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Monday, February 28, 2011

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.

25 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

I also want to say that Steve Sundquist needs to stop saying he knew nothing until December 2010. He didn't take it seriously until maybe but:

- just as Charlie says about being curious, when the July 2010 audit came out, the program was an issue. No curiosity on the part of the Board about how a small capital program was getting nearly $1M a year in funding? I'd love to know if ANY Board member made an inquiry and gotten shaken off by staff and then gave up.

-I told them at least twice in public testimony after the audit that something was wrong in that program. I also sent them e-mails. It's their call not to listen to me or any other person BUT the info was not coming out of thin air.

So Steve can say all he likes that he knew "nothing" but that's only because he wasn't listening and reading.

cascade said...

I feel like such a broken record but if no one from the west seattle community recruits or runs against Sundquist in the face of his lack of leadership and curiosity over the past four years, then that community and the district as a whole sort of deserves what it gets.

The community needs to wake up and get active even more urgently than the board.

Central Mom said...

KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher just ran a story outlining the touchy issue of the prominent activists and politicians in Seattle's communities of color who apparently profited from Potter's employment.

This is part of the story that I'm sure a lot of journalists are not sure how to address, but KUOW dove in. It will be interesting to see how/if King County Prosecutor's office addresses it.

Lori said...

You know, I still am having trouble getting my head around the fact that anyone in SPS thought this program was a good idea, independent of the fraud and abuse and cronyism!

I am a small-business owner; indeed, it's a woman-owned business! But I can't for the life of me imagine taking classes about Word or Quickbooks for free from the school district. Seriously, WTF? When I need to brush up on a new version of Word, I take a class at a community college or thru one of my professional organizations. As a legitimate small business, I pay for those classes. It's a cost of doing business. What interest of SPS does it serve to have its vendors be more proficient in Word? I am just shaking my head that anyone thought this was a good use of SPS money.

I can see a legitimate need/interest to help small businesses navigate the rules and laws around contracting with SPS and other gov't agencies. So offer a seminar a few times a year on that topic. Heck, charge a nominal fee, because legitimate businesses that want to break into that market will pony up $50 or $100 for the opportunity. But after looking at one of the brochures someone posted over the weekend, I am absolutely appalled at the breadth of classes we the people were paying for.

And as I sit here waiting to hear if my daughter's school is going to start at 945AM next year as proposed, and whether I will have to walk her 1/2 mile in the opposite direction of school to catch her bus at a community stop, which will add to her commute, as will sharing the route with TOPS; that is, of course, if there still are advanced learning programs, because the district is on record saying they will identify no more children for AL if the state cuts $400K from the budget... Well, you can imagine my outrage about what's being asked of our families and our schools in an era where the district thought that paying for Quickbooks classes for potential vendors of dubious quality was a priority.

Perhaps a bit too niave said...

Despite criminal investigation, Sundquist thought it completely ok to approve the district's proposed budget. Did Sundquist try and find ways to cut HQ spending to reduce classroom cuts? No. Just rubber stamp the budget during a criminal investigation.

Go figure.

Observer said...

Follow the money. Is anyone compiling a list of people who received money through the RSBDP and what their outside relationships are, if any, to Potter, Stephens, English, and others in the district office?

Some of these same people were involved with the sale of MLK property to First AME as well, and possibly were involved with cobbling together the $2 million+ state grant to purchase the property on the taxpayer's dime.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to KUOW refered to by Central Mom.



http://kuow.org/program.php?id=22746

Anonymous said...

This story: The Wild Final Days of Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson is more fun.

-skeptical-

peonypower said...

Really if they do not say the sup is accountable and force her out, then I will have lost all faith in the board and will actively, and vehemently work to oust every single one.

Trapped inside said...

The bottom line is that all of these people need to pay back what they received for doing little or nothing. Including Ron English.

If they do, there won't be a necessity for those of us (employees) who had nothing to do with this mess to lose our jobs to pay off their bad debts.

She should refuse her salary for this year like Gil Meche had the class to do this year because he refused to take money for simply going through the motions.

skeptic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bird said...

I have to say when the district has two out of the last three Superintendents forced out for accounting scandals, perhaps we should look for more than just another warm body to fill MGJ's seat.

Maybe we need structural changes.

I'm no fan of mayoral control of school districts, and I wouldn't support that, but is there something else the city could do?

Could the city fund an internal auditor position at SPS with the auditor hired and reporting to the mayor?

It seems like we can't really trust the district to handle their money, or make the necessary changes to become trustworthy.

The district had an internal auditor, but he clearly was worthless -- actually worse than worthless, he was genuinely damaging to the district.

It seems likely Nderu was hired for exactly this use. When you want to play fast and loose with your money you want an auditor that is incompetent or corrupt and Nderu seemed to fit the bill.

It'd be much harder to keep an internal auditor quiet if he owes you nothing.

Could this be a compromise to city control of the schools?

Of course, I'd also like to see the actual itemized budget currently in use in the district published on the website, along with an org chart with the names of employees working in each cost center. It seems crazy the district doesn't publish its budget currently on the website.

Would this be a reasonable matter to formalize in policy?

Of course, if the published budget is all a lie, or if department heads are allowed to spend over their budget, a published budget is of little use, but that's what the city-funded auditor would be for. To keep the district honest.

Anonymous said...

Bird,

I like your idea of an independent auditor that oversees the financial workings of the burgeoning bureaucracy that we refer to as the "district".

Someone on the outside, possibly hired by the city, who checks everything. In that case, I nominate Meg Diaz for that position! Do I hear a second?

Isn't it interesting that GJ felt it necessary to bring her own CFO with her? Has anyone heard of that happening in another district or in any business situation before?

Why bring someone in who doesn't know anything about how things work within that school district and has never had the experience of a relatively large district? Charleston is small potatoes relative to Seattle's complexities.

dan dempsey said...

THE BOARD HAS BEEN FAILING FOR A LONG LONG TIME.

We choose to trust our hired professionals. -- that is the Board's motto.

The Board in fact chooses to ignore relevant data and make up fairy stories to justify their completely unjustifiable voting.

Directors Carr, Sundquist, Maier, and Martin-Morris are stellar examples of this complete failure to intelligently apply relevant data to decision making.

Remember: the oath of November 2007 when the Directors essentially said: We just do Governance and Governance only.

Remember: Sundquist actually questioned whether was was appropriate for the Board to take a role in regard to the HS. Math Adoption.

The rubber stamping board has continually failed.

In regard to the violations of RCW 28A 645.020 each of these four said not my job someone else's job. The law specifically states it is the Board's responsibility to comply with RCW 28A 645.020.

Within twenty days of service of the notice of appeal, the school board, at its expense, or the school official, at such official's expense, shall file the complete transcript of the evidence and the papers and exhibits relating to the decision for which a complaint has been filed. Such filings shall be certified to be correct.

The Board has put in place an environment that facilitates illegal actions. In fact some Directors facilitate illegal actions by their failure to make decisions that are not "arbitrary and capricious".

Consider the forgery committed in the NTN contract Action Report. The Board absolutely failed to report this to the SPD and continues to fail. I will be contacting Sgt. Charles of the SPD "forgery" division. Why do the Directors NOT supervise their one employee?

If you want to KNOW :: Who failed and how? ... start with the Directors. Then move onto Superior Court Judges Inveen and Middaugh.

Guichon said...

I also read in those papers that one of the consultants (I think it was called quickbooks, quick(something))said that even the instructors that taught these classes couldn't prepare a proper invoice. So WTH were they doing teaching classes if they couldn't even create a proper bill?? And, teaching classes at $300 an hour!!?!?

Observer said...

They were receiving kickbacks, Guichion. The next step is to figure out why.

dan dempsey said...

" 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."

This seems to be an accepted practice from earlier Board's. It is long past time for a change.

The Directors coming up for re-election in 2011 are the most serious offenders of accepting what they knew to be false. In fact on several occasions they fabricated fairy-tales to explain their votes in approving MGJ's proposals.

Sandy Blight said...

Great comments every one. Every one is entitled to their opinions and it is noteworthy to see the role that Nderu played in the reporting of the matter to the State Auditor.
The State Auditors told me, off the record, that it was Kathie Technow that reported the $35,000 loss to the state auditor, but the State Auditor ignored it. It took another reporting by Nderu to get the State Auditors attention.
In our search of Nderus records, we noticed that there was an adverse Internal Audit Report that never made it past Mr. Donald Kennedy.
This leaves me to think that Nderu was torn between working for his family and working for the Public. After all, Nderu was paid and supervised by Mr. Kennedy.
Let us wait and see who supervises the next auditor; what might be more interesting is to see whether the board would consider rehiring Nderu.
Wait and see.

Sandy Blight said...

Great comments every one. Every one is entitled to their opinions and it is noteworthy to see the role that Nderu played in the reporting of the matter to the State Auditor.
The State Auditors told me, off the record, that it was Kathie Technow that reported the $35,000 loss to the state auditor, but the State Auditor ignored it. It took another reporting by Nderu to get the State Auditors attention.
In our search of Nderus records, we noticed that there was an adverse Internal Audit Report that never made it past Mr. Donald Kennedy.
This leaves me to think that Nderu was torn between working for his family and working for the Public. After all, Nderu was paid and supervised by Mr. Kennedy.
Let us wait and see who supervises the next auditor; what might be more interesting is to see whether the board would consider rehiring Nderu.
Wait and see.

Dorothy Neville said...

Seattle Times has this email and quoted a wee bit but did not tie it to the superintendent. KUOW has this email and referred to it with a wee bit more context.

Here in its unvarnished glory, is the friendly email exchange between Silas and Maria from May 2010, with respect to this event.

Lori said...

Dorothy! Did you get that from a public records request!? I don't know what to say; I think I'm speechless. He was too far down the org chart, she didn't know what he was up to... ugh!

Dorothy Neville said...

Yup, it was in the public record request. I held onto it for a few days because it seems kinda salacious in a way that I wasn't sure was necessary to share. Then the ST quoted from it and Phyllis Fletcher mentioned it this morning, so I figured you all should see what they were explaining. Don't we teach history students to search for primary source documents?

skeptic said...

So this was after he took the program private, right?

Melissa, it'd be helpful if you'd publish a post that give a timeline of events.

The Seattle Times had that, but I can't find it now.

Maureen said...

Wow, Dorothy! I wonder who the 'consultant' referred to is and if that is important?

ArchStanton said...

Although they might get buried here, I'll drop this wanted poster for the board in an appropriate topic for anyone who wants to take on the gang of five:

Small jpg: http://tinyurl.com/4w5ajvf

Large pdf: http://tinyurl.com/45h5ckl


And this Pottergate wanted poster from an earlier thread:

Small jpg: http://tinyurl.com/4zsvrrd

Large pdf: http://tinyurl.com/4n5gqes