The Seattle School Board unanimously voted to dismiss Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson on Wednesday night, amid a financial scandal that left the board scrambling to repair the damage.
The board appointed Susan Enfield, the district’s chief academic officer, as interim superintendent. Betty Patu was the only “no” vote, saying she wanted a candidate that wasn’t tainted by being part of Goodloe-Johnson’s staff.
Board member Peter Maier apologized to students, to educators and to the public for the scandal in the district’s small-business contracting program.
“This must not be allowed to occur again. Installing a new top management team is the best way to restore public confidence in Seattle Public Schools,” Maier said. “I know this won’t be easy. The public understandably will require the district to re-earn trust. We must also change the culture of Seattle Public Schools to make sure cronyism does not continue.”
Enfield, speaking to the audience after her appointment, said her immediate priority was to restore trust. “Now is the time to model for (students) how to responsibly and respectfully engage in difficult but honest problem-solving together,” she said.
Her appointment is effective immediately. Her base salary will be $225,000.
Goodloe-Johnson, who has been caring for her ailing mother, was not at the meeting. She sent an e-mail to district employees thanking them for their support of children and families but made no mention of the scandal or her termination.
Goodloe-Johnson, who served 3 1/2 years as superintendent, will be paid a severance package of $264,000—a year’s salary—plus an estimated $9,800 in benefits. Her contract with the district ran through 2013.
The board also dismissed Don Kennedy, Goodloe-Johnson’s hand-picked chief financial and operations officer. Kennedy will receive $87,500 in salary—half his annual base pay—and about $4,900 in benefits.
Hundreds of people packed the meeting room at the district’s headquarters, with speakers denouncing the district for misspending public funds and losing the trust of parents and others.
“To quote our outgoing superintendent, change is hard, but it must be done,” said teacher Noam Gundle, who added that the departure of Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy isn’t all that’s needed. “We should be focusing on supporting teachers, students and classrooms. Our budget priorities need to change — drastically.”
Many speakers chastised the board, saying it shared as much responsibility as the superintendent.
Dorothy Hollingsworth, a longtime educator who has served on the Seattle School Board as well as the state Board of Education, drew a standing ovation when she told the board she had confidence they would do the right thing.
The board sought legal advice about whether it could fire Goodloe-Johnson and Kennedy for cause, which would mean no severance pay. But attorneys from inside and outside the district told board members that would be difficult.
Neither Goodloe-Johnson nor Kennedy has been directly implicated in a state Auditor’s Office report released last week that detailed improper activity in the district’s small-business contracting program. But an outside attorney hired by the district to review management’s actions concluded that both knew enough about those problems that they should have acted.
The audit found $1.8 million of contracts awarded through the program provided no public benefit or were questionable. Silas W. Potter Jr., the former midlevel manager at the center of the scandal, told The Seattle Times on Wednesday that he is being made a scapegoat. Potter denied being behind the alleged misappropriation of district funds, which also has triggered a criminal investigation, and blamed the problems on two people above him.
Mayor Mike McGinn, speaking hours before the board vote, said, “It’s very clear that the school district has a fiscal and management problem that’s going to require a fundamental change of culture.”
He said he was dismayed to hear that school-district employees were discouraged from or intimidated for speaking up about fraud and waste. McGinn said he’s met with School Board President Steve Sundquist and Vice President Michael DeBell, and told them the city is ready to help the district if it needs additional fiscal or management experts.
About the city’s proposed $231 million Families and Education Levy, which will go on the November ballot if the City Council approves, McGinn said, “If we don’t restore trust, it’s our youth that are at risk.”
City Council member Tim Burgess, chairman of the education committee, said he hoped the change in district leadership won’t distract from the levy effort.
After the board voted, parent Dorothy Neville said she was saddened and relieved.
“We’ve gone from a School Board that has mostly seen their role as supporting staff to a board that’s started to ask hard questions,” she said.
Sundquist said he had supported Goodloe-Johnson until recently.
“There have been places along the road where I think things should have or could have been done differently,” Sundquist said Wednesday. He added, “I would have counted myself as a supporter until we got to this place.”
The vote was particularly painful for board member Harium Martin-Morris: “I’m torn and conflicted,” he said. “As the only African-American on this board, this is even more of a struggle, since many of the key players are African-American.”
“If I vote against this action, there are those who may say it’s because of race. It’s not. If I vote in favor, I’d be accused of ignoring some of the progress that’s been made by this superintendent.”
Copyright (c) 2011, The Seattle Times, Washington. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.