Seattle school superintendent fired over financial scandal

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

The Seattle School Board ousted Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson after details of a financial scandal became public, involving a controversial school agency that was found to have issued nearly $2 million in questionable contracts with little or no apparent benefit to the district.

Susan Enfield, the district’s chief academic officer, was appointed as interim superintendent.

The tip of the financial scandal was first discovered in early 2009, although school officials were slow to take action which could have prevented some of the fraudulent transactions.

The scandal centered on a school agency called the Regional Small Business Development Program, that was intended to award smaller-value construction and service contracts to minority and women-owned firms with revenues under $1 million.


An investigation by an outside consulting group in Jan. 2009 disclosed that agency officials did not follow proper procedures, gave favored treatment to some contractors, and that its files were “incomplete and unorganized.” Sources said that some of the construction firms that received contracts weren’t licensed by the state, and didn’t do background checks on employees, including some that worked near children.

The executive in charge of the program, Silas Potter Jr., was reprimanded by his then-supervisor, Fred Stephens in April 2009, and stripped of some of his job authority.

The consultants also criticized Stephens for not properly supervising Potter. Stephens left the district in July to take a job with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former Washington governor.

Last summer, an audit was ordered by school district officials after they discovered that Potter was soliciting work from nearby communities, using a company he owned, but with a name that made it appear to be part of the school district’s program.  A $35,000 check sent to the district by the Tacoma Public Schools tipped officials of the bogus billing scheme.

After a report was filed with the Seattle Police Department, the money was returned by Potter.

The subsequent audit revealed that the district spent $280,000 for work that wasn’t done or was not for the district’s benefit, and flagged another $1.5 million for questionable services, including consultants and lobbyists who did little or nothing to earn the fees paid them.

Most of the monies were paid to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, local non-profit organizations and firms owned by a former Democratic state chairman and prominent leaders in Seattle’s minority communities.

In December, district officials called in King County prosecutors to take over the investigation. Seattle police and county prosecutors are conducting the investigation under a secretive process by which records and witnessed will be subpoenaed.

Goodloe-Johnson was employed as the district’s superintendent for 3 ½ years, and will be awarded $264,000 in severance pay, equal to one year’s salary. The school board said that would not consider the termination a firing for cause, which would allow them to avoid a severance payment altogether. Lawyers advised the board that such a position would be difficult to defend if challenged in court.

The board also fired Goodloe-Johnson’s hand-picked chief financial officer, Don Kennedy, and agreed to pay him $87,500 in severance monies.

Information from : The Seattle Times

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 1 comment

L.A. charter school group gets hall pass after cheating scandal

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

A group of charter schools in Los Angeles is about to have its license renewed, despite findings by the Los Angeles Board of Education that it promoted cheating on the standardized state exam by which schools’ performance is measured.

A positive staff recommendation was issued for the Crescendo charter schools, a group of six schools south of downtown L.A., which was found to have shown students the questions and answers of the actual state test prior to taking it. The school’s founder and chief executive, John Allen, is said to have authorized and orchestrated the scandal.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the school’s gains on test results were 10 times what other schools would be considered strong results.

Allen ordered principals at the schools to break the seals on the tests and allow students to practice with the actual test questions. Principals at all six schools complied with the order, although during the subsequent investigation, some of the principals claimed they asked Allen if it was OK to do so.

Several teachers contacted the district school board to report the breach, while also expressing concern of retaliation from Crescendo executives.

When confronted by the district about his actions, Allen denied any wrongdoing, and when later questioned by the school’s board of directors, he initially denied it as well.

“I understand the pressure regarding test results,” said Joan Herman, director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards & Student Testing at UCLA. “But to advise your entire enterprise to cheat, that would be a serious, serious ethical breach.”

Allen received a six-month unpaid suspension and was demoted to director of facilities for the schools. The principals were each suspended for 10 days.

The L.A. Unified School District threatened to revoke the schools’ charters immediately, but backed down when the group’s board promised to undertake a series of measures including staff reorganization and ethics training, and additional review of board governance, conflicts of interest and the public records and open meetings act.

Los Angeles Times

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

Seattle Public School agency under criminal investigation for fraud, exec is missing

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

A small-business program administered within the Seattle public school district is under investigation for fraud and its chief executive has gone missing, even though independent consultants warned school officials of potential misconduct over two years ago.

The agency at the center of an investigation by county prosecutors, the Regional Small Business Development Program, was formerly run by Silas Potter Jr., who resigned in June, but has since disappeared. The program was intended to award smaller-value construction and service contracts to minority and women-owned companies that had under $1 million in annual revenues.


The outside consultant, The Suttor Group, warned the Seattle School Board in Jan. 2009 that program officials did not follow proper procedures, gave favored treatment to some contractors, and that its files were “incomplete and unorganized.” Sources said that some of the construction firms that received contracts weren’t licensed by the state, and didn’t do background checks on employees, including some that worked near children.

Potter was reprimanded in April 2009 by his then-supervisor, Fred Stephens, who stripped Potter of his authority to award construction contracts, while allowing him to continue to award other types of contracts.

The consultants also criticized Stephens for not properly supervising Potter. Stephens left the district in July to take a job with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former Washington governor.

Last summer, an audit was ordered by school district officials after they discovered that Potter was soliciting work from nearby communities, using a company he owned, but with a name that made it appear to be part of the school district’s program.  A $35,000 check sent to the district by the Tacoma Public Schools tipped officials of the bogus billing scheme.

After a report was filed with the Seattle Police Department, the money was returned by Potter.

The subsequent audit revealed that the district spent $280,000 for work that wasn’t done or was not for the district’s benefit, and flagged another $1.5 million for questionable services, including consultants and lobbyists who did little or nothing to earn the fees paid them.

Most of the monies were paid to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, local non-profit organizations and firms owned by a former Democratic state chairman and prominent leaders in Seattle’s minority communities.

In December, district officials called in King County prosecutors to take over the investigation. Seattle police and county prosecutors are conducting the investigation under a secretive process by which records and witnessed will be subpoenaed.

The Seattle School Board is also looking into allegations that Superintendent Marie Goodloe-Johnson and other top officials may have been aware, or should have been aware of the fraudulent transactions.

Some evidence suggests that district employees expressed concern of irregularities within the program, but school officials didn’t follow through on them. Other employees who had concerns remained silent, citing their fear of reprisal, according to the audit.

In the meantime, school officials have shut down the small business program until it can be more professionally managed with proper oversight.

Information from: The Seattle Times

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

Florida grand jury says Broward County school board corrupt, should be abolished

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

In a report released Friday, a special grand jury investigating the School Board of the nation’s sixth largest school district, accused it of rampant corruption and  reckless spending of taxpayer monies.

The Florida grand jury said that things are so bad, that if it had the power, it would abolish the Broward County School Board.

“We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen,’’ reads a report compiled by the grand jury. “Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.

The report also said that the district superintendent Jim Notter, was not strong enough to run the school system.

The 51-page report provides details of Board members of taking political donations from contractors and vendors doing business with the district, and handing out millions of dollars of contracts for goods and services to those supporters.

The report concludes:

“The corruptive influence here is most often campaign contributions from individuals with a financial stake in how Board members vote. Long ago the Board should have recognized the risk that putting themselves in the center of handing out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars would inevitably drawn attention and undue influence from moneyed interests…Only now, years later and with pressure from all sides, have they begun to take steps to resolve this and other issues.

“Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confidence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.’’

According to The Miami Herald, the recommendations included:

Refuse campaign contributions from contractors, vendors and others doing business with the Board.

Require mandatory ethics training and testing by an outside agency.

All late additions to the Board’s agenda must be discussed at a public meeting.

Add more detail to agenda items or provide a link to where more information concerning the item can be found.

Reduce the threshold on spending items on the consent agenda.

Remove retainer reductions from consent agenda.

Require recommendation of the Superintendent or the Deputy Superintendent for reduction in retainer to be in writing and under their signature.

End the influence of the Board over the Building department by turning over inspections to local building departments.

Reduce number of school board members to 5.

Place before the voters the issue of electing the Superintendent.

Create independent office of Inspector General to monitor the Board and District

Prohibit board members from being involved in the selection of contractors, vendors, or financial institutions.

No official business should be conducted between school board members and staff

All bids should be opened in public, with Auditor there to certify bids met minimums.

No decisions should be made anywhere other than a regularly scheduled board meeting.

No discussions should be had other than at Board meetings or workshops as per Sunshine Law requirements.

Prohibit gifts of any value to any Board member or District employee from anyone doing business with the District or lobbying the Board

Empower Department of Education to penalize districts that don’t file require paperwork by withholding any state funds until certificates of occupancy, inspections and other project documents are filed.

The report also recommended that an outside monitor be appointed to review every action of the current Board.

The Miami Herald

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

Atlanta school officials reprimanded for continued obstruction in cheating probe

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

Georgia state officials, investigating a culture of “intimidating, threatening and retaliating” against Atlanta Public School employees who come forward with information about widespread cheating and corruption in the system, sent a letter to the school board on Wednesday, demanding that the obstructive practices cease immediately.

Investigators appointed last summer by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, say they have found evidence that the district-wide cheating on the state’s standardized test, the CRTC, has been going on for years. Since the early 2000’s, they say that the district engaged in “a pattern and practice” of punishing employees who reported cheating, or asked questions how the CRTC was managed.

The three state investigators who signed the letter, Mike Bowers, Bob Wilson and Richard Hyde, said the district repeatedly acted to intimidate witnesses during their own investigation, by having principals accused of changing test scores stand outside the room were witnesses were giving statements “with the obvious intent to make their presence known and to put a chilling effect on the staff member being interviewed.”

The letter also detailed accusations that a high level official in the district encouraged principals to refuse to cooperate with state investigators, and instead, write “go to hell” memos to state agents.

Even after the district learned of the official’s illegal actions, it waited two months before taking action, consisting of re-assigning the employee. During that period, the official took retaliatory action against at least one whistleblowing district employee.

The state investigators also demanded that the district immediately stop their own investigation, believing it was intended to further suppress information. District Superintendent Beverly Hall responded by denying the district was investigating anything, saying only that it was “conducting an analysis.”

Before the scandal was exposed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta school system was heralded as a model of success by turning around a poorly performing school system in just a few years’ time.

In 2008, the AJC reported that an independent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania determined that the vastly improved test scores were statistically impossible.

Ultimately, outside investigators found widespread evidence of cheating in at least 58 schools. Test sheets showed that incorrect answers were erased on tests, and correct answers were substituted. Investigators also said that many teachers admitted to changing test results, and supplying questions and answers to students before handing out tests.

Largely based on the phony scoring achievements, the district’s Superintendent Hall, was named 2009 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. In May 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the National Board of Education Sciences.

The AJC reported last month that the district has punished teachers that have reported the cover up of  cheating and other illegal activities, and has rewarded those who keep quiet.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon

Cuomo takes aim at supersized school superintendent salaries

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 3 comments

Cuomo thinks some public school superintendents salaries need to be capped.

Perhaps at an annual salary of $179,000, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is a bargain. On the other hand, perhaps more than a few of the state’s public school superintendent’s salaries are over-the-top inflated. At least that’s what comes to mind upon hearing what the hamlet of Syosset on Long Island is paying its school chief, Carole G. Hankin: $386,868. Her total package including benefits, expense accounts and other comp: $506,000.

Singled out by Cuomo in his budget address as an example of excess in many school districts, Hankin earned more than any other school superintendent in the state.  According to the New York Times, Cuomo’s remarks set the tone for his proposed reduction in local school aid by $2.5 billion, to help balance the state’s budget deficit.

“I understand that they sometimes have to manage budgets, and sometimes the budgets are difficult,” he said. “But why they get paid more than the governor of the state I really don’t understand.”

Currently over 40 percent of public school superintendents make more than $200,000 per year in salary and benefits, and there is no state regulation on how much they can earn.

While state attorney general, school superintendents caught Coumo’s attention, with a practice many were involved with, called double-dipping. While retired and collecting substantial pension checks, many superintendents continued to work in other school districts, and earning large salaries.

Given the current finances of the state, and local school districts, Cuomo said that the practice was unaffordable and just plain wrong.

New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie is also trying to make sense of the outsized salaries paid to public school administrators in the Garden State. He recently set a cap on the salaries of most of the state’s medium-sized school districts at $175,000 – the same salary paid to the governor. The cap, which triggered a lawsuit by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, would require over 70 percent of the superintendents to take a pay cut.

School superintendents don’t see the issue the same way as state officials and taxpayers.

Robert J. Lowry, Jr., the deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents said, “The state and the schools are facing difficult times that ultimately require strong leadership. Superintendents are trying to provide that leadership, and in many districts, they have passed up raises or made other concessions to save money for their districts and also to set an example.”

The New York Times

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • 3 comments

Washington State looks at school health care system reform

  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon
  • Comment on this story

A report issued this week by Washington state auditor Brian Sonntag, laid bare inefficient and costly practices within the health insurance system covering 100,000 of the state’s public school employees.

Among the highlights of the report were the existence of over 1,000 pools of money to underwrite over 200 plans, offered through 10 different insurance companies. Last year, the total cost of providing health care to participants exceeded $1.2 billion, of which 64 percent was covered by the state, and the remaining 36 percent, by local districts and employees.

The auditor’s officers said that the tangled system should be streamlined and standardized to make it simpler, and to save millions of dollars annually. A consolidated system would be more efficient, saving administrative costs and making the system more transparent.

A spokeswoman for the Public School Employees of Washington, a 26,000 member union representing school support workers, said that the system is unfair, and that while the state picks up the cost of health insurance for other state part-time employees, school employees working part-time must pay a pro-rated share of their health care premiums.

“We’ve been asking lawmakers to look at this for years,” said Rick Chisa, adding that many state bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teacher aides are struggling.

Besides streamlining the existing system, the Sonntag offered two other options.

One would involve standardizing coverage throughout the system and letting employees choose coverage that would be appropriate for them.

Another option would involve an entire restructuring of the existing system, and create a state governing board to oversee its operation.

Information from: Seattle Times

  • expose this
  • Share
  • Bookmark to Delicious
  • Bookmark to StumbleUpon