Riya Bhattacharjee of the Seattle Stranger has written a very interesting article, Red Flags
Seattle School Board member Peter Maier was only a footnote in the Seattle Public Schools’ $1.8 million contracting scandal this spring, which culminated in the firing of superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson amid a parade of front-page headlines. But it turns out that Maier, who is seeking reelection this fall, received a report in 2009 that warned of potential malfeasance in the small-business program. Had Maier acted on that information, critics say, he could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Instead, Maier ignored those red flags.
“Maier has utterly failed in his oversight responsibility,” says David Edelman, a teacher at Ingraham High School, located in Maier’s Northeast Seattle district.
As chair of the school board’s Operations Committee, Maier acknowledges that he read warnings in a document called the Sutor report, commissioned by the district, about irregularities with a small-works contracting program, originally a component of the regional small-business development program. It was run by former Seattle Public Schools employee Silas Potter. Nearly two years before Washington State Auditor’s Office investigators alleged that almost $2 million had been fraudulently awarded via the small business development program for projects that were never delivered, the report detailed glaring problems with assigning contracts, including hiring unqualified contractors and using improper documentation. The report also warned about a conflict of interest between certain programs, and it recommended that their administration and management be separated.
“The level of deficiencies found during our review… results in the conclusion that significant changes need to be made with respect to the administration and staff procedures,” it said.
“And then what did he do?” Edelman asks. “Nothing! He didn’t follow up with the superintendent, and he didn’t even contact the other board directors.”
Maier admits as much.
At a March 6 school board meeting, right before the board unanimously voted to fire superintendent Goodloe-Johnson for her role in the scandal, Maier said he had been alerted to the problems and didn’t tell the board.
“I read the report and was concerned,” Maier said. Former facilities director Fred Stephens handed him the report in January 2009, Maier said, after his first meeting as chair of the Operations Committee. At the time, approximately $1.2 million dollars had been lost. Between the time Maier received the report and when the district finally sought a criminal investigation, according to the state audit, the district had lost another $500,000.
“He is directly and personally, though not wholly, responsible for the Pottergate scandal,” Edelman continues.
Could Maier have saved the district money by taking action when he saw the report?
“I don’t think that’s possible,” Maier says. Even though the report had its own red flags he blames Stephens for “not telling me the whole truth.”
In Wazzup With Seattle Public Schools And $$$$$ moi said:
Amy Rolph has posted What Cuts? Seattle Public Schools Budget Is More Than Last Year at Seattle PI.Com:
Seattle Public Schools approved a $577.7 million budget last week, a paired-down list of expenditures that school board members said reflects $45.5 million in cuts.
But now some are disputing whether any cutting happened at all, considering last year’s budget was even less: about $567 million.
Indeed, the district’s budget has continued to increased every year since the recession hit, partly because of federal stimulus dollars. So, where’s the cut?
District spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said Tuesday that school officials aren’t claiming they cut the budget in comparison to last year’s. References to cuts apply to the total costs projected for the coming year if operations remained the same despite rising expenses.
“Yes, our budget is higher, but we also are covering more expenses,” Wippel said.
Collective bargaining costs associated with principle and teacher contracts raised expenses $8.6 million for the coming school year. And pensions will cost about $2.4 million above projected revenue….
“They have gotten used to large increases every year, essentially, and so now they plan on these increases” said Liv Finne, director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education. “When they don’t come through, they essentially scream that there are cuts.”
Finne recently authored a much-circulated blog post about Seattle Public School’s budget, urging that “school officials across the state need to stop describing budget increases as budget cuts.”
She said she’s noticed similar claims from school districts in Spokane, Monroe and Everett. Often, diminished funding is due to the end of temporary stimulus grants.
“It’s disingenuous for them to say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know this was going to happen,'” Finne said.
Wipple said the rising cost of health care for employees and even fuel for school buses means running the district gets more expensive yearly. To balance the budget, the district eliminated 90 office positions and instated unpaid furloughs for office staff not represented by a union.
Seattle Public Schools issued a response to the Washington Policy Center’s criticism Tuesday, saying its stance “disregards a number of facts.”
From the statement:
First, the district’s enrollment is going up — therefore, all things being equal, we would expect to see a budget increase, since the majority of our state funding is based on the per-pupil basic education allocation. In addition, your argument doesn’t take into account the fact that, year over year, we must cover cost increases ranging from employee health care and pensions to fuel for our school buses. The $45 million budget gap that we talk about is the difference between what it cost to run the budget in 2010-2011 and what it would cost in 2011-12 to provide an equivalent level of services.
Finne points out that Seattle Public Schools has millions in reserve funds — and a funding level that outpaces other Washington state school districts…
Janet Peltz’s opinion piece in the Seattle Times, More Revenue is Needed to Stave Off Too Steep School Budget Cuts details the impact of the current fiscal situation.
Maybe the real issue for school districts every where is to ask the question what is necessary to provide a good basic education and can any school district afford more than that? Many of the issues that school districts are addressing are social problems often caused by poverty, incompetent parents, and health issues. If people who are unprepared to be parents can be persuaded to not have kids, that would go along way toward schools being able to focus on education. Economic policies which promote job creation would also help. A health care system which gives access to more people would also help many of the problems now addressed, often inadequately, by schools. Right now, schools are depending upon how one looks at it, the dumping ground for society’s problems or the last rest stop before the child is truly in crisis.
The question for Seattle Public Schools is how to address operating and financial issues before the nuclear option faced by Kansas City must be exercised.
Sara Kiesler is reporting in the special to Seattle PI.Com article, Seattle Schools Must Cut Pay Or Not buy Textbooks
KING 5 News’s Lori Matsukawa is reporting in the story Seattle School Board Proposing Even More Cuts which is sure to be updated.
Seattle Stranger has the blog post, Seattle Schools Implements Furloughs For the First Time Ever by Riya Bhattacharjee:
Moi discusses forensic audit in The Drip, Drip, Drip of News: A Forensic Audit of Seattle Schools Is Needed
In the case of a forensic audit of Seattle Public Schools there would be two reasons for the audit. One to investigate current and past instances of financial mismanagement. Second, as a diagnostic tool to examine current systems and practices to recommend practices which both deter and uncover potential financial mismanagement and fraud.
The next issue is, of course, where do the $$$$$$ come from to conduct the audit??? Moi is scratching her head. You mean those same foundations and government agencies who to give millions of dollars in grants to agencies where there is no accountability for how their money is actually spent, don’t want to know? You mean that we have “never ask so you don’t have to tell” in school finance??? Heck, they might as well send some $$$$ moi’s way for a weekend in Vegas. We are in a time of constrained budgets and it is more important than ever that dollars designated for the education of children are, gasp, actually used to educate children.
Here is the Washington Policy Center citation:
Seattle School District’s budget increases by $11 million, yet officials claim $45.5 million in “budget cuts” By Liv Finne July 11, 2011
Last week the Seattle School District announced its new 2011-12 budget of $577 million as requiring $45.5 million in cuts. To make this “budget cut” claim, the announcement relies on public ignorance of last year’s budget number. No where in this announcement can a reader find any reference to last year’s budget number.&nbs
Here is the message moi got when she was looking for the district’s statement:
The search function on our website is temporarily unavailable. Thank you for your patience while we work on this issue. If you need assistance finding content on our website, please contact [email protected]
Moi has asked in the past to be included in the district’s press mailings, but being a blogger, people like moi don’t count.
Remember the tag line from Watergate?
Follow the money!
Moi posts, you decide.
Dr. Wilda may be contacted at [email protected]
This article also has a link on the drwilda Facebook page and on Twitter
To receive updates from the Seattle Public Education Examiner, just click “subscribe” at the top of the story and enter your email address, which will not be shared.
For a sampling of Dr. Wilda’s blog posts go to:
Dr. Wilda Says This About That ©