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