The probe in the Seattle Public Schools' financial scandal must go deeper, including untangling the roles that other school district managers, including those who have left the district.
THE zeal and attention surrounding the Seattle Public Schools’ financial scandal must go beyond Silas Potter, the employee accused of misusing a small-business program for personal gain, and include the district’s managers who may have abetted him, even if unknowingly.
The superintendent and chief financial and operations officer have been fired. Key managers who left before the scandal have been reticent about their roles.
Fred Stephens who supervised Potter and was aware of complaints, particularly about the employee providing misleading and false numbers to the School Board about the small-business program, auditors have been told by a district attorney, Ron English.
Stephens allegedly responded to English’s complaints about Potter by saying, “Yeah, but we need to make the program look good.”
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Stephens appears to have contributed to the district’s unhealthy climate of fear and retribution when he told an employee complaining about Potter hiring a family member that if she complained about Potter again she would be in trouble. According to auditors, Stephens called the employee’s complaints “tantamount to racism.”
The district’s former general counsel, Gary Ikeda, told English, “You told your client, that’s all you can do.” Why? Merely passing on information is not all taxpayers expect of these well-paid employees.
Ikeda left the district to work for the state Attorney General. Stephens left in July to become a deputy for Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. Left behind is a district grappling with the loss of at least $280,000 for services it did not receive and that provided no public benefit. The auditor’s report also casts suspicion on another $1.5 million of expenditures made by the small-business program, which the district ended in September.
Let’s be clear: no one is saying Ikeda and Stephens did anything wrong. No one is saying much of anything, least of all the two men. That should change. The public should get answers they richly deserve.