Steve Sundquist: trust the school board
  • Steve Sundquist: trust the school board
The Council Committee on the Built Environment today approved an agreement between the City of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools that would allow the school district to use the services of the city's ethics office. The full council is scheduled to vote on it next Tuesday.

The Seattle school district announced its decision to hand over its ethics and whistleblower investigations to the city in March, a few weeks after a major financial scandal led to the firing of former district superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. The district will be paying the city $125,000 for contracting with its ethics panel, which means that ethics complaints in Seattle Public Schools will now be investigated by an independent body with 30 years of experience dealing with similar cases. The amount will be prorated for this year.

The ethics panel will be hiring a new investigator for this job.

This is the first time that a school district in Washington has handed over this kind of an investigation to another agency. The move comes after an investigation of the district's financial scandal by the State Auditor's Office found that SPS employees were afraid to complain to their supervisors about mismanagement in a small business contractual program, fearing retaliation. Seattle school board members admitted that a cultural change was necessary to address this problem.

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Speaking at the Built Environment Committee meeting this morning, School Board Chair Steve Sundquist said that the partnership would "send a strong signal to the community that we are trying to create a healthier organizational culture in Seattle schools administration." "We are trying to make real changes," Sundquist said. " Even though we will be paying for this ... we as a board feel good about it."

Four school board members, including Sundquist, are up for reelection this year, a time when the public's confidence in the board is perhaps at its lowest. "We are committed to accountability and want to improve the public's trust and faith in us," not just in the light of the financial scandal, but overall, Sundquist said.

The city's ethics panel will specifically investigate complaints of violations of the district's ethics policy and retaliation against whistleblowers who provide information on improper government actions. The district will have the ultimate power to prescribe penalties.

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