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Monday, March 07, 2011

Union Says Sundquist and Martin-Morris Knew of Issues in 2008

Here's the latest in the Pottergate saga from the Seattle PI. Thanks to connections in SPS I had a heads up on this but had not seen the details. (I know this information was also given to the Times but the PI seems to have beaten them to the first release of the story.) It doesn't look good for yet another couple of Board members, this time Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris. From the PI story:

Two Seattle school board members were warned in late 2008 that a contractor hired by Silas Potter was unlicensed, paying below-market wages and not following safety rules on construction sites at two elementary schools, according to e-mails between the school board and union officials

The contractor, Solar West Office Solutions, was investigated by the state Department of Labor and Industries, which ordered the company to pay $57,000 in back wages. However, the school district wound up footing the bill because Solar West's owner, Keith Battle, could not be located and failed to respond to state officials, according to an L&I spokeswoman.

So that's another $57k the district is out but that doesn't count the money to redo the work that the unlicensed, non-union workers performed. One of the most serious allegations is that background checks were NOT performed on these workers and they did work while children were at the schools (Van Asselt and North Beach).

Here's what the union said they told Martin-Morris and Sundquist back in 2008:

"The board is attempting to act like they didn't know about this until 2010 and that's just not accurate," said Dan Hutzenbiler, an attorney with the Seattle-King County Building and Construction Trades Council, who provided seattlepi.com with copies of e-mails between school board members and union officials.

Union officials contacted board President Steve Sundquist and board member Harium Martin-Morris about possible labor and safety violations due to mismanagement of the school district's small works roster under Potter.

The district ended up paying because Solar West,the company involved, couldn't be found. There should have been a retainage fee held back to cover such issues but the district paid in full.

So Harium and Steve were contacted (and not just verbally but in e-mails). This one incident does not mean that they could have known that the program was mostly a fraud but you would have thought it would raise their interest. Companies ripping off the district is not something that happens all the time.

Peter Maier admitted he had received a copy of the Sutor Group report at an Operations Committee meeting. He said Stephens promised him to watch over Potter and the program. He also said that when he saw a notice in the Superintendent's Friday update about the news article in the Daily Journal of Commerce about the Sutor report that:

That left me with the understanding that she was aware of the problems and would see to it that they were fixed," he said. "I now know that we were deceived."

C'mon guys! No follow-up or follow-thru? You'll note Peter didn't say he followed-up when he saw that notice - he just assumed the oversight was happening. This is pretty much what happened with Olchefske - we had a Board (with one exception who believed everything they were told).

In the end, I hope the Board gets this message about trust. It is not just about the public trusting staff and the Board. Staff at John Stanford headquarters have regain the trust of the Board AND until they do, the Board should take everything they are told with a big grain of salt.

Trust....but verify should be their new phrase going forward. Take nothing at face value.

And, as voters, if we see more of the same from these three, they should be voted out.

36 comments:

someone said...

"And, as voters, if we see more of the same from these three, they should be voted out." While I agree wholeheartedly, I can't help but ask "IF we see more" How much more of this is ok before they should suffer the consequences?

They clearly haven't been doing their job to date - though, I'm starting to wonder if there is a clear understanding of what that job should be.

As a voter, my take is it's not the job of the School Board to accept what they are told by exec. staff as gospel - but rather to question, demand complete and accurate information, demand proof when something doesn't fell right, don't assume the Execs at SPS will follow thru, demand proof that they have. Financial and administrative oversight has been sadly lacking from the Board. It's beyond time to change that behavior and I am already inclined, without any additional information coming out, to vote differently, based on what I already know.
It will take a lot to restore my confidence in the Board's ability to watchdog the district.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Someone, this is one of the dilemmas for both those who run for the Board and the voters.

People, both running and voting, seem to fall into two camps.

One view is that Board members are there to make sure that the district is in compliance, following the policies set by the Board and if so, voting yes on what is put before them.

The other view is that the Board is responsible to voters and citizens. This view supports Board members asking hard questions and expecting answers. Board members should be able to answer the question "Why did you vote as you did?" with real data and judgment behind that vote. In the end, of course, we have to allow them their vote if they have done due diligence.

So imagine if you have voters who want one kind of Board member and people who run thinking another way about what the job is.

These are important questions to ask in the next Board election. How will you make decisions and what is the role of the Board member vis a vis staff?

another mom said...

Does the Board now have staff who are independent from the rest of central administration? This district is too complicated for the Board to go any longer without such.

The buck is supposed to stop with the Board. However, didn't they sign some agreement with the superintendent in which they pledged to not micromanage? So if they asked too many questions, it was perceived as over stepping their role? Those Board Members who signed that document got themselves into this pickle.

someone said...

Hmmm.. @Melissa - I'm not sure those are mutually exclusive perspectives on the board's role - I think it's possible to make sure there is compliance AND be the eyes/ears of voters & citizens. Without asking the important questions, how do they determine "compliance?" I don't have answers - I'm just starting to think about how these problems got to, and continue to, time after time, get to this level of dysfunction.

Parent of a Third Grader said...

Can someone post what areas each Board Member hails from so I can tell friends and family who NOT to vote for in November? Thank you.

Chris S. said...

parent of a third grader, this link has maps at the bottom.
http://district.seattleschools.org/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=189059&sessionid

In brief- Martin-Morris=NE
Carr=Greenlake, Maier=further north
DeBell=Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Smith-Blum=Central, Patu=SE, Sundquist=West.

...and I agree with someone - "make sure that the district is in compliance" is a lot different than "assume the district is in compliance" which is what they seem(ed) to think their job was.

Chris S. said...

Why do you suppose the union only contacted these two? The school projects mentioned are in Maier and Patu districts. Maybe only HMM and SS responded at all??

Charlie Mas said...

Any professional adult in a supervisory position should seek independent corroboration for at least a few statements made by subordinates. The Board does not appear to have EVER confirmed anything they were told by staff.

Let's not forget that Director Martin-Morris, at the board meeting of 11/17/2010, scolded his colleagues for seeking confirmation of a statement made by Susan Enfield. He told them that they should NOT try to confirm her claims. As it happens, the claim they checked proved false. For him, this was no reason for them not to accept it as true.

wseadawg said...

The Board goes to retreats where they are repeatedly told to stand back and let the SI's run the district, and that their job is to support the SI. Harium has clearly drank that Kool-Aid and Steve seems to have it in his DNA.

But these events are the true acid test. Given this opportunity to see how the district really operates, that parents are not just whiny, hysterical, self-centered jerks, and that staff have their own agendas, which includes dodging meaningful oversight, they no longer have any reason not to exercise skepticism and critical thinking at every opportunity. Up until now, their see-no-evil attitudes were infuriating, but plausible, in the most tenuous, circumstantial ways. But not any longer. The crimes and scandals are etched to the inside of Steve, Peter & Harium's reading glasses. Time to smell the coffee, gents.

I want to see how Steve conducts his next community meeting, after being warned for years about staff escapades. I have no desire to celebrate "I told you so(s)," but instead to say, "given what's happened, are you finally ready to listen and represent your constituents instead of defend the district?" I want to hear his response and listen to what he's learned, what's changed in him, and how things will be different going forward. If not much has changed, then he surely needs to go.

Maureen said...

Chris, I've been on the SPS web site trying to figure out if they were on the Operations Committee in '08. It is much too difficult to track down archived minutes there. All I should have to do is change the date on the '10-'11 version of Operations Committee minutes to get (e.g.) the 12/18/08 minutes, but it doesn't work. BTW I do know there was a meeting on that date is because I did find a Dec 08 Board meeting agenda that posted that in the Information Items.

And the Board Meeting Minutes (you get to them through the archived agendas) are really awful and no link to the video is posted.

Maureen said...

If not much has changed, then he surely needs to go.

But wseadawg, who will replace him?

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
someone said...

@Maureen - well at the Dec. 19 2007 Board meeting, they announced the committee membership as:
Operations Committee: Sherry Carr, Chair, and Mary Bass and Peter Maier

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/07-08agendas/010908agenda/121907minutes.pdf

I'm assuming that would be for 2008? but hard to tell

Maureen said...

Thanks someone! I think you're right. Those same minutes show that Sundquist and Martin-Morris were on the Finance COmmittee. Maybe the union contacted them because of the financial implications?

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said...

This is the tip of the iceberg. SPS should be treated like a crime scene.

I watched the Steve & Susan interview with Robert Mak. It was unsettling, watching their body language, the way Sundquist would move in agreement with whatever Enfield said; Enfield nodding in time to everything said by Steve.

They said a lot, without saying anything of substance. This is CYA time, and without a forensice audit or broader criminal investigation imminent, they seem comfortable acting like it's ok to move forward, all is well.

Enfield promised 30 days of PR, only not in those words. She said nothing about putting the brakes on any of MGJs decisions, or investigating what went wrong, but rather making sure that everyone is "informed." She promised "good communication." She avoided anything sounding like an admission.

There is so much dirt buried here.

So what's going to happen next?

Broad fans like former director Don Nielson want mayoral control. He's been quoted talking about declaring war. On teachers? I'm not sure, but he's on fire with Reform.

2 years ago, I predicted that if MGJ didn't bring it, the mayor might a take control. Legally, I don't think they can do it, and politically speaking, this might be the wrong mayor, but this latest scandal means that Reform efforts will become much more aggressive.

Charlie, was it you who posted that Sundquist is Nielson's unofficial rep on the board? Is it auspicious timing that that he of all directors is now board prez?

Anonymous said...

What I can't get over is how orchestrated everything seems. MGJ just happens to be unreachable when the news breaks, but has a prepared statement. The Board vote follows with very carefully worded statements from each. Then Enfield takes over with little fanfare. Who's really in charge?

Call me paranoid.

SP said...

We know that in late 2008 Peter Meier had a copy of the Sutor report (but never mentioned it to the other Board members?), and we now know that both Sundquist and Martin-Morris had email communications with the Union about possible mismanagement of the small business program.

So why, in Feb. 2009 when the Friday Update came out from Goodloe-Johnson about both a "Small Works Roster Review" by the Sutor Group and also mentioning an article soon to be published by the Daily Journal of Commerce, did these three Board members not ask for and read both of these reports/articles and see red flags?

The sentence from MGJ in the Friday update is quite telling, "The reporter's questions relate to our responses and actions to each of the observations in the report. If you receive any follow-up media calls, please refer to the Communications Department."

What report? What observations and actions?...Why to Communications?

seattle citizen said...

This has been brought up before, but why is the District hiring (paid for by a "grant"...from Gates?) the PR firm Strategies 360? Srategies 360, with Karen Waters, is/was the Our Schools Coalition. OSC is/was the offshoot of the Alliance, created solely to publish a "survey," the results of which were used to publicize the Gates/Alliance agenda items of merit pay and the abolishment of seniority.
The "survey" was published to influence the then-upcoming contract negotiations. The survey "methodology" first reflected that SPS had given the surveyers the phone numbers and names of families and teachers. The methodology was quickly modified to omit this information (great "research" practice, eh?) after people pointed out that SPS giving this information for the purpose of publishing a survey to influence contract negotiations was unseemly at best, illegal at worst.
The Our Schools Coalition has changed something else on its website: In the beginning, when one clicked on the "contact us" button, one was provided the email of Karen Waters at S360. This, too, has been removed, when it was pointed out that a "coalition" run out of a PR office was hardly a coalition.
So why is Karen Waters suddenly hired as PR? What's the connection? She has done work for Gates outside of Our Schools, before Our Schools, so why is she the go-to for the district's PR? The district has PR people; they don't need more, even if they're paid for by the Gates Foundation.

Meg said...

I feel like there is a difference between Director Maier and Directors Sundquist and Martin-Morris here.

In a public meeting, with no threat of anyone revealing his prior knowledge, Maier himself said that a) he'd seen the Sutor report, that b) after seeing the Friday update in which Goodloe-Johnson mentioned that the Sutor report had gotten press he assumed she was aware of it and on it, and c) that he screwed up. I felt he was, without anyone revealing his part in the Potter debacle, acknowledging that his personal lack of oversight was a contributing factor. It seems unlikely that anyone was going to reveal his knowledge of the Sutor report - he willingly brought it up himself. I have disagreed with Director Maier's on countless issues and votes, but I admired his honesty when he said that he'd known about the Sutor report.

Directors Sundquist and Martin-Morris did not bring up their prior knowledge. Sundquist has been before the press multiple times in the last couple of weeks, and while I've heard the "multiple warning flags unheeded" and "failure of management" yadayada from him, I haven't heard him talk about his own lack of oversight and his own failing as a director. I have not gotten the sense that he feels he personally screwed up. Martin-Morris has spoken less, so I don't have a sense of whether or not he feels his own oversight as a director was lacking. But neither Sundquist nor Martin-Morris said that they knew about issues in programs run by Potter.

Does anyone look great? Um, no. But I still think there's a difference here.

Maureen said...

Both Peter Maier and Michael DeBell explicitly apologized which I really appreciate.

Anonymous said...

@Chris

re: DeBell=Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia

DeBell is not up for reelection...It's Sundquist in W Seattle who's up for reelection.

ken berry

Mr. Edelman said...

Both Martin-Morris and Sundquist will have formidable opponents in the fall.

wv says "mated." Huh.

Mr. Edelman said...

And now we know: Robert Boesche will be interim CFO.

seattle citizen said...

Why is everyone saying this boondoggle cost 1.8 million? Page 11 of the Eakes Report shows that about 1.8 million was contracted out, but the total cost of the SBDP between 2007 and 2010 was 3.2 million. I'd count that as the money that was kept from classrooms. That's about eight-ten teachers pay for the four years.

dan dempsey said...

Holy Travesty Batman!!!

"Board members should be able to answer the question "Why did you vote as you did?" with real data and judgment behind that vote. In the end, of course, we have to allow them their vote if they have done due diligence."

Due Diligence ??? like whenever.

The four Directors elected in 2007 rarely have any evidence to support their voting. In fact the evidence in far too many instances contradicts the way each voted.

These four are Cherry Pickers of only tiny points as that is the best they can find to support their votes. Sherry Carr picked a half a sentence from a report to support her TFA vote, while neglecting the entirety of the report, which presented numerous reasons as to why TFA was an extremely poor choice for the SPS. Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier have similar records.

WenD said...

@Citizen: Can we have a Strategies 360 thread? I'd like to know more as well. From the 3/4/11 PI blog:

http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2011/03/03/seattle-schools-gets-outside-help-with-p-r/

"The financially-struggling Seattle Public Schools has paid an outside consulting agency for public relations help since October."

"Patti Spencer, school district spokesman, said Seattle-based Strategies 360 was retained after the district’s executive director for Public Affairs left on leave.
“We brought in Strategies 360 in to help until such time as a new person is appointed,” Spencer said Thursday.

"Spencer didn’t know how much the consultants were being paid, but said their fee was coming out of private donor grant funds and not tax monies. The school district currently has three full-time communications professionals working in house.

"Spencer said Strategies 360 was hired to help publicize and advise on things like the new student assignment plans and inform people about the district budget, which is $35 million in the red. The outside group has also helped deal with the fallout from a financial scandal.

“I was grateful to have the support. We just don’t have enough hands,” Spencer said.

The latest stat: 25% of U.S. children live in poverty. SPS, claiming a long-standing goal to end the achievement/opportunity gap, can't function without outside professional PR help. They've got their hands full downtown. Among the remaining staff, it was impossible to get out the word to the dailies and the blogs? Facebook?

I won't apologize for being a SPS skeptic. When you're burying more bodies, you need help. That's what best friends are for.

Over two decades, I've had 3 kids in SPS. Nothing has changed for the better. I WANT better, but consider this. Since Don Nielson was board president, he went for Broad training, I think he even served on the Broad board. He sent Olchefseke and Manhas for Broad training. He believes in an appointed board, saying that elected boards are worthless; the only people who run are activists and union supporters. He said this to an audience that included Michael DeBell, who received his full support when he ran for election.

Nielson believes in big classrooms and non-union teachers, and wants the sup to be able to fire at will. He's also a past (and current?) member of the A4E. He's a major player who has mentored several board members, somewhat ironic when you consider that the only good board is an appointed on, but he'll make do for now. This is the kind of influence you're seeing at play and it's not going away without a fight.

I don't bother hoping that TFA cheer leader Enfield is going to be different or better. She'll talk more, twice as much as MGJ ever did, but it's unlikely that she'll change what's already been set into motion. You have to decide what you want for your children and fight for it. The reformers know what they want, and people like Nielson and friends think that most of us are complainers who are unqualified to have an opinion, much less a demand.

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said...

Note: I must credit Dora Taylor's HuffiPo article, originally posted in the excellent seattleducation2010 blog, for what I learned about Nielson and Broad:

http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/1965/

WV = cromi (close enough to crony)

Anonymous said...

LA Teacher's Warehouse:

Who is Robert Boesche and who are the "formidable" opponents of Sundquist and Martin-Morris, or is that simply a prediction?

I have heard nothing.

I remain

-skeptical-

Dorothy Neville said...

Martin Morris has an opponent. Michelle Buetow has entered the race and I think she's a strong candidate.

I haven't heard anything about West Seattle. Well, I heard there was someone thinking of running but decided it wasn't feasible this election cycle.

wseadawg said...

I think those who think Sundquist is vulnerable are right. I was at an event yesterday with lots of West Seattle North folks going to overcrowded schools. Some don't even know who Sundquist is, but all were extremely unhappy with the direction of West Seattle schools, were glad the superintendant was fired, and expect a reverse direction from the district now. This is bad news for Sundquist. Really bad.

wseadawg said...

Interestingly, one parent had pulled their child out of a formerly popular WS elementary, stating "It was so overcrowded, it was ridiculous. How can they subject kids to that environment? It's crazy."

Quite a vote of confidence, eh?

Orca Mom said...

WenD

You are spot on about Don Nielson.

We have been watching him "work the shadows" around SSD for 20 years and in order to effectively limit or stop his influence, we all need to keep a spotlight on him now more than ever.

Spot on. Please keep it up.

Dick Lily was his chosen replacement so take Crosscut with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

I see the background about the CFO in the Seattle Times. Seems legitimate at first glance. At least he is local.

A declared candidate against Harium? Good. Anyone have information about her?

Is there an actual candidate against Sundquist, or just speculation that he is vulnerable?

And also what about candidates against Maier and Carr. Seems that this is the time someone might declare since the board has looked DOA re: our dearly departed Super.

Keep the community info coming so that someday I can stop being

-skeptical-

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