Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Another Department for Seattle Public Schools

I can see where the district might want to run their own internal investigations after the generous help from the City (and the ever-professional and helpful Wayne Barnett in the City's own office of ethics) but a whole department? 

Banda is certainly churning out the work as he exits.  I hope there will be no last-minute surprises.  

From SPS:

In order to improve accountability and transparency in Seattle Public Schools, Superintendent José Banda on Tuesday announced that Seattle Public Schools is establishing its own Office of Internal Audit and Ethics, reporting directly to the Seattle School Board.

The new office will be managed by current SPS Internal Auditor Andrew Medina, who will now also serve as the District’s Ethics Officer. Medina reports directly to the School Board and this new office will strengthen the governance system in place.

The Office of Internal Audit and Ethics will offer the same services that since 2011 have been provided by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC): receiving and investigating complaints of violations of the District’s ethics policy and managing complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers. The office will oversee the district’s whistleblower hotline and website, and is committed to maintaining the anonymity of callers who wish to remain anonymous.

Medina, who came to Seattle Public Schools from the Port of Seattle when the district established an Office of Internal Audit in 2011, will continue to work independently, reporting directly to the chair of the School Board’s Audit and Finance Committee. Medina has 21 years of experience as both an internal auditor and auditor, and is a Certified Fraud Examiner and a Certified Public Accountant.

“We want to thank the City of Seattle and Seattle Elections and Ethics Commission Executive Director Wayne Barnett for their work over the past three years to assist SPS in developing an ethics policy and providing ethics training for district employees,” said Superintendent José Banda. “Andrew Medina has done an excellent job as internal auditor and is the perfect choice to provide oversight and management of this new office.”

Medina’s appointment is effective immediately. The new ethics hotline is 206-252-0004 and email is ethics@seattleschools.org. The website is http://bit.ly/SPSEthicsAudit. Anyone reporting a potential violation will be kept anonymous within the limits of the law.


mirmac1 said...

Two comments:

1. I can't really point to one ethics complaint that the City was able to bring pressure to bear; and

2. I have a great deal of respect for Andrew Medina and his staff. That noted, there are too many transgressions and ways of hiding malfeasance for him and his small crew to uncover and correct.

Jon said...

I'm no fan of Banda, but I actually like this move. Isn't this what a lot of us wanted, dedicated audit resources for the Board and reporting only to the Board? Isn't it a good thing?

It'd be good if someone with a strong understanding of regulatory issues and the budget could submit a couple of the most egregious violations they know if to this new department. Anyone know of something particularly severe, simple and clearly in violation, and very unlikely to survive an audit? It would be good to submit it to this new department and test if they can be effective.

mirmac1 said...


The change was the expansion of the existing Internal Audit office (that has done a good job, check out their district web page for their reports) to also be the ethics cops. This way the district terminates its arrangement with the City and saves around some $200K. I would be more concerned if the ethics cop was someone other than Andrew Medina. He has shown himself to be an approachable, forthright guy.

I will point out for him the ongoing illegal supplantation of SpEd student funding at Ballard.

Anonymous said...

A system that relies on a person, not on efficient, known-by-all system of checks and balances and - in the case of ethics - an ingrained corporate (district) sense of right and wrong is not a system to be trusted.

I don't care how ethical Medina might be. The last audit may have been ok, but does anyone really think the district is trustworthy in its handling of ethics complaints let alone huge sums of capital?

The oversight should stay with the city for the longhaul.


mirmac1 said...

Can anyone let me let me know of a recent (last two years) ethical matter resolved by the city that involved administrators?

Anonymous said...

I think the city had the right idea, however with most complaints went like this:

City : We have a complaint

District : We didn't do that!

City : I haven't told you what the complaint is yet.

District: Just trying to be efficient.


mirmac1 said...

The city investigator is often stymied by SPS Legal. Medina has the confidence of the Board. I don't think he will get blown off so easily...

Anonymous said...

DistrictWatcher is right. You don't depend on a person nor on a person's relationship with the board for this audit function. People change all the time.

Nor do I want one blogger's opinion that "I trust the guy" as proof this is a good move.

Give me the City Ethics Department over an internal SPS Auditor any day. There's a reason the district did better in the last audit. Part of that is the threat of the city looking over the shoulder of SPS.

North of 85th

Anonymous said...

And, this late move smacks of Banda wanting to proclaim 'I brought trust back to SPS. Look, the ethics function came back in house.'

I don't appreciate reorganizations that appear to primarily benefit an exec's bio.

North of 85th

Anonymous said...

I hope Medina will help stop the district's legal dept from jacking families around when SPS knows they are in the wrong.

In our case we filed a complaint and the district denied the accusation.

We filed with the city and provided irrefutable evidence supporting our accusation. The city responded that the district lawyer English denies the accusation and lawyers don't lie.

Really one lawyer telling us lawyers don't lie!

Finally the district employee provided a written admission substantiating the event.

They also provided information showing SPS legal knew the truth but decided to ignore the truth until the employee caved under pressure 8 months later.

More wasted money at SPS

mirmac1 said...

My complaint to the city also demonstrated that SPS legal merely responds with "talk to the hand."

How is that effective?

Anonymous said...

Can the board put this on hold?


mirmac1 said...

North of 85th, I suppose you could take an informed opinion or follow your instincts. I would ascribe most of the district's improvement on audits to Medina's deep dives into internal controls. Not because of nonexistent findings by the City. Don't get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for Burnett and Thomas.

Westside, I sure you could ask.

Anonymous said...

@Mirmac. You are ignoring the point.

It does not matter that Medina may or may not be good. He is one guy and could leave or be fired at any point. This is a poor organizational idea.

The city should not give up the oversight and I'm darn disappointed if the board wants to get rid of a layer of independent audit. It's not responsible and sorry, the district has not earned it.

It is the set up of the office and the culture change of the full organization that matter.

Who cares that Medina reports to a board that you support. Next election cycle you may not be so keen on the board and you will have lost an extra organizational set of eyes. An organization that runs a lot better on ethics than SPS.

I hope KUOW or somewhere else covers this proposed change. It's not good. Especially when a new superintendent and subsequent new staff is looming.

North of 85th

mirmac1 said...

I understand the point you are trying to make. I studied organizational management theory in university. I'm trying to recall a public agency that has an outside ethics watchdog - and I don't mean a toothless one like the Seattle Police Dept.'s OPA. The Port? No. The State? No. The City? No. Congress. No.

It is harder to blow off or stiff arm someone who works in your building and will sit outside your office or bump into you in the hallway. Thomas had NO access but what English would give her. The SPS Internal Auditor and staff have, for the last three years, gained the credibility of the board (among directors that I do not particularly support).

So don't impugn my reasoning. I have much insight upon which I base my opinion.

Just Saying said...

It is interesting that the district has decided to withdraw city support.

It should be noted that SPS paid about $160K per year for the city to help with ethic complains. Shall we expect the city to provide SPS funding to support Preschool for All? Or, does the city have different standards for themselves?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just Sayin, I had a talk with city officials about the preschool discussion. I'll have something up soon.

Just Saying said...

Thanks, Melissa and I look forward to your report.

If I recall correctly, there was an issue with the internal auditor around the Silas Potter era.

Very interesting discussion regarding internal vs. external ethics/ audit departments.

mirmac1 said...

There was no internal auditor during the Silas Potter era. In fact, that was the impetus to bring one onboard, along with a short-lived ethics hotline.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about the Silas Potter era, but the top of page 13 of this report mentions an internal auditor who resigned - maybe this is what Just Saying is referring to?



Anonymous said...


Oh yes there was an internal auditor at that time. His name was Kariuki Nderu. He quit before he could be fired because there was evidence that he knew of or participated in Silas Potters schemes. The SOA identified that.


Anonymous said...

What the district didn't have was a separate ethics officer. The General Counsel at the time, Gary Ikeda, was he ethics officer and there were concerns that he dissuaded others from reporting concerns (ironically, including now GC Ron English) to anyone above him.


Anonymous said...

"We questioned employees as to why they did not make their concerns known to others within management," the report stated. "We were told that they believed that it would not do any good to complain and that the district had tacitly sanctioned Potter's work as evidenced by the fact that no one stopped him. Some employees expressed their belief that the board had reviewed and approved of this program."

When investigators asked those employees why they hadn't taken concerns higher in the chain -- to the superintendent, the school board or the CFOO -- they all responded that taking complaints to direct supervisors seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

Most weren't familiar with the school's whistle-blowing program, and said the district's general counsel and ethics compliance officer had a "closed door policy."


Just Saying said...

Thanks to Melissa and Charlie for keeping a historical timeline.

SPS had an internal auditor around the time of Silas Potter. The guy's name was Nderu. If I recall correctly, Nderu resigned. I suspect a google search would bring -up a Seattle Times article.


Just Saying said...

I don't want to inadvertently cast a shadow on anyone, but I believe SWWS is correct.

Just Saying said...

During the Silas Potter years...there were folks within the John Stanford building that knew Potter was on the take.

mirmac1 said...

Nderu was an auditor in name only. Dude was as ineffectual as many supposed watchdogs. Since his washout the office and reporting structure was changed. The Potter affair finally brought the culture of fear and intimidation into the limelight. Board directors from that era could no longer hide behind their bobble-head caricatures.

doctored analysis

no hearthburn review

Let's make money off this bad boy!

I hadn't even heard his name until I saw these emails four years ago. Don't know what his qualifications were or who he reported to (lay bets it was on the weasel GC).

There are ineffectual overseers, both internal and external, to any organization. I have read the internal audits over the last few years, and seen top administrators appear before the A&L committee to explain WTH is going on and how they have or will fix it. Refreshing.

Anonymous said...


He was a CPA, just like Mr. Medina. He also reported to the Board, not Gary Ikeda.


mirmac1 said...

Well, I guess they all suck then. And I'm a mom just like Madonna but without the cone bustier, ropy muscles and everything else.

SWWS said...


Or you could be a little less dramatic when you dress down others for not knowing information when it turns out that you were wrong in the claims you were making. Mr. Medina is exceedingly good at his job. And as such, will likely move on to bigger things. And what happens if his replacement is more like his predecessor? Shocking thought, it is okay for other people have opinions different from yours or to know more about a particular issue then you.

mirmac1 said...

Thank you for reminding me about Nderu. He was worthless. He accomplished nothing. We have no control over who is hired where. The City or at the district. If the board wants to be raked over coals in the press again over the next Potter, they will hire another Nderu.

I appreciate that you agree that Medina is great at his job. He has great access and authority in his position. More than the City's Thomas.

Half of the equation is Ron English. There's the real obstacle to transparency and ethical behavior.

The Internal Auditor's office will get the budget formerly provided the City. Medina will hire outside investigators that will report to him, not HR or the GC.

I'm sorry about the Madonna reference. Me as Madonna - that ain't a pretty picture *shudder* I am a commenter and district observer like everyone else on this thread - not a "blogger" that ignores the point.