Seattle Schools' Ethics Policy and the New Agreement with the City

From Wayne Barnett of the City's Ethics & Elections Commission (bold mine):

Dear Seattle Public Schools staff, community, and families,

As you’ve probably heard or read, Seattle Public Schools is contracting with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to provide ethics and whistleblower protection programming for the District. I am now serving as both the Executive Director of the SEEC and as the Ethics Officer for Seattle Public Schools. My office is committed to helping Seattle Public Schools sustain a culture that honors integrity and prizes ethical behavior. We need your help to make that happen.

I want to do two things with this letter. First, I want to introduce myself and my staff to you.

If you ever need advice on complying with the School District’s Ethics Policy, don’t hesitate to call me at 684-8577 or e-mail me at

If you suspect or know of violations of the Ethics Policy, Chris Thomas will be conducting investigations, and you can call her at 615-0091 or e-mail her at

If you’d like to discuss training opportunities, you should contact Gary Keese at 684-8500 or

Second, I want to ask you to share your ideas for changes to the District’s Ethics Policy. Making recommendations to the School Board on changes to the Ethics Policy is my top priority in the early days of this contract. If you’ve got some time, I’d like you to look at the City’s Ethics Code, and compare it with the School District’s Ethics Policy and Procedures. By and large, the two codes cover the same ground – gifts, misuse of public resources, and conflicts of interest. But there are differences. The City’s Code deals far more comprehensively with conflicts of interest than does the District’s policy. And the District’s policy deals far more comprehensively with gifts than does the City’s Code.
What elements of SPS’s policies and procedures do you believe are valuable and should be retained? What elements of the City’s Code do you believe significantly improve upon SPS’s Ethics Policy? What standards do you not see in either policy that you think the District should embrace?

And digging even a little deeper, what, if any, reasons are there for applying different ethical rules to school employees than apply to City employees? Are there unique attributes of the school community – especially the relationship between teachers and families – that call for different standards?

am having my initial discussion with the School Board about revisions to the Ethics Policy at the Executive Committee meeting scheduled for September 14. I hope you’ll share your ideas with me in advance of that meeting.

Best regards,

Wayne Barnett

You don't have to ask "where's the beef?" with this letter, that's for sure.  He does everything except say, "Write me (and soon!)"  (Also, you are free to disseminate this letter far and wide as Mr. Barnett would like as many parents and community members know about this office and its services.)


Anonymous said…
He asks for feedback that would require a person to know what the city's more comprehensive conflict of interest policy consists of. Where might we find that policy?

I guess if we care enough, we will do the digging to find out.

- user friendly?
Anonymous said…
Here is the URL for the City's policy:

The SPS Policy is here:

The SPS Procedures are here:

There were hyperlinks in the original version of this letter that I distributed. Sorry those didn't survive the reposting!

Best regards,
Wayne Barnett
Thanks Wayne, I hadn't noticed they didn't make it.

User friendly, this is a volunteer blog. Sometimes you will have to make an effort to find things yourself.
Dorothy Neville said…
I believe one of the main things that Wayne is referring to -- with respect to different rules -- is the policy on gifts. City employees are not supposed to accept any gift for more than 5 bucks or some trivial amount like that. Noel and Wayne and I have spoken about this and I implored them to be proactive in engaging the community to develop a gift policy for schools that people understood and at least mostly agreed with. I do know that many people give teacher gifts valued at more than five dollars.

One of the things to clarify is just what does it all mean? Is this per family per teacher per year? And sometimes gifts for teachers go to the classroom. But I do believe that classroom teachers own some of their materials (ie, pack it up and move it to another teaching position but unclear to me if they leave the district or retire what happens to it) whereas some of it belongs to the school building. It's very confusing.

What if a teacher's parent dies during the year and some parents collectively send flowers. Then are those parents precluded from offering a gift at the end of the school year because they hit their limit for the year? What about PTAs providing gifts? How would a monetary threshold work there?

What I would love to see is a simple survey monkey thing set up by Wayne asking for ideas and for questions such as the ones above, different scenarios to ponder. Plus, I think TEACHERS and other district staff should add their voices. What sort of gifts to teachers get now? Did they ever get a gift they were uncomfortable with accepting?

A thread here on this blog would be a good start, but I still think having something directly from the city distributed widely when school starts would be more complete.

There of course may be other issues where the district and city's ethics policy might diverge.
Charlie Mas said…
The District's Ethics policy does not extend to cronyism, which has been the District's greatest ethical lapse. Any new District Ethics policy should clearly prohibit employees from influencing hiring and contracting decisions that include not only themselves, but their associates.
Patrick said…
Presents from parents to teachers don't bother me because teachers don't decide to buy things from one parent or another. I guess it could conceivably influence a grade, but that seems unlikely.

What bothers me is senior District officials having relationships with vendors. They should not be getting free ANYTHING from ANY vendor or possible vendor. If they get coffee with a rep, the District official should pay out of pocket for their part. If the vendor gives them a pad of post-it notes with their logo, they should either refuse it or give it away. (Why do vendors give away stuff with their logo? To influence purchasers. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work to at least some extent.) These are the rules state employees work under who are in a position to decide what vendor gets a contract, even a small contract.
Anonymous said…
The gift policy has prevented citizens, without interest, from donating gift-cards to book stores for my class library. It will take careful wording to draw a distinction between thank you gifts, donations, and bribes.
- book hoarder
Dorothy Neville said…
Book Hoarder and Patrick, this is EXACTLY the type of discussion we need. If we don't proactively discuss and come up with an alternate, then the city gift rules will apply to teachers. I do not think they should, but I do think there should be some thoughtful policy for all employees.

Yes, for the most part, I do not think gifts to teachers are bad, but I wouldn't rule out any situation of bribery for grades or something there. That's why I would love if teachers could share if they have ever gotten a gift that made them uncomfortable, or heard about one. What are the appropriate parameters? And we must distinguish between a gift to a teacher (like a gift card to an expensive restaurant) vs a gift to the classroom, such as books.
Patrick said…
Book Hoarder, thanks for explaining why teachers send book wish lists to the Scholastic book fairs instead of just asking for money and buying what they want to the extent money allows. I always wondered about that.

It does seem like money or supplies for the classroom could be allowed. How do we know that it stays there? (When schools collect money for classroom school supplies at the beginning of the year, how do we know that money stays there?)
Anonymous said…
Wish lists are nice, but when a teacher has to "run out and get the book" to keep a kid reading, a sit and wait for the book fair or a Donorschoose project to come through policy just doesn't fit the bill.

As far as gifts received, I have had very few - I attribute this to the demographic. However, I have seen gifts give to other teachers from parents of seniors that have been mentored for 4 years of HS that are a lot larger than a $5 coffee card. Often they are books, technology (electronic books), dinner at a nice restaurant... With the amount of mentorship and intervention provided in many of the cases where a very thankful parent gives such a gift, I don't find the gifts unethical or provide any sort of conflict of interest. They are unexpected and unsolicited. They are given and received without expectation of anything in return. Only as a gift of appreciation. Perhaps gifts over a certain amount could require disclosure and a signature on a document stating the circumstances of the giving/receiving.
-book hoarder


-book hoarder
M. Smith said…
when did "ethics" become different for businesses, cities and schools than the ethics we should have as individual human beings and citizens?

Don't be unfair.
Don't steal.
Don't be dishonest.
Do good.

Or even:
Keep communication and records of public entities open and, you know, public.
Don't do anything that would cause ill will or ruin friendships.
And otherwise follow the law and make choices that are beneficial for all.

It's pretty simple. right? In fact, I'd say it's more effective the simpler it stays.
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