Seattle Public Schools says it is investigating a $766,498 settlement agreement related to long-term substitute pay that never received formal approval.

Share story

Seattle Public Schools is investigating how a former employee was able to execute a $766,498 settlement agreement on pay for long-term substitute teachers without any prior knowledge or approval of the School Board or Superintendent Larry Nyland.

The former employee worked with the Seattle teachers union on the agreement, which stated that long-term substitutes are entitled to a kind of compensation known as TRI (time, responsibility and incentive) pay, which full-time teachers receive.

The teacher contract signed last September included TRI pay for long-term substitutes starting this school year, but the settlement granted it to them retroactively. Substitutes are considered long-term if they work more than 90 days in one position.

Seattle School Board policy requires that any contracts or agreements totaling more than $250,000 be approved by board members. In addition, no agreement on compensation is supposed to be finalized before district staff calculate how much it would cost.

The district will hire an independent investigator to review how the agreement was finalized and how payments could be sent out without proper approval. Legal action also is possible, district spokeswoman Stacy Howard wrote in an email.

In 2014, the Seattle teachers union filed a grievance arguing that long-term substitutes are entitled to TRI pay, and the two sides reached a verbal agreement in the spring of 2015 to pay for TRI in the future, according to district documents. TRI pay for long-term substitutes was included in the collective-bargaining agreement signed last September for 2015 through 2018.

In late 2015, the teachers union worked with the former employee to finalize a settlement of the grievance, which stated that any long-term substitute would also receive TRI pay for the 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.

TRI pay has steadily increased over the years, totaling $10,000 a year for some teachers, said Seattle Education Association Executive Director John Donaghy.

Donaghy signed the agreement in February, along with Geoff Miller, who was then the district’s director of labor and employee relations.

“No one disputes that this is the right thing to do and everybody is fine going forward,” Donaghy said. “The question is that this labor-relations director didn’t bring it up the food chain, so that somebody could say the ‘School Board approved this.’ ”

On May 2, long-term substitutes were issued TRI pay for the past two school years, which came to a total of $661,073. Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Clover Codd said she immediately told the School Board and Nyland after she was alerted to the high amount, according to district documents.

An additional $105,425 for the 2012-2013 school year is on hold pending district and board review.

Miller resigned last month, Nyland announced at a recent School Board meeting.

It’s not the first time the district has dealt with a lack of management oversight. In 2013, former district employee Silas Potter Jr. was convicted of 36 counts of theft and sentenced to three years and seven months in prison after he admitted he approved dozens of school-district checks years earlier while knowing that no work had been completed.

At the time, district leaders said they should have had more controls in place to prevent such problems.