In a break from district rules, interim Seattle Public Schools chief Larry Nyland signed an agreement and accepted a $250,000 check from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation weeks before his school board voted on the topic.
Nyland apologized to the school board last week, saying the district received the first installment of the grant in early October but did not spend it. The grant — $750,000 over the next three years — will pay for a 20-seat preschool program at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School.
“My early signature was obviously not appropriate policy or practice,” Nyland wrote in a letter to the school board Friday. “I apologize.”
District policy requires board approval on any contract over $250,000. Nyland signed a contract for the grant with the Gates Foundation on Sept. 26, but the board did not vote to accept the grant until Nov. 19.
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When the Gates Foundation sent Nyland an unsigned form outlining the terms of the grant agreement, he simply signed and returned it, bypassing necessary staff signatures, according to his letter to the board.
In the letter, Nyland said he did not know he should have been the last one to sign the contract.
“What I know now, but did not know then, is that we have a routing form for all contracts which require multiple signatures by different departments — ending with the superintendent,” Nyland wrote. “That did not occur in this case.”
Kevin Corrigan, the head of grants for Seattle Public Schools, said the first time he saw the Gates contract signed without approval was at the board meeting last week, according to Nyland’s letter to the board. He did not know why Nyland signed the grant agreement two months before the board voted.
Normal procedure would have district staff finishing the terms of the agreement now, after the board’s vote.
Bailey Gatzert Principal Greg Imel and parents say preschool will help address achievement gaps at the school. Bailey Gatzert currently offers small, half-day pre-K classes for special needs students. The program at Bailey Gatzert would run six hours a day, five days a week, and be staffed by a certified teacher. The school already has available space.
The Gates money would help pay for home visits, professional development and an instructional assistant.
Gates spokeswoman Anne Martens said from the foundation’s perspective, nothing was out of the ordinary regarding the preschool grant’s approval.
“We knew it needed to go to the school board,” Martens said. “We didn’t know anything about anybody signing it ahead of time. … From our perspective, we’re relying on Seattle Public Schools to do what they normally do.”
She said the grant will strengthen the school district’s relationship with the city of Seattle and will help make schools good candidates to apply to host new subsidized preschool classes approved by voters earlier this month.
“We’ll be following the Seattle preschool program very closely,” she said.