The Seattle Schools board voted unanimously to fire Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson without cause Wednesday evening. School board members said the decision was necessary to restore trust in the school system after a state auditor's investigation into the district's Regional Small Business Development Program showed financial mismanagement.
The audit said up to $1.5 million of district money was spent for "questionable" value to the school district, and said $280,000 had been spent on services never provided.
"What has occurred -- the financial scandal, the cronyism, the obvious lack of transparency -- is an insult to the taxpayers of Seattle," the board's vice-president Michael DeBell told the meeting. "You pay your property taxes, you obey the rules. Others should do the same."
Black community leaders in Seattle strongly disagreed with the school officials' characterization of the case, arguing that the audit was misleading and unfair. The auditors' investigation into mismanagement says the Seattle Urban League failed to properly bill and account for school district funds, which were used to run the Contractor Development & Competitiveness Center. The CDCC was set up in 2002 to help minority businesses -– historically locked out of government projects -- bid for a share of government work. The auditor's investigation also criticizes the lobbying and outreach work by leading advocates from the Black community.
In a press conference Wednesday, the Urban League said it had done everything required by the district liaison Silas Potter, who ran the BEX program, and other program managers. Potter said his managers knew everything he was doing and did not identify any problems. He told the Seattle Times that his supervisors approved his working methods.
"I've been thrown under the bus," he told the Seattle paper. "It's a lot bigger than Silas Potter. They're trying to minimize their exposure of what they've done and maximize what Silas has done."
The Urban League defended its work Wednesday in a press conference.
"We absolutely did nothing wrong," said Tony Benjamin, manager of the CDCC. "The auditor said we did nothing wrong. We just believe more clarification is needed on the items in question."
Benjamin said the audit was just flat out wrong in some areas. For example, he said, the audit states that a computer database system designed to link contractors and construction projects never worked. The Urban League developed a prototype and provided it to the district, he told The Skanner News, but the district decided not to further pursue the project.
Eddie Rye, a longtime advocate for minority and small businesses in construction, defended his role in the program. Rye told The Skanner News that he was misled by school district management, who never hinted that there were problems.
"A lot of what was in the audit was personal opinion," Rye said. "They have no idea about we are doing in the community."
Rye was hired by the district to lobby and work with the small business training and technical assistance project. He says he and those he worked with believed in what they were doing and still do. When the 2009 Sutor group report flagged problems, the school district should have acted to change practices and communicate expectations to its contractors, he said.
"I can only be responsible for my own actions," he said.
"All this stuff was very helpful, The classes were very helpful to a lot of small business people. So to say nobody got anything out of the project, that is very far from the truth."
More about the audit and the investigation here.