(ADDED, 11:02 PM – clip of new interim superintendent’s full speech, plus the entire :15 of cheering that followed the Goodloe-Johnson-firing vote, and board president Steve Sundquist’s remarks before the vote)
(WSB iPhone photo showing half of the standing-room-only crowd)
6:07 PM: We’re at Seattle Public Schools HQ in SODO along with a full complement of regional media and a full house of spectators as the semimonthly meeting of the Seattle School Board – led by West Seattle-residing board president Steve Sundquist – begins. As noted this morning, the board will vote tonight on whether to fire Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson after almost four years, amid a money-mismanagement scandal. The meetings always begin with about an hour of public comment, and it is likely to cover other topics; we’ll publish live updates as the meeting (which is likely to last at least three hours) continues.
(READ THE REST OF THE WSB AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE, AND SEE VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS, AFTER THE JUMP)
(continuation of as-it-happened coverage from earlier in the evening) We likely will also publish newer, non-breaking stories BELOW this one – scroll down to check – but this will stay atop the home page, barring breaking news, for most of the rest of the night. (The meeting’s starting a few minutes late – it’s just been announced that a power outage earlier caused some “technical difficulties” – plus staffers have been working out some logistics for the broadcast media crews and their extra audio/video equipment.) “We understand that it’s a meeting of great significance for Seattle Public Schools,” Sundquist says for openers. (Here’s the agenda, by the way.)
6:15 PM: First comments regarding the superintendent. The district is “at a turning point,” teacher Noam Gundle says, while also saying – to cheers from some in the crowd – that the problems do not rest with the superintendent alone. He says the public’s confidence must be restored, and “the board must begin to do its job – holding those in power accountable.” He also says the district’s budget priorities must be fixed, and there must be more transparency. “To quote our outgoing superintendent, ‘change is hard, but it must be done,'” Gundle concludes, and the room erupts in cheers. The next speaker, north end teacher Jennifer Greenstein, says, “How could it be that while the district was crying ‘no money’ and RIFfing [laying off] teachers, you found $2 million for this program that has nothing to do with the district’s mission?” She also says, “And why should we believe there is no money now?” A few speakers later, Rickie Malone, a frequent speaker at board meetings during previous controversies, suggests it may take some school-board turnover to restore trust as well (and some in the crowd hoot “Yes! Yes!” She yields a minute to Jesse Hagopian, who says “if you think Wisconsin (is a hotbed of discontent) right now, just wait …” Next speaker, David Edelman, also takes the board to task, accusing them of “…slavishly endors(ing) every initiative of the superintendent.” (“Resign!” shouts someone in the crowd.) “Next time you hire a superintendent, hire someone who not only can clean up every mess, but … is a collaborator, with the board, and with the teachers. … You need to repair relations with the teachers. You let us down. You did not take seriously our no-confidence vote.”
6:37 PM: Eric Blumhagen, now speaker as the public-comment period continues, says he is galled that the superintendent’s expected firing is being done “without cause.” The severance payment, he says, would pay for 4 teachers. Fire her with cause, he says – (the motto) “‘Everyone accountable,’ demands nothing less.” Two speakers later, Chris Stewart, says she wants to focus on the management failure involved with the under-fire administration, not just the fraud allegations. She says that the institution where Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was trained is supposed to turn out administrators whose work improves teachers’ performance and earnings, among other things, but clearly didn’t. She also says, “I don’t necessarily see this as a crisis … we can free ourselves of an authoritarian … system.” (They are now halfway through the list of 20 scheduled public commenters.) Next is Dora Taylor, who says she has a long list of reasons that the superintendent could be fired for cause, though she also says, however it’s done, “It’s time to cut our losses and move on.” Then, she says, it’s time for the board to review the decisions that were made by the superintendent (including the controversial Teach for America program participation). “It’s time to support the programs we have, not split them apart … It’s also time for you to begin listening and responding to us … members of this community, and stop listening to the corporate and business community.” Next, former WSHS teacher Dan Dempsey, who claims it looks like a “whitewash” that the firing, without cause, is being rushed through, as he says he’s been trying to get people to pay attention to evidence of fraud for a long time.
6:57 PM: Olga Addae, president of Seattle Education Association (teachers’ union) speaking now. She says for once she sees the school board as it should be – WITHOUT the superintendent sitting up with board members, as “she is an employee … I hope you fully recognize the damage this situation has done to your ability of building trust with your community.” She says the union “is committed to authentic collaboration … (and) the responsibility we all have with each other.” Now, the first pro-superintendent speaker (7:02 pm), Don Alexander, calling the situation “a media quasi-lynching … … execution without trial … I don’t know if the superintendent has done what she is accused of, but you don’t know either.” There are hisses, and a few try to drown him out, and Sundquist says “Let him speak.” He says jocularly, “I’m going to anyway.” A few speakers later, major applause for 90-year-old Dorothy Hollingsworth, who made history as the first African-American on the school board. She says, “I didn’t come to tell you what to do … I believe you are going to do the right thing.” Two speakers later, the 20th (and therefore apparently final) speaker is Stanley Hoffman, a maintenance worker, who is talking about what he says is a half-billion-dollar maintenance backlog in the district. He says, “We need to take the money out of the administration of maintenance, and put it into the maintenance of the 94 buildings … We need to support our buildings.”
7:18 PM: Now the board moves on to action items – public comment over. Sundquist says they are moving to board comments, and explains some technicalities regarding the audit, saying they are skipping an “exit conference” and thanking any state-auditor staffers who are on hand. Sherry Carr speaks first, saying she is “outraged and disappointed” by investigation results, and that she will support both firings that are proposed – Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and financial exec Don Kennedy. Carr says while she has been involved in some difficult decisions, “this one is fairly straightforward.” She supports Susan Enfield as proposed interim superintendent, and says the board expects to announce shortly who it will hire as interim CFO, replacing Kennedy. “I’m confident we will emerge from this stronger,” she concludes. Next, Harium Martin-Morris, who says he is “deeply saddened” and that it weighs more heavily because he is the only African-American on the board and many of those involved in the scandal are African-American. Looking at the reports, he says, “I have come to one conclusion … there is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation … it was here before Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and it could continue if we don’t work together.” He says he believes she brought thoughtfulness to her work. “I have no desire to vilify anyone … I want to put this behind us. … This is now, for me, about the system – what we should do to make sure our kids get an excellent education, one they deserve … This is also about unity and the board speaking with one voice.” Next, Peter Maier says he is “angry and outraged … the real victims are the 47,000 students … and taxpayers of Seattle Public Schools,” and he apologizes “for what has happened.” Maier says steps will be taken to recover and return any wrongfully spent money, and says he will pursue “taxpayer justice.” He says the board was “deceived … and I was personally misled …I want to clarify one factual element in the report of the independent investigator.” That element: He says he did get a copy of the report that the investigation said the board didn’t get (the Sutor report). He says what the superintendent told him at the time led him to believe the problems were known and were being fixed. He says, however, they weren’t aware of the full scope of the problem, including “unauthorized lobbying in Olympia” and “personal services contracts.” He is continuing to go over details of the wrongdoing spelled out in the report, and saying that’s why he lost confidence in Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy “and I believe an immediate change is necessary .. I do not take this step lightly or with any pleasure.” He says it’s imperative that cronyism does not continue. (He gets applause when he finishes.)
7:37 PM: Betty Patu is next. She says, “It is appalling for me as a board director to think about, how could this be, and why is it … When I came on this board, my whole emphasis was, I want to make a difference … that every student in Seattle Public Schools have an opportunity to have an equity education … excellence for all. I don’t see much ‘excellence for all’ in Seattle Public Schools. The children in the southeast community have been underserved for more than 30 years.” Patu, angrily, says she doesn’t believe the superintendent had any intention of creating equity for those underserved students, but they must have a better education so they are not out “shooting and killing themselves … It’s time for changes, to move on, for all of us to come together as a community …” She is drawing repeated bursts of applause – and wild applause at the end – for saying it is time to make a change, to make sure there is “equity education for all children.” Someone from audience whoops, “You go, Betty!” Next, Kay Smith-Blum, another of the newer board members. She says her range of emotions has included being “disheartened,” but she says changes should include systems, and codifying changes in “a way that is much more transparent … allowing us to exercise the oversight that we are charged with as directors.” She also says she is not satisfied with current cuts and wants to see the central administration “de-layer(ed)” – that draws cheers. “I will of course vote for a change in leadership.” She says over the past year she’s seen signs of a management problem in other ways beyond this particular situation. She calls for “new ways of doing business.” She says this will be a “springboard” not only for new leadership but also for a “culture change.” And Smith-Blum says that the entire community must be “strategically” involved in the district’s work, not just “those who come to this room,” and she thanks “the community at large … for your support going forward.”
7:48 PM: Next, Michael DeBell. He joins Maier in apologizing. “Your taxes were wasted on an ill-conceived program.” He says, we’ll get through this, and that the district will learn from this. DeBell also acknowledges the teachers’ no-confidence vote, and saying it was “damaging,” adding that teachers’ morale is vital, and whether they “feel included.” P.S. We will be rolling video on Sundquist’s remarks, so there’ll be a pause in our live chronicling. He also apologized, saying he’s angry as a director and as a parent. (added – video of his comments)
7:57 PM: Sundquist is done, on to the vote. They are asking district counsel to speak about “this notion of ‘for cause’,” as Sundquist put it. “The contract for the superintendent sets a very high bar for establishing cause,” says the lawyer, whose opinion is that they might not prevail if they sought to terminate for cause and were challenged. “You would face potential liability … damages … attorney’s fees … this could easily pay a multiple of (the cost) of terminating without cause.” He says they got a second opinion and that lawyer agreed. Regarding “without cause,” he says it doesn’t mean there’s no reason, but it means the employee cannot challenge it. “The advantages of terminating without cause are that you avoid the risk and liability … and it brings a certain measure of finality.” He reiterates that their recommendation is to terminate without cause.
8:06 PM: Board members are commenting again. Maier says that as the only lawyer on the board, he sees the benefits in voting to terminate without cause. Sundquist acknowledges it’s a painful decision and that “urban superintendencies” are difficult jobs. But he says Goodloe-Johnson will leave a legacy “that is worth contemplation.” He is being hissed for what he lists as that legacy; then he moves on to say she must be dismissed expeditiously. Motion passes to terminate her employment. Room cheers, and a brief round of “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye” is sung at the back, till Sundquist asks the room to come back to order (video added of entire :15 cheering/singing):
Next, the motion to terminate financial officer Don Kennedy; Sundquist says he also believes that Kennedy has some legacies. They unanimously vote to terminate his employment. No applause. Now on to appoint Susan Enfield as interim superintendent. DeBell says they want the contract to run till next June because of board elections and hiring cycles, and if the board chooses, they can launch a search next January.
8:14 PM: Betty Patu says she disagrees with hiring Enfield as interim superintendent. She disagrees with the decisions to close programs in the southeast area. She says the next superintendent needs integrity, vision, and compassion. She draws big applause. Martin-Morris, next, says he supports Enfield because she is a “quality educator.” Carr has praise for Enfield as well. Maier and Carr follow with supportive words as well. Smith-Blum says Enfield has superlative credentials and will collaborate. DeBell says they are “fortunate” to have Dr. Enfield and that there will be a “smooth transition” with her in place. “She has demonstrated flexibility, creativity, and a problem-solving skill.” Sundquist says Enfield “is very well-qualified …I believe she will chart her own course and will be bold and courageous … I have confidence she will be successful.” Her appointment passes 6-1. “We’ll be watching!” someone yells. Enfield speaks now.
8:30 PM: Enfield’s speech is over; highlights in a moment (we were rolling video). The board is taking a half-hour break before resuming the meeting. Enfield has been serving as the district’s Chief Academic Officer. From the printout of her speech, distributed by district staff immediately after she finished speaking (we’ll post the video when back at HQ), these excerpts:
This is a very difficult time for us all. I know there are some serious questions about our fiscal stewardship that we must, and will, answer for the community, our taxpayers, district staff, teachers, families, and students. Our immediate priority is to restore public trust in Seattle Public Schools. We will begin with the hiring of an interim Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Operating Officer. There is a national search under way for permanent replacements for these positions. We are also replacing the district’s internal auditor. I will work diligently with the School Board to make sure we hire only the best qualified people for these critical positions so that we can direct our energy where it belongs: Serving our schools, teachers and students. …
(updated) Here’s our video of her entire speech (picked up a few seconds in):
That’s the end of this particular agenda item, so we’re on our way back to the peninsula. Final note, the agreement for Dr. Enfield to become interim superintendent includes a salary of $225,000 – about $40,000 less than Goodloe-Johnson was making.
ADDED 6:19 PM: For posterity – here’s the Seattle Channel embed of the entire board meeting: