor).

Boardman: @coolpapa: Your claims are not only untrue, they are absurd. -- David Boardman,
executive editor

I chimed in with: Mr. Boardman, I let Linda Shaw and Lynne Varner know about this issue months ago.

I don't have a hard time believing that the Times would hold back a story to support a levy. Now did they? I don't know.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the editorial board of the Times has to say.

Charlie: It took Mr. Boardman only 26 minutes to disclaim my statement. Amazing. Did he, in that 26 minutes, get any sources? Did he check with Linda Shaw? Did he check with Lynne Varner? Did he check with any other sources? I doubt he had time.

I can produce emails to Seattle Times news and editorial staff that describe this scandal in just as much detail as can be found in this story. These emails are months old.

This scandal - and the Seattle Times' lack of interest in it - was reported months ago on the Seattle Public Schools Community Blog.

As to the conjecture that the Times' political bias influenced the decision of when to run the story, that is, of course, only conjecture and was written as conjecture.

Mr. Boardman's statement, however, is patently false. The claims are true.

Even if they were not true, they would not be absurd. Is the Times so sanctimonious that they consider themselves above suspicion? Is the Times so pure? Of course not. It isn't the least bit absurd to think that the Times' political bias might have an effect on the perspective of the news or its timing.

Mr. Boardman, with this rare, hair-trigger appearance, has shown himself to be both pompous and dim-witted. Funny how often those two go together.

Boardman: @coolpapa: Please send me the material to which you refer: dboardman@seattletimes.com.

Several readers interjected with comments about it taking time to verify facts and things like this:

Honest Abe Lincoln: cool papa

i'm joining mr boardman in calling you out. if you've got evidence, show it. and show it on this thread as well. link to the blog.

post your emails here.....one thing the Times does admirably is allow for lengthy posts. let's see 'em. i find you "even if they were not true..." intro to paragraph 6 to be damning.

let's find out right now who's the liar and who's playing politics.

JoJobber: Coolpapa- I read the blog you refer to and that doesn't have anywhere the amount of detail this report has. Face it - you and your blog buddies didn't uncover any of this.

(I interject here to let this person know that neither Charlie or I have the resources that the State Auditor does. Dorothy Neville had made public disclosure requests and those can take a month to six months. So amount of detail? Sorry for not having all the facts right at hand. There was enough there, though, that someone should have looked harder.)

Great Caesar's Ghost - WOW.....3 posters accusing the Times of sitting on a city corruption issue. Coolpapa, Wetello, and burb.

I think Mr. Boardman needs a meeting with Mr Higgins to make sure the story is consistent.

Charlie posted a long comment which I abbreviate here:
In the meantime you might want to review the reporting done on this matter at www.saveseattleschools.blogspot.com starting in the summer and continuing through today. I suggest using "Potter" or "audit" as search terms.

You might want to consider how the audit findings were reported by the Seattle Times in July. Consider also how the Times reported on Mr. Nderu's resignation in December.

"In letters to Nderu, which Nderu shared with The Times, the district alleges, among other things, that he told a district employee to deposit a $35,000 check into the account of a nonprofit organization, rather than the district's own accounts, where it should have gone. The nonprofit was a new group formed to provide training services that the district once offered."

The Times knew about this. The Times spiked the story. The Times soft-pedalled the whole mess. There's a lot of passive voice used in that paragraph. A lot more than should ever appear in a newspaper. Mr. Potter's name isn't mentioned even once by the Times until this week. Are you going to claim that Mr. Potter was unknown to the Times' reporter? How credible it that?

So - even if the Times didn't spike the story (I have no first-hand knowledge of the editorial decisions made by news editors at the Times), you can see, I'm sure, that the suggestion is far from "absurd" as you sanctimoniously sneered. It is a very credible accusation - far from absurd. You really overstepped with that one. Make sure you have the high moral ground before you try to use it to soak those you think are below you.

Honest Abe Lincoln: ok, Mr Boardman. I've followed cool papa's link.....and now i DO have questions for you. you asked him for evidence.....check out the:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 entry

(which can be found here: http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/search/label/audit?up )

i think cool papa has some ammunition and i'm damned glad he provided it.

my question for YOU Mr. Boardman....what is your response?

and to cool papa? thank you and i really hope you post some of your emails. i get the feeling that the Seattle Times is going to get a little uncomfortable here....