School & District Management

Investigation Alleges Former Seattle Special Education Chief Shared Bids

By Christina A. Samuels — December 30, 2014 1 min read
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When last I wrote about Seattle public schools, the district had just placed its special education administrator on leave—the eighth administrator the district had had in the past five years. School officials were concerned about suspected improprieties in awarding a $150,000 consulting contract to the TIERS Group, a technical-assistance and training organization based at Louisiana State University in New Orleans.

The Seattle Times reports that the administrator, Zakiyyah McWilliams, shared copies of competitors’ bids with the TIERS Group, according to a district investigation. The investigators also said that she used her personal email address to skirt public-records laws.

McWilliams resigned from the district Dec. 10, before the investigative report was released. She had been placed on leave in August. In the Times story, McWilliams’ attorney said that she was under pressure to find solutions to long-running problems with the 52,000-students district’s special education program, and that she was supervised closely by district officials.

From the Dec.19 story:

The investigators—attorneys with the Seattle law firm Patterson Buchanan Fobes and Leitch—said McWilliams used her private email address last December to send copies of one of the competing consultant's bid proposals to the TIERS group. Two weeks later, they said, McWilliams also sent TIERS' head consultant, Robert Pasternack, copies of all four bidders' initial proposals. An hour later, they said, McWilliams apparently reconsidered the move. "MISTAKE!!!" read the subject line of the email investigators say she sent at 10:24 a.m. on Dec. 30. "DO NOT OPEN THE EMAIL SENT AT 9:22 A.M." ... On Thursday, McWilliams' attorney said the late December incident was a mistake, and that's why she sent the hurried follow-up email.

In September, the state decided to withhold $3 million in federal special education funds from the Seattle district and institute weekly meetings with system officials to keep track of their progress on resolving problems. As a part of its consulting contract, the TIERS Group had interviewed district officials and released a report describing a chaotic system lacking in communication and leadership.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.