Board likely to oust Seattle schools superintendent
After 3 1/2 years as Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson's tenure appears to be over. The Seattle School Board clearly signaled its intention Tuesday night to dismiss Goodloe-Johnson and replace her with Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield as interim superintendent.
Seattle Times staff reporters
After 3 ½ years as Seattle Public Schools superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson's tenure appears to be over.
The Seattle School Board clearly signaled Tuesday night that it intends to dismiss Goodloe-Johnson and immediately appoint Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield as interim superintendent.
The board will vote Wednesday night on both actions, one week after two investigative reports revealed the misuse of public money and mismanagement at the top.
The seven-member board also is poised to oust Chief Financial and Operations Officer Don Kennedy.
Emerging from a four-hour closed-door meeting Tuesday night, board President Steve Sundquist read a bluntly worded statement laying the groundwork for removing Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy.
"The disturbing evidence of repeated violations of the public trust demands swift and decisive action by the board," Sundquist said. "We are uniformly committed to restoring public confidence and to ensuring that this never happens again."
Motions before the board call for paying Goodloe-Johnson a severance package of $264,000 — a year's base salary — plus an estimated $9,800 in benefits. Kennedy would receive $87,500 in salary — half his annual base pay — and about $4,900 in benefits.
Board Vice President Michael DeBell said the board received several legal opinions about whether the board could fire Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy for cause, which would mean they wouldn't receive the severance pay. But members were told they likely wouldn't succeed, he said.
And, while the severance packages will cost money, DeBell said, they will be worth the price.
"We are talking about something that is priceless, which is the confidence of the public and restoring the integrity of Seattle Public Schools," he said.
Goodloe-Johnson did not attend the meeting and did not return phone calls for comment. She reportedly is out of town attending to her ailing mother.
Kennedy also didn't attend.
The Tuesday session marked the first time board members have met since the state Auditor's Office released a report last week showing the district's small-business contracting program gave out lucrative contracts with little or no public benefit.
The district lost about $280,000, according to the audit, and about $1.5 million in spending was considered a questionable use of public funds.
Four of the board's seven members came out of the meeting looking grim. Sundquist read his prepared statement and left while three others — DeBell, Kay Smith-Blum and Peter Maier — stayed to answer questions.
Maier said the board is taking this action only a few months after extending Goodloe-Johnson's contract because of "startling new information that wasn't available and, in some cases, was withheld from the board."
He called the board's pending decisions Wednesday "in the best interest of the district's 47,000 students."
Smith-Blum said, as the owner of a small clothing business, oversight is critical. "When you lose faith in your top management, then you only have certain options — and those are the ones before us tomorrow [Wednesday] as a board."
In Sundquist's statement, he said the state audit and the district's follow-up investigation reveal "deeply troubling actions and a series of red flags that should have been heeded."
In addition, his statement said, the investigations highlighted four areas of concern that must be addressed immediately:
• A lack of management oversight and accountability that allowed potentially fraudulent activity to persist for years without intervention;
• Missed opportunities on the part of staff — in varying roles and at varying levels — to keep the school board properly informed;
• A workplace culture within some parts of Seattle Public Schools that caused fear of reprisal among employees who otherwise might report concerns;
• Management's failure to act upon employee concerns that are reported.
Along with discussing the state audit, board members Tuesday reviewed a special report they commissioned from an independent investigator, Seattle attorney Patricia Eakes.
Neither Goodloe-Johnson nor Kennedy has been accused of wrongdoing, but Eakes concluded that both knew enough about problems in the troubled small-business contracting program that they should have acted.
Asked if the board, too, should be held accountable, DeBell said, yes, based on how it responded after it became aware of the problems. "We can't act on what we don't know," he said.
DeBell and Sundquist outlined the steps that the board has taken since June, when it first learned about problems in the small-business contracting program. Those include closing down the small-business program, requesting the state auditor investigation, and finally, when it became clear there were major problems, launching an internal review and alerting King County prosecutors.
The state audit painted a picture of a schools program run amok. The small-business contracting program was run by Silas W. Potter Jr., who reported to former executive director of facilities Fred Stephens.
Eakes also faulted Stephens for failing to supervise Potter properly.
Potter left the district in June. Stephens resigned not long afterward and now works for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in Washington, D.C.
State auditors were unable to locate Potter for questioning. The Seattle Times since has learned that he is living in Florida.
"It's a sad situation," DeBell said after the meeting. "Maria is a good person. Don Kennedy is a good person.
"But when they have that much responsibility, they have to be held accountable."
Asked if she let him down, as one of the School Board members who had hired her, DeBell said that "lax management and lax oversight let the city down."
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359