Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Crappy! Chart! Almost! Thursday! Betting Edition: What's da Board Gonna Do?

Stumpy and I took off with the kids for mid-winter break. I read from a sunny distance as the Potter debacle unfolded – and, well, yowza.

Even from a distance it’s gob-smacking. It’s not really surprising (being an audit finding and mentioned pretty clearly on the Save Seattle Schools blog in August, detailing Melissa Westbrook's board testimony). But still jaw-dropping.

The game of musical chairs that’s been unfolding – with The Appearance of Innocence as the chairs – has been riveting. In the spirit of transparent decision-making, I have provided a betting chart. The questions amount to: how will each board member lean on keeping vs. ousting the current Superintendent and CFOO? And if they oust them, who will that board member suggest as an interim replacement?

In addition - that's right, there's more! - I have also scored out how various parties are selling themselves in the wake of the scandal, and tips on what not to notice if you’re considering buying what they’re selling.

Sales pitch from the current Superintendent: She trustingly delegated to her right-hand man, the CFOO, and didn’t look into the issues – despite the issues being brought to her attention by the Sutor report in January 2009 – because it was sooooooo far below her and would have been micromanaging! Also, she is committed to addressing the issues raised in the SAO's reports, as all staff in Seattle Public Schools are committed to achieving Excellence for All, and making sure that every student is achieving, and everyone is accountable.

Buyer beware: Oh, my. If you’re gonna buy what she’s selling, there’s a lot you need to ignore. You might also consider a drink (or twelve) so that you can maintain your suspension of disbelief.
Don’t notice: that she met with Fred Stephens and Don Kennedy in January 2009 about the Sutor group report (which noted that the RSBDP was a little bit of an unsupervised mess and needed some structure), and that somehow, all she ended up mentioning to the board about that report was that it got some coverage in a local paper, but that management was on it.

Don’t notice: that the SAO, in April 2010, discussed problems they’d found with the RSBDP with at least 7 different senior district staffers from at least 3 different departments… and that if that information did get back to her she chose, once again, to neither take corrective action nor inform the board of the issues, and that if it didn’t, it maybe, just maybe, could be the fault of her very own communications protocols.

Don’t pay attention to the fact that the Superintendent was exchanging friendly email with Silas Potter as late as May 2010. Or that she received an award for it and filmed a promotional video for it. Also, pay no attention to the fact that she might have one or two teeny tiny documented instances of not being completely forthcoming with information (hey, remember who forgot to mention she was on the board of NWEA when you were buying MAP? Or 17%-gate? No, of course not. Only crazy people with wacko grudges and vengeful agendas would remember that stuff).

So. You wanna buy what she’s selling? Pay no attention to those details.

Sales pitch from the CFOO, Don Kennedy: he delegated to the Director of Facilities and (is there an echo? It sounds kinda familiar) wasn’t going to micromanage his capable report!

Buyer Beware: Get your amnesia ready, suckers. You need to forget that you ev-uh saw the email (in the SAO’s supporting documents) from Stephens to Kennedy asking if Stephens was right that Kennedy and Goodloe-Johnson didn’t want to distribute the Sutor report to the board. You also need to forget that the CFOO should have any idea about a couple of million here and there in the capital budget when there’s a painful maintenance backlog, or that a CFOO should keep any track of departments having significant budget over-runs. And just like with the Superintendent, you must pretend his executive director of finance, director of facilities and the deputy general counsel all willfully refused to let the CFOO know of the SAO’s concerns… which were discussed with each of them (and other staffers too - something like 7 different managers in 3 departments) in April 2010.

So. Remember nothing, and you'll be happy with your purchase!

Sales pitch from Director of Facilities, Fred Stephens: he managed Silas Potter just like he managed everyone else! And he trusted him!
Buyer beware: I’m torn between “hee” and “eek.” Mr. Stephens managed someone who was clearly unqualified for his position (a position that Mr. Stephens secured for Mr. Potter, despite saying it was a “courtesy interview”) just like he managed all his other reports? Um… really? That seems, well… dumb. And he trusted him after multiple neon warning signs (like the auditor’s office reviewing with him, in detail, exactly HOW the RSBDP expenses were not an okay use of public money) were flashing “KEEP. AN. EYE. ON. SILAS. POTTER. AT. ALL. TIMES.”? Dude. Not brills. Also, despite the “reprimand” Mr. Stephens issued to Mr. Potter, he had no idear what was going on, despite the fact that Potter sent Stephens a detailed email noting exactly how he was going to transition the RSBDP from public to private, using SPS funds, and likely SPS office space? And had an office near enough to Stephens’s that he would have seen the foot traffic in and out? Um, okay.

If you want to buy what he’s selling, chant, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." Do it until you forget why you're doing it. And pay no attention to anything, ever, much less stuff behind curtains.

Sales pitch from Deputy General Counsel Ron English: He was “concerned” and raised his “concerns” with Mr. Stephens, and the then-General Counsel Gary Ikeda, but was told by his boss that, having informed the client, his work had been done.

Buyer beware: Too cute! Apparently, the deputy general counsel was sooooo concerned that he was an instructor for the RSBDP. He's even listed as teaching classes on Monday, December 14th, 2009... even though... that's a work day and he had a full-time job with SPS? But, um... surely he received no additional compensation. He was just really looking into RSBDP. And his desire to be really, truly, positively absolutely certain apparently went on for some time, because in Spring 2010, he was still listed as an instructor for RSBDP. Well... I guess that’s one way to keep an eye on the program, and, um, possibly supplement your paycheck [note, 3/3/2011: Melissa Westbrook noted that based on the public documents she's seen, Mr. English did not receive additional compensation]. Perhaps it’s best not to pay attention to the fact that the SAO discussed the issue with the deputy general counsel pretty carefully, and that the deputy general counsel“admitted that some activities were ‘fringe’” but also then made claims to the SAO about how many of the expenses were allowable… which maybe sounds less like “voicing concern” than “defending the status quo.”

So, you wanna buy what he’s got to sell, best to ignore all of that.

Sales pitch from Director Sundquist: He knew nothing, nothing! until December. Once apprised, he acted in an action-y, super-upright and ethical manner befitting an ethical, action-oriented, Boy Scout-y kinda guy!

Buyer beware: Aw. I bet he pushed his glasses down his nose when he said that. If you wanna buy what he’s selling, pay no attention to the fact that the issue was a major audit finding and that Melissa Westbrook gave public testimony on the topic in August 2010. (maybe he only "found out" in December because his family totem is the ostrich?). And riddle me this, Batman: if Director Sundquist learned of these issues in December, why, why, why, why, why was he exhorting his fellow board members to ask "clarifying" questions only at budget workshops? Because he felt the misuse of district funds and lack of supervision by executive management was unrelated to, you know, money issues? If you wanna buy what he's selling, forget all that.

Sales pitch from Director DeBell: he spoke of a cultural problem.

Buyer beware: Well… I’m not sure I’d disagree with him, even if I might express my opinion in considerably stronger language. Director DeBell is more politic than I am.
There is indeed a long-time, extremely serious lack of accountability in the culture of SPS’s central administration. The Superintendent and CFOO, rather than changing that culture, became part of it. To an extent, the Potter debacle is the fruit of a corrupted tree, the growth of which the board has nurtured by a lack of effective oversight and governance. It’s well within the realm of possibility that we’ll eventually learn the tree has borne more fruit than just the Potter debacle. Wow. That sounded twerpily self-righteous. Crikey. Movin’ on.

So, placing your bets for this is kind of like placing bets for Oscar night winners. Except... no fun with dresses (although, this year’s Oscars were not much fun on the dress front, either. Why didn’t they at least invite Cher to make sure someone brought the crazy?). And, well… no fun at all, really. But, there will probably be lots of speechifying.

Okay, it’s not like Oscar night at all. But you can still place your bets on what’s going to happen.

The big question is: are there 4 members of the board with the stones to put an end to this nonsense? In this case, I am hopeful a yes is possible. There’s solid evidence that, faced with a clearly delineated problem, on multiple occasions, the Superintendent and CFOO, among others, neither took corrective action nor informed the board, which is an epic fail in basic management. Still, solid evidence and lots of "outrage" and "disappointment" doesn't guarantee termination. And even if the current Superintendent and CFOO are exited, there is some serious house-cleaning and restructuring that needs to be done in administration.

Still. I think it will be a 5-2 vote, with Directors Maier and Martin-Morris saying the Superintendent is still viable as a leader, and Directors Patu, DeBell, Smith-Blum, Carr and Sundquist voting to oust her.

As board president, Director Sundquist votes last (if it's voted on publicly). He will place his vote with the winning side and then push his glasses down his nose and talk interminably about accountability and ethics. If Director Carr votes no and Director Sundquist is the final vote, Director Sundquist will vote to keep the Superintendent. And then he’ll push his glasses down his nose and talk interminably about accountability and ethics.

You've got a scorecard. Place your bets, privately or in the comments. And let’s see how this falls out.

And, look, I know this is revoltingly sincere, but please, cross your fingers and hope like crazy that what happens is what’s actually best for students in the district.
I should probably say that I'm sitting at my computer awaiting the latest word, which I will instantly convey. But... I'm not. As far as awaiting the Latest Word, I am just not that connected. Also, I'll be watching The Good Wife (which I am likely very twee and middle-aged housewife for admitting, but I like) and chatting about the day with Stumpy over a glass of wine. Still, I will check on the bets. Eventually.


nacmom said...

Love it!

Anonymous said...

Don Cherry jackets would look great on all the Board Members during public testimony...

ken berry

dan dempsey said...

Fabulously entertaining even in hindsight. Thanks for the delight.

At last something about the mess is delightful.