SPS is not scoring well on the Truthy SuperAnalysis™ so far. The claim du jour isn’t likely to fare much better.
Q: “The State audit of the 2008-2009 school year resulted in a number of findings. What is the district doing to respond?”
A: “The School Board and the Superintendent are committed to being good stewards of public resources. A comprehensive set of strategies have been put in place. Progress will be reported to the public monthly at the Audit and Finance Committee (a monthly meeting has been added devoted specifically to audit response); at School Board meetings; and at several special “oversight” board work sessions that will be scheduled during 2010-2011.”
Actual Factual Facts
Factual! There were “a number” of findings in both audits. The "number" of findings in the accountability report was 13, and the "number" in the financial report was 7.
The below chart (this may be easier to read) may help you put the "number" of those findings in "context" by letting you see the "number" of findings in the worst audit reports ever released in the state (okay, since 1997). Seattle has 3 of the top 5 spots in the Audit Report Hall of Shame.
The Audit & Finance committee has added a monthly meeting just to address the audit, and plans to have oversight workshops. All of this is factual.
Dude. Worst auditor's report ever.
What the public doesn't seem to have fully twigged to is that the state auditor's office reports problems that they find to district staff months before reports are released (with notes on who each findings was communicated to, with dates). I use present tense because this is standard operating procedure for the State Auditor's office. The auditor's office lets districts know about issues well before the issues become part of audit reports. As a policy.
Interesting that district management didn't find the motivation for their "commitment" to being "good stewards" until after the report was released in July 2010, quite a few months after the auditor's office had updated them about the many, many ways they weren't being good stewards.
And very, very interesting that, apparently, members of the board found out about the report... at the exit interview with the state auditor.
That's right. District staff somehow forgot to inform the board about the seriousness of the audit; the board found out from the auditor's office just before the audit was released.
Does that sound like a "commitment to good stewardship" on the part of management? I think it sounds more like a commitment to good stewardship when people are paying attention, but I'm kind of judgmental.
And the response to the audit might be less than robust. If you look at the audit response log (longer and more detailed than the district summary), the district might have an... unusual view of a problem being "addressed."
Let's have a quick look at issue AE3.1 (page 6), "Superintendent did not disclose financial relationship with vendor." District response for the problem is "Superintendent has publicly disclosed all applicable relationships (October 2009)." Problem is categorized as "completed." If you want a timeline/fuller picture, I just posted it.
Let's imagine this scenario in the private sector, shall we?
So. We have, in our imaginary scenario, the CEO of a company. Our prez also sits on the board of a worthy non-profit, "Committed Ruminant Adorers Zealously Into Equality Stuff (C.R.A.Z.I.E.S.)," a group that promotes goats as urban farm animals and pets and works to reduce the social stigma of goat ownership. No problem (aside from the fact that whoever thought of their name is clearly the soulmate of the person who first named the South Lake Union Trolley). Being on the board of a non-profit is not a big deal, and often expected of CEOs.
However, the company's board decides that the company needs to increase charitable giving. The giving committee on the company - several of whom only got their positions through their relationships with the prez - decides that the worthiest recipient of their charitably-intended dough is... C.R.A.Z.I.E.S. The prez says nothing to the board about her relationship with C.R.A.Z.I.E.S. FYI: The prez receives no compensation for being on the board of our imaginary non-profit.
During a routine audit, an external auditor confirms that a) the prez is on the board of C.R.A.Z.I.E.S. and b) notes it was really, really, really not kosher for the prez not to let her company's board know that she was on the board of an organization that stood to benefit from the company's money.
So. Do you think the prez disclosing the relationship and stepping down from the board of C.R.A.Z.I.E.S. would be enough for a private sector board of directors?
Uh, no. No it wouldn't. Undisclosed conflicts of interest are frowned upon. Disclosing a conflict of interest after the fact doesn't "fix" the problem. The following courses of actions would all be possibilities:
1) Prez gets fired
2) Prez gets fired and relationship with C.R.A.Z.I.E.S. is terminated
3) Prez stays on job, with a censure and some kind of punishment, relationship with C.R.A.Z.I.E.S. is either terminated or fully and very critically re-examined, and an investigation into the prez is undertaken to see if there are any other ethics issues that the external auditor might have missed.
I don't agree that this issue has been "completed." It's public money - if anything, there should be a higher standard of disclosure, ethics and conflict of interest. I don't think the Superintendent should absolutely be fired over the issue. However, the relationship with NWEA, and what benefit SPS is deriving from MAP, should be fully and very critically re-examined.
If you disagree with me, I'm interested to know why. I will, just a leeeeetle snarkily, leave this issue with a quote from the Strategic Plan:
"At Seattle Public Schools, we see a city where: District leadership and staff model excellence and accountability."
Huh. Well, moving on.
The Audit & Finance committee has set up additional meetings every month just for the audit. It's a start.
However. Having meetings about a problem doesn't mean a problem gets fixed.
The board could meet every day to discuss oversight, but if they don't provide oversight where it counts - at votes, board meeting discussions, committee meetings and workshops - they still won't be fulfilling their duty of oversight.
Oversight and governance are not passive.
On the same line of thinking, putting processes "in place" - no matter how comprehensive, strategic and benchmarked - is still different than fixing a problem. I can make my kids come up with a comprehensive, strategic process (aligned with our core family values) for making sure they get their homework and chores done. And yet, making Curly and my boy create a process is not the same as the little squirrels doing their homework and chores. A crazy thing called "supervision" is required.
Whew. That was alotta material to cover. Of course, the two audits, between them, were 131 pages o' problems.
Truth SuperAnalysis™ says: Believe the problems in the audit are fixed when you see change in the way things are done. New! meetings!, procedures! and! policies! may be where you've gotta start, but a genuine commitment to good stewardship will be shown in district and board action.
To date, there's been no action demonstrating a genuine commitment to good stewardship.