I dont think the board will be smiling today
  • sps
  • I don't think the board will be smiling today
As it convenes for a private executive session from 4 to 7 p.m. to discuss the fate of Seattle school district Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and other district employees. A state audit released last week found that Seattle Public Schools wasted $1.8 million on services it never received or didn't benefit from, demonstrating a severe collapse of management failure and accountability.

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At the center of the scandal is former school district employee Silas Potter, who awarded district contracts to minority businesses through the district's small business program which instead benefited his private company. Click here, here, here, here, and here for full coverage of the district's alleged financial fraud which is currently being investigated by the King County Prosecutor's Office.

While an independent investigation into the incident by the school board did not accuse Goodloe-Johnson and the district's Chief Finance and Operations Officer Don Kennedy of any wrongdoing, it said that both should have provided stronger oversight. The report said that although Goodloe-Johnson "admittedly understood the overall purpose of the [small business] program, participated in a promotional video for the program, and received an award from the program on behalf of SPS, we did not find any evidence that she had knowledge of the details of the program, its budget, or the personal services contracts entered into by Potter."

Goodloe-Johnson said that the program was "too far down" in the organization for her to know the details of its operations. Also, she said, she relied mostly on Kennedy to supervise the program. What is particularly worrying is that although outside consultants the Sutor Group raised red flags about the program and Potter, the superintendent never took it up with the school board.

Without naming anyone, School Board President Steven Sundquist said Friday that the board will be considering all options, including firing and buying out contracts of "top to bottom" employees, to restore public confidence in the school district.

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Although he wouldn't say what exactly the board would be doing with Goodloe-Johnson, he did mention that she is consulting with her lawyer about a buyout. Goodloe-Johnson is currently in South Carolina taking care of her mother who is in the hospital. Sundquist said that it is unlikely the board would announce their decision before the school board meeting Wednesday.

And what if the board does decide to fire Goodloe-Johnson, will it stop this mess from happening again? Will a new superintendent be able to prevent the Silas Potters of the world from scheming against the district? Maybe, maybe not. What is largely missing from SPS today is accountability and frank discussion. For starters, how about a superintendent who says, "yes, I messed up, I should have shown the school board the Sutor report. I should have made sure Potter wasn't working with the district any more. I am getting paid more than the governor to make sure none of this happens." Someone whom employees won't be scared stiff to confide in about people like Potter. If we keep bringing in leaders who don't care about either accountability or frank dialogue, then good luck SPS, you have a tough road ahead.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the school board's independent report is that nobody is ready to take responsibility for what happened—people are too busy delegating responsibility to their minions, making excuses, or even justifying some of the alleged wrongdoing. It's a sad, sad day. Basically at the Seattle School District, the buck stops with no one.