Wednesday, July 20, 2011

District Two Candidates on KUOW Today

On this morning's Weekday, the candidates for District Two were interviewed.  They talked to Jack Whelan, Kate Martin and the incumbent, Sherry Carr.  Mark Webber declined the interview (he won't talk to me either).

Sherry was up first.  She spoke in a clear, professional manner.  The host was pretty blunt in asking her why she should be returned to office when the State Auditor called out lack of oversight as a problem in the recent audits.  She said they "embraced the feedback" and created a governance project to implement a stronger governance structure for SPS.

She also said - twice - that central administration has been cut by one-third over the past three years.  (Again, central adm is NOT central office; it is many more staff that do not work out of headquarters.  It's something to be aware of as the election goes forward.) 

Jack Whelan was next and was a little tentative at first but he carried his message through about needing change because of the lack of oversight from the Board.  He said the Board needed to be a little more "suspicious" of what is going on.  He thought they needed a "trust but verify" mentality.  The host challenged him about what he would do differently and he said increase Board support by having some interns for the Board. 

Kate Martin spoke calmly and clearly about the need for the focus to be on students and schools and not the district management.  She spoke of the need for help for ALL students - upper, remedial and those in the middle who can get overlooked.  She talked about social promotion that gets students moved on but left further behind academically.  She also talked about more outreach to families.  


Charlie Mas said...

Director Carr's claim of a "governance project" is false. There is no governance project, there is no governance. Governance would involve two things:

1) Oversight. The Board should review management decisions to confirm that they are consistent with state law and board policy and to confirm that they are based on sound rationale.

2) Policy Enforcement. The Board should have a process for investigating reports of policy violations and a process for enforcing compliance.

The Board has neither of these nor any plans to institute them.

Charlie Mas said...

The old Board Policy B61.00 required the Board to request annual reports on every school and program in the District. This Board never did. Their negligence - their refusal to oversee - contributed directly to the lawless culture of the District and the resulting abuses.

At a Board retreat on September 11, 2010, at the Beacon Hill Library, the Board decided that they needed to step up. They committed to writing a schedule for annual and biannual oversight meetings in which they would review the management and performance measures for each department in the District. This would be their oversight.

It has been ten months since then. In that time they have held exactly one oversight meeting. They have one more scheduled for August. In other words, they are taking a year to start doing the job that they refused to do for three years.

There is still no calendar as yet. In ten months they couldn't even write the calendar for the oversight meetings. That is their "governance project". That is how they have embraced the feedback. That is the demonstration of their sense of urgency around oversight and governance.

Andy said...

I read something about Kate Martin the other day. I wish I could provide a link to it, but my sense after reading that piece was that she is a one issue candidate. There is more than one issue of concern at the district.

And, does Betty Patu have all her marbles?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Andy, you'd have to let us know what it is you read. I don't believe Kate is a one-issue candidate (I've interviewed nearly all of them and there's only one person I think is one-note).

I think Director Patu is certainly sane but not your typical director. I think she may not be as well-versed in many areas as other directors but she sure can put her finger directly on an issue like no one else (can or will).

Charlie Mas said...

It is true that Director Patu is not well-spoken. The Greek influence on Western culture leads us to equate clarity of speech with clarity of thought. They are not necessarily commensurate and there are other cultures that do not presume that correlation. In addition, those of us who choose printed text as our primary media tend to write and speak in the style of the written word. People who choose another media as their primary media tend to mimic that media's style in their communications. Printed text is credited with a higher credibility and an higher cultural value and those who emulate the style of printed text in the speech benefit from the reflected glow of that high value.

I wouldn't call it snobbery, but it just seems more reliable, reasonable, and credible when people speak standard English and speak it well. It does not, however, necessarily reflect on the quality of thought.

Charlie Mas said...

While Director Patu does not seem to have a very firm grasp on the details of the matters presented to her, and she doesn't appear to have a clear memory of the events she has witnessed, neither do any of the other Board members.

Think of how many times they asked how many students could be enrolled at STEM under the NTN contract.

Think of how many questions they asked and then forgot that they asked.

Think of how many answers they were promised and then forgot that they were promised.

Think of how many deadlines they set and then forgot.

Think of how many reports they asked for and then forgot they asked for them.

Do any of the Board members have all of their marbles?

Dorothy Neville said...

Director Patu sometimes seems a bit confused during the general board meeting, but you should see her in committee meetings. Sure, there are technical details she doesn't have fluently, but she most definitely DOES have an overall sense of how the organization ought to be run, a sense of governance and management and accountability. And questions that get right to the point.

David said...

My impression of this interview was a bit different.

I thought Sherry Carr seemed nervous and largely unresponsive to the tough questions about audit and accounting scandals in the district. Yes, she talked for a long time in response, but there was little content in her response other than the "we're starting a committee to form a task force to put together a team to study the problem" kind of distraction that is meant to look like action.

Jack Whelan had some good points about accountability and governance and a good suggestion on getting the board some independent advisors to help them challenge and verify statements of district staff. But, to me at least, he seemed low energy, and made at least one statement that sounded like he had the overly simplistic view that everything would be better if every board member was more business-oriented and had an accounting background.

Kate Martin was passionate, forceful, and energetic, I thought, with several good points about the board needing to to their basic governance and accountability job. She, like Jack Whelan, thought the board needed some independent advisors to help challenge and verify information coming from district staff. I would have liked to see a few more specific plans of action from her -- a short list of what she would expect from the superintendent in the first six months and what she would do if the superintendent failed to deliver, for example -- but was generally pleased.

Anyway, those are my impressions. The interviews are archived on KUOW (under the Weekday podcasts) if others want to listen to them.

Charlie Mas said...

It's too bad that the interviewer, Steve Scher, didn't know enough about the situation to ask Director Carr the right follow-up questions.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm going to send Mr. Scher an email, I think, in which I tell him how his lack of familiarity with the details of the school district allowed Director Carr to completely deceive him and his audience.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did sent Weekday an e-mail pointing out that the Internal Auditor job is NOT new (as Sherry was allowing him to think it was). The two people we hire to help the Auditor will be new.

I also clarified "central adm" versus "central office" and asked them to make sure the incumbents tell them the difference when they toss out that "one-third" cut number.

I also asked them to ask the incumbents about the raises especially the "market study" ones.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's remember, also, that the Board has left the District without an internal auditor for over seven months now.

Where is their sense of urgency? Why has it taken them seven months (and counting) to hire an internal auditor? How has the critical work of the internal auditor been getting done for the past seven months?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Excellent point, Charlie. I hadn't really thought about it and you're right - if this is all so urgent, why hasn't it been done?

Charlie Mas said...


If the Board is all excited about doing oversight, then why have they held exactly one (count 'em, one) oversight meeting since the audit was released last year?

Again, where is the sense of urgency?

Josh Hayes said...

Steve Scher is not the dispassionate observer we'd like to see as an interviewer; remember the Cliff Mass flap of a month or so ago, where Steve had Cliff let go at least in part because of Cliff's opposition to the (UW school of Education-supported) SPS math curriculum.

He seems to be a supporter of institutional power. Perhaps I'm over-interpreting, of course, but I sure wouldn't expect any penetrating questions of an incumbent from Steve.

The Real Arnold said...

Charlie - "Let's remember, also, that the Board has left the District without an internal auditor for over seven months now.

Where is their sense of urgency? Why has it taken them seven months (and counting) to hire an internal auditor? How has the critical work of the internal auditor been getting done for the past seven months?"

They went for years - possibly decades - without an internal auditor. When they did hire one, their audit results got worse, not better.

There is no "critical work" of the internal auditor, and no one is doing anything like an internal auditor because, unlike the one that left, you have to know something about auditing to do that work. So going seven months is no big deal since there are no established internal auditing procedures or processes or reports. I repeat - no big deal.

Once the new person gets in place and establishes some sort of credible internal auditing process, then their work will be critical. Also, I'm not clear if the Board has decided who the internal auditor will report to - management or the Board. If they have that person report to management, then it is not a true internal auditor. An internal auditor needs to be independent of management so that they have the ability to go straight to the governing body without risking getting fired by high-level management for reporting bad news.

Andy said...


I misspoke the other day. I meant to say that I had seen an article on Marty McLaren, not Kate Martin. The one issue I was referring to is the adoption of the Discovery Math - "fuzzy math" as she refers to it. Here is the article I read: Link to Marty McLaren article