Seattle Times: Board Takeover AND Sped Director Mystery Solved

In public education editorializing, the Times mantra seems to be, "keeping saying the same thing over and over and it'll work."  Well, it does sometimes but not always.  (You have to wonder about this tactic given their dropping subscription rates - people like to read about NEW things.)

Here's their latest and it's fairly boring reading because it's the same old wording.  "Dysfunctional", they get the number of students in SPS wrong ("nearly 50k" - geez, aren't they journalists?), "melodrama" and, of course, should we have a conversation about governance?

Here's my comments to them:
Times, you don't you ever get tired of the same old tired lines? "this dysfunctional district?"
It's not dysfunctional, it has problems. There's a difference.

There is no other urban district in the country that doesn't have problems and guess what? Sped and graduation rates and college-career readiness are at the top of the list. But you wouldn't want to acknowledge that because it makes the district look, well, less "dysfunctional."

As other commenters have stated, this capacity management issue is HUGE and sucks up large amounts of time. It's at the point where many kids don't even get 20 minutes for lunch because of it (and the district admits this). And yet the Times rarely acknowledges this large and continuing issue.

I, too, challenge your selection of the timeline of 2012. What makes that oh, so different from nearly any other point in the district? Like Olchefske? Or Goodloe-Johnson? Right, you liked them so mum's the word. Cherry-picking your timeline won't help your cause.

As well, when we had a board that didn't have "melodrama" (what a word), we got.... rubber-stamping and lack of oversight and the unexplained loss of about $30M. In two words, no thanks.

Go to the Washington State School Directors' Association website. They talk a lot to Board members about the challenges of sitting on a board and warn directors that they will, at times, experience differences.

And then we come to the "can we just talk about it" portion of the program. Certainly we can talk about mayoral takeover of the Board/district - you just need to include EVERYONE in the conversation and not just DFER, Stand for Children, Alliance for Education, LEV and, of course, in the back of the room, the Gates Foundation. These are everyone's schools, not just the usual suspects.

I'll just throw this out to start:

- how come if we voters are smart enough to vote in a mayor and a city council, our vote on School Board is being challenged?

- you may like who the mayor is now but what if you don't like the next mayor? You okay with the next person elected mayor leading the schools? You know, like a Mayor Sawant?

- two words - local control. If the Legislature did this to Seattle (and it would have to go thru them), you really think that legislators in Eastern Washington wouldn't hear from their constituents about losing local control in their OWN school districts?

I, myself, have advocated many times for a paid Board. I note that Rep. Reuven Carlyle has, as well (to no avail). If the top three largest school boards in Washington State got paid (and that's about 17 people), it would be a drop in the bucket of the state budget.

Last thing. Times, you know when you denigrate this district, on the regular basis that you do, you are denigrating the teachers, staff and parents who make the choice to call it home. You are making parents feel bad about their choice when most of them proudly send their child to a Seattle Public school every day. Parents who contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars - every year - because they feel the need to support this "dysfunctional district."

It's unkind and untrue and to keep saying it for your own ends is the worst kind of editorializing.

As well, the Times also has an accounting of the Special Education director story. You know, the one where the district hired a new Sped director, she was there for several months, then poof! gone with almost no explanation.  (I knew from sources what the issue was but did not feel I had enough to print.)  Turns out that Ms. McWilliams seemingly had steered the bidding on a Sped contract to the vendor she wanted.  She used a personal e-mail address to send a friend at that vendor company information about the other vendors' bids.

She now has a 3-month payout (on top of being paid to sit around for several months) and the promise to "never apply for a job" with SPS again.  But she even got a letter of reference. 

Her lawyer said she was charged by  SPS to come in and get things done and quickly.  This is true.  It also seemed in her nature to move at a high speed and that may have rubbed some the wrong way.  (I know that Superintendent Banda personally recruited her from the district she had previously worked at in California.) 

One funny note: the district is calling McWilliams out for not following district policy and that "investigators said they think McWilliams knew the rules."  Sound familiar?  You would have "thought" that Nyland - a seasoned administrator coming into the largest district in the state - would have know the policies (or that a handler would have guided him thru the process the first couple of times). 

Of course, I'm not equating what she did to Nyland.  I am saying that one issue at the district is that, apparently, they don't get new senior hires up-to-speed on policies and procedures very well.  


David said…
I don't know, I think the Seattle Times editorial gets at least a little right for once.

The district administration clearly is dysfunctional, though the schools themselves are not. The editorial is flawed in not focusing its ire on the expensive and largely disruptive central administration bureaucracy, but it is right, I think, that the administration and governance is largely dysfunctional.

Calls to improve graduation rates, end disproportionate discipline, a paid school board, and changing the role of administration (hopefully shrinking it) all seem reasonable, though they call for other things too that I agree with less. And I think they are missing calls for efficiency and tighter compliance with policy, laws, and budget audits.

So, it's definitely a weak editorial with lots of flaws, but some of it might be in the right direction. Maybe.
Patrick said…
What is it with the improper e-mails? It's bad enough having crooked administrators, but we have incompetents as well. Whatever happened to meeting in a parking garage at night? Haven't they seen All the President's Men?
Anonymous said…
McWilliams was sudo fired for rigging bids, favoritism, kickbacks and conspiracy to circumventing public dis closer laws. Nyland did nothing close to this.

It would have all gone by without incident, except McWilliams and the district underestimated the SpEd parents that got pissed off by the wasted money and lack of any meaningful benefit from the TIERS group inflammatory July 22nd meeting. Multiple request for information led to an email where McWilliams tells all the players included Clancy to use their personal email accounts to avoid public disclosure. This opened the door for public disclosure request to access McWilliams personal account and bingo there where the incriminating emails. These emails where sent to OSPI and DOE and they contacted the district and asked for an explanation.

Only the parents initiative and due diligence forced the district to act, but there are still a few other players who should be fired.

Anonymous said…
Ah...Banda's bolting to California last summer makes more and more sense...

- reality check
Anonymous said…
Dysfunction? No. Corruption.

This district is corrupt and it's nothing new, at least in the time I've had kids in SPS, and that's 21 years. It's the same BS as Nyland saying "I didn't know." Who really believes that? If it's true, he's incompetent or he's lying.

Some of us may object to a federal and state policy decision, but SPS takes it a step further when they accept monies intended for one purpose and use them for other purposes. That's not "I didn't know." That's fraud.

Superintendents receive executive pay, more pay than any U.S. governor, because they're in an executive position. They're paid to know policy and enforce it.

We have a situation that is beyond dysfunction. The word doesn't even cover the sum of what SPS is. I don't know where you'd being to "clean it up," as some have called for. Who are you going to call?


Anonymous said…
Is there a link to the investigation report about McWilliams?

I agree that it is fishy that she got a severance and letter of recommendation. For lying? Cheating? Manipulating? What is this District's moral code anyway? Where did her leverage come from?

displeased reader
Anonymous said…
Don't know who to trust anymore in fixing SPED. McWilliams was praised up and down by a couple of the bigger voices in PTSA last year as someone with knowledge and will to help. So much for those 'expert' opinions. Then we have Clancy, last year's second in command, still on staff. Then we have interim SPED director become SPED director with seemingly no input from anyone but Nyland. This is someone without the prerequisites one would have expected in posting the job externally. Can't trust the state. It does just as much as it has to and no more. Can't trust the Feds. Compliance is paperwork in their world. When is someone, anywhere, going to care about the daily experience of our kids in SPS classrooms?

If we can't trust staff and we can't trust other parents and we can't trust the oversight mechanisms, just what sort of chance do any of us have in getting this (&*&show turned around?

SPED mom
Displeased, good question on leverage.

You could take this outcome a couple of ways.

One, the district wanted to avoid a costly legal battle and this is what got negotiated.

Two, the district, fearing liability on multiple fronts and wanting to cut their losses, this is what got negotiated.

I intend on gathering everything I know from multiple sources (and I will get that investigative report if I can) and writing this up at some point.
mirmac1 said…
yeah, Patrick. Do what the executive level administrators do: don't take notes at meetings and do every thing by phone.
mirmac1 said…
Remember. The investigative reports aren't worth the paper they're written on. They should just be labeled "throw under bus", or "white wash". Makes it easier to tell what way their lying.
Disgusted said…
I have to wonder: Has Larry Nyland cut deals with the city and the Alliance?
Charlie Mas said…
I think that the firing of Ms McWilliams is a positive sign. This is what accountability looks like.

The administrative leave was necessary for the investigation. The severance was to make the lawyer go away, not Ms McWilliams.
Patrick said…
A positive sign, Charlie? I guess it's better than just covering it up and letting her stay. A pretty low bar.
Watching said…
There absolutely is corruption within the John Stanford Center. It appears, but for FOIA and parental oversight, the McWilliams situation would have gone unnoticed. Am I correct?

What else is going on in the Ole John Stanford Center? Why do I have the feeling that another scandal is on the brink?
Watching, for once I don't think there's another scandal brewing. However, I think things are lining up for people at the top to carry out their agendas and ignore the rest.

That is pretty much how we got Silas Potter.

But I agree, if parents hadn't ferreted this out, would it have been called out (or people knew and did nothing if not for parents)?

mirmac1 said…

These types of scandal happened everyday at JSCEE. Too bad lying and manipulation doesn't count as scandal. The whole P-5 scandal is a scandal.

If keeping McWilliams served Tolley's, Wright's and English's needs - she would have gotten a raise. They didn't like her because she tried to make sure the district followed IDEA (at least better than they had been). They thought she was pushy and expected too much to be spent on SpEd. Gill complained about her because she didn't return his calls or emails within 8 hours.

Parents had nothing to do with it. If they had wanted to keep her on, she'd still be there. One just gave them an excuse. Look at how many senior managers violate ethics (remember MGJ/NWEA and Enfield/TFA) and yet were retained. Shoot, at the last board retreat the Supt, the Dep Supt, and Asst Supt of B&F all admitted to failing to follow policies. Hmmm, wonder what happened to them?
Anonymous said…

"Parents had nothing to do with it. If they had wanted to keep her on, she'd still be there. One just gave them an excuse."

Sure, keep believing that if it makes you happy. Some were willing to turn a blind eye for preferential's all documented just let me know when you want it posted!

Anonymous said…
From my perspective the District was looking for a way to unload McWilliams and it was only a matter of time before she tripped across her own feet in this manner. Whatever planet mirmac is on, McWilliams is probably there with her/him. McWilliams was bad news from the start.

Anonymous said…
Really guys???? No, absolutely not. Parents had nothing to do with McWilliams dismissal. Sure, somebody might have ferreted out a smoking gun. But, her bumbling idiocy was her own... forgetting meetings, not showing up, never prepared, generally ignorant, unworkable interpersonal skills, that killed her. Insider is right. Sooner or later she was getting unloaded. But the fact is, we're way worse off now. We have calculating career climbers who know even less and don't care AT ALL about students with disabilities. She might have been weak, but now we have calculating neglect.

Reader 48
TheGoodFight said…
Ok I'll bite please show me how we are worst off now.
Anonymous said…
Seriously? The decks at Central are now staffed with a bunch of self-serving know-nothings. And I truly mean nothing. Kari Hansen. Incredible. Was there a worse choice? If you know of a worse choice let them know - because there are probably a few hundred more positions still open for the worst in special ed in central office. You don't need to apply. They create it for you if you are incompetent enough. She has no special ed experience. She has no special training. She never liked the sped in her building. She has no experience with anything beyond elementary school. Guess what? Secondary school, esp high school and adult transition is where special ed has the WORST problems. What does she know about any of that? Nothing. Now we're stuck with her. That's worse than McWilliams bumbling. Ditto with Jessee. And Clancy. Well, she's not new. So I guess she's not "worse" now than she was before. But she's also not good. She rigs IEPs and IEP meetings to meet what's available. And she tells staff to do the same. Don't worry about what students need. Just fill the chair. These 3 are all in it for personal advancement. We don't need it. Then the scads of "program specialists" that are new and incompetent. Met any? It's a bonafide gravy train now that student need has taken a back seat (further back seat, uh no seat really) to bean counting on the C-CAP. Pull a few IEPs - fix some typos and wait for the next better job to come your way. (By the way, make sure you fire as many IAs as possible. To hire a lot of administration, you've got to get rid of many more IAs because IAs are cheap, administrators expensive.) New central policy is to make sure all the teachers know they are supposed to rig the IEPs so that they can get rid of IAs - to cover their own costs. Sweet.

Reader 48
Anonymous said…
@ Reader48

I think McWilliams did us a huge favor. Through her corrupt actions she motivated many parents to explore the IDEA laws and their legal options. Citizens complaints are up 500% from last year and SPS has lost 95% of the allegations.

For the district's PR, She added insult to injury by exposing again just how seedy SPS administration is.

I don't think services are any worst now then last year, because not much has changed, SPS staff still know very little about IDEA laws and next to nothing around the neuroscience of learning.

Untimely it is the teachers who are responsible for following the law. Someone said "you can't sue a teacher and win", well we will see very soon if that's true.

It's ironic the McWilliams was brought in to fix SpEd the SPS way and it could turn out she was the catalyst that inspired parents to turn SpEd around, because only parents and lawyers can do it.

Anonymous said…
There are more students railroaded into self contained day cares than before. And that is worse. Think those care takers are worried about the neuroscience of anything? Uh. NO. And they've improved their ability to lie about it. And that is worse. Never really seen diddly squat come of OSPI findings, so that is moot. There are fewer IAs, you know, the people who actually support students so that is worse. IAs they do have, are spent doing school operations, like lunch, hallway, recess for hours instead of supporting students with disabilities, so that is worse. Each and every sped director who ever lived... was brought in to fix special ed. It's true, if we find the actual worst one, parents may indeed rise up. But, we surely have worse now than before. But you are right. Only parents can fix it.

Reader 48
Anonymous said…
Some were willing to turn a blind eye for preferential's all documented just let me know when you want it posted!

Ok. I'll take that bait. Who is getting preferential treatment? Please do publish that.

It's well known that squeaky wheels get the grease on this earth, but most of all in special ed in SPS. Woe to the parent who doesn't know his/her rights coming into the system! They will get screwed every time! It would be great to see examples of somebody actually getting something, and how to do it.

Anonymous said…
" It would be great to see examples of somebody actually getting something, and how to do it."

Try reading a few CC and due process decisions, you can also ask OSPI for the original redacted filings for any case.

A lawyer is going to run about $10,000 for out of court settlement and 15-40K for trial.

Do it yourself takes a few hundred hours. The key is to document everything, email everything. send follow-up emails after phone calls and in person meetings. Whenever possible bring an observer to IEP meetings and have that person transcribe the meetings.SPS has used parents ignorance of the laws against them, but you are willing to let the law be their enemy and be patient you can prevail.

Expect it to take 1 to 2 school years to see a result. That's the hardest part. Sometimes you must let the district keep violating IDEA to make your case. The hardest thing for parents handle is the hostile sentiment, but to be effective you can't let the teachers, principles, supervisors or other parents intimidate you.

Anonymous said…
Thanks for the pep talk Michael. But, I thought you were saying that you have some documented preferential treatment. Can we please see that? It would be good to know how to get that too, and to see who is getting it.

Anonymous said…
Sorry, that was a post for SPED directors that read this blog.

They doubt that McWilliams gave PT to a hand full of students based off of McWilliam's relationship with the parents and or positions the parents held in various committees. SPS just denies the allegations without investigating by simply reading McWilliams email and validating that the student is receiving "special" treatment. The treatment is "special" because many other similarly impaired students do not receive the same level of services across the district or at the original schools.


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