A standing-room-only crowd filled the Seattle School Board auditorium as the board prepared to vote on whether to terminate Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Chief Financial and Operating Officer Don Kennedy today, a week after a scathing report from the State Auditor's Office revealed that the district had wasted $1.8 million on contracts which did not help it in any way or benefited a private company run by former district employee Silas Potter.
The district is also set to vote to promote Chief Academic Officer Dr. Susan Enfield to interim superintendent.
The problem started when Potter abused his power as manager of the district's Regional Small Business Development Program to award contracts, usually to a select pool of people, resulting in the program running amok. The King County Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into the financial fraud to determine whether it warrants criminal charges. Potter is reportedly living in Florida, where in an interview to the Seattle Times he blamed his former direct supervisor Fred Stephens and district attorney Ron English for the findings in the audit. Stephens is currently a deputy with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Ron English denied any involvement in Potter's program, issuing a statement (.pdf) which says that he has asked the school district to carry out an independent review of his conduct.
The board is set to vote on whether to terminate Goodloe-Johnson's contract following an independent investigative report by former prosecutor Patricia Eakes, which said the superintendent should have done more to prevent the district from being involved in a financial scandal. The report also said that Goodloe-Johnson and the district's Chief Financial and Operations Officer Don Kennedy had enough knowledge about the situation to have provided more oversight.
Further, the report found that although outside consultants the Sutor Group warned the district about red flags in the small business program and Potter's management skills, the superintendent never discussed it with the board.
Maria Goodloe-Johnson's chair remained empty throughout the board meeting, she is reportedly out of town taking care of her sick mother. Angry community members filled the school board auditorium, airing their frustration about a lack of transparency in the district. Others demanded an end to cronyism and corruption, which were both highlighted in the audit report. One speaker said he was ready to start a Wisconsin-style protest to change the district's ways.
SPS science teacher Noam Gundle stressed that simply getting rid of Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy would not solve the district's problems. "A sea change needs to happen at all levels," Gundle said. "Trust must be restored, integrity must be restored. There needs to be an end to backroom dealings and bloated administration."
Others said that the school board was just as much to blame as Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy. "We need to know what the school board knew and how much you knew," before we can restore trust in you, especially because this is a school board election year, Rickie Malone told the board. At least four school board members are up for reelection this year. "Much of what we have heard about the school superintendent, can be said about you," said Ingraham High School teacher David Edelman. "You failed to ask questions ... and slavishly endorsed every initiative of the superintendent. The next time you hire a superintendent, hire someone who can not only clean up the mess in central administration but is a collaborator with the board and the teachers."