Governance, or Potted Plant? Seattle School Board To Become More Involved In District Operations and a view from Madison

Phyllis Fletcher:

The Washington State Auditor told the district this week it has problems managing its money. They’re the same problems he’s told them about before. The school board oversees the district. And auditors for the state say it’s time for board members to get more involved.
Carr: “To the State Auditors’ point, we have work to do. And they’re right: we do.”
Sherry Carr chairs the audit and finance committee of the Seattle School Board. She says the board needs to do more to make sure problems that are found in audits don’t pop up again.
Carr: “We haven’t always had the check in prior to the start of the next audit. So, I think that’s the key.”

Washington State Auditor’s Office:

The Washington State Auditor’s Office released an audit report this week about the Seattle School District’s accountability with public resources, laws and regulations.
We found the School Board and the District’s executive management:
* Must improve oversight of District operations.
* Are not as familiar with state and federal law as the public would expect.
We identified instances of misappropriation and areas that are susceptible to misappropriation. We also found the School Board delegated authority to the Superintendent to create specific procedures to govern day-to-day District operations.
The Board does not evaluate these procedures to determine if they are effective and appropriate. Consequently, we identified 12 findings in this report and in our federal single audit and financial statement report.


  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Washington State Auditor’s Office Accountability Audit Report 190K PDF
  • The Seattle School District’s response 37K PDF:

    Seattle Public Schools establishes rigorous process for addressing financial year 2008-09 audit findings.
    As part of the Washington State Auditor’s Office annual audit process, an Accountability Audit of Seattle Public Schools was issued on July 6, 2010. The audit’s emphasis on the need for continued improvement of internal controls and District policies for accountability is consistent with multi-year efforts under way at Seattle Public Schools to strengthen financial management.
    “Because we are deeply committed to being good stewards of the public’s resources, we take the information in this audit very seriously,” said Superintendent Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D. “We acknowledge the need to take specific corrective actions noted in the report. It is a key priority to implement appropriate control and accountability measures, with specific consequences, for situations in which policies are not followed.”
    The School Board will work closely with the Superintendent to ensure corrections are made. “We understand and accept the State Auditor’s findings,” said School Board Director Sherry Carr, chair of the Board’s Audit and Finance Committee. “We accept responsibility to ensure needed internal controls are established to improve accountability in Seattle Public Schools, and we will hold ourselves accountable to the public as the work progresses.”

Much more on the Seattle School Board.
After reading this item, I sent this email to Madison Board of Education members a few days ago:

I hope this message finds you well.
The Seattle School Board is going to become more involved in District operations due to “problems managing its money”.
I’m going to post something on this in the next few days.
I recall a BOE discussion where Ed argued that there are things that should be left to the Administration (inferring limits on the BOE’s oversight and ability to ask questions). I am writing to obtain your thoughts on this, particularly in light of:
a) ongoing budget and accounting issues (how many years has this been discussed?), and
b) the lack of substantive program review to date (is 6 years really appropriate, given reading and math requirements of many Madison students?).
I’d like to post your responses, particularly in light of the proposed Administrative re-org and how that may or may not address these and other matters.

I received the following from Lucy Mathiak:

A GENERAL NOTE: There is a cottage industry ginning up books and articles on board “best practices.” The current wisdom, mostly generated by retired superintendents, is that boards should not trouble themselves with little things like financial management, human resources, or operations. Rather, they should focus on “student achievement.” But what that means, and the assumption that financial, HR, and other decisions have NO impact on achievement, remain highly problematical.
At the end of the day, much of the “best practices” looks a lot like the role proposed for the Milwaukee School Board when the state proposed mayoral control last year. Under that scenario, the board would focus on public relations and, a distant second, expulsions. But that would be a violation of state statute on the roles and responsibilities of boards of education.
There are some resources that have interesting info on national trends in school board training here:
I tend to take my guidance from board policy, which refers back to state statute without providing details; I am a detail person so went back to the full text. When we are sworn into office, we swear to uphold these policies and statutes:
Board policy:
“The BOARD shall have the possession, care, control, and management of the property and affairs of the school district with the responsibilities and duties as detailed in Wisconsin Statutes 118.001, 120.12, 120.13, 120.14, 120.15, 120.16, 120.17, 120.18, 120.21, 120.40, 120.41, 120.42, 120.43, and 120.44.”
Because board policy does not elaborate what is IN those statutes, the details can be lost unless one takes a look at “the rules.” Here are some of the more interesting (to me) sections from WI Statute 120:
120.12 School board duties.
The school board of a common or union high school district shall:
Subject to the authority vested in the annual meeting and to the authority and possession specifically given to other school district officers, have thepossession, care, control and management of the property andaffairs of the school district, except for property of the school dis-trict used for public library purposes under s. 43.52.
(2)GENERAL SUPERVISION. Visit and examine the schools ofthe school district, advise the school teachers and administrative staff regarding the instruction, government and progress of the pupils and exercise general supervision over such schools.
(a) On or before November 1, determine the amount necessary to be raised to operate and maintain the schools of the school district and public library facilities operated by the school district under s. 43.52, if the annual meeting has not voted a tax sufficient for such purposes for the school year.
Keep the school buildings and grounds in good repair, suitably equipped and in safe and sanitary condition at all times. The school board shall establish an annual building maintenance schedule.
Determine the school course of study.
Pay the tuition of any pupil enrolled in the school district and attending an institution within the University of Wisconsin System if the pupil is not participating in the program under s. 118.55, the course the pupil is attending at the university is not offered in the school district and the pupil will receive high school credit for the course.

Ed Hughes:

Thanks for contacting us. Can you be a bit more specific about what you are looking for? A general statement about the appropriate line between administration and Board responsibilities? Something more specific about budgeting and accounting, or specific program reviews? And if so, what? I confess that I haven’t followed whatever is going on with the Seatte school board.

My followup:

I am looking for your views on BOE responsibilities vis a vis the Administration, staff and the community.
Two timely specifics, certainly are:
a) ongoing budget problems, such as the maintenance referendum spending, and
b) curricular matters such as reading programs, which, despite decades of annual multi-million dollar expenditures have failed to “move the needle”.
The Seattle District’s “problems managing its money” matter apparently prompted more Board involvement.
Finally, I do recall a BOE discussion where you argued in favor of limits on Administrative oversight. Does my memory serve?
Best wishes,

Marj Passman:

Here is the answer to your question on Evaluation which also touches on the Board’s ultimate role as the final arbiter on District Policy.
Part of the Strategic Plan, and, one of the Superintendants goals that he gave the Board last year, was the need to develop a “District Evaluation Protocol”. The Board actually initiated this by asking for a Study of our Reading Program last February. This protocol was sent to the Board this week and seems to be a timely and much needed document.
Each curricular area would rotate through a seven year cycle of examination. In addition, the Board of Education would review annually a list of proposed evaluations. There will be routine reports and updates to the Board while the process continues and, of course, a final report. At any time the Board can make suggestions as to what should be evaluated and can make changes in the process as they see fit. In other words, the Board will certainly be working within its powers as Overseer of MMSD.
This Protocol should be on the MMSD web site and I recommend reading it in
I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of “perception” – interviews, surveys with parents and teachers. I have been leery of just masses of data analysis predetermining the success or failure of children. Our children must not be reduced to dots on a chart. Tests must be given but many of our students are succeeding in spite of their test scores.
I have a problem with a 7 year cycle and would prefer a shorter one. We need to know sooner rather than later if a program is working or failing. I will bring this up at Monday’s Board meeting.
I will be voting for this Protocol but will spend more time this weekend studying it before my final vote.

3 thoughts on “Governance, or Potted Plant? Seattle School Board To Become More Involved In District Operations and a view from Madison”

  1. Thank you to all Board members for providing responses. I specifically appreciated Lucy’s pointing to the WI Statute. Also, there is the WI Administrative Code, which are the legal rules and principles that define the authority and structure of administrative agencies. For education, the legal rules governing education and the Department of Public Instruction (PI) are in the Wisconsin Administrative Code, PI – Public Instruction ( There are even more specifics regarding School Board responsibilities defined in these rules.
    For example, WI Administrative Code, Chapter PI 8 (School District Standards) says School Boards:
    Each school district board shall develop, adopt and imple-
    ment a written school district curriculum plan which includes the
    a. A kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum
    plan in each of the following subject areas: reading, language arts,
    mathematics, social studies, science, health, computer literacy,
    environmental education, physical education, art and music.
    b. A grade 7 through 12 sequential curriculum plan in voca-
    tional education.
    3. Each sequential curriculum plan shall specify objectives,
    course sequence, course content, resources, an objective process
    of determining whether pupils attain the specified objectives, and
    an allocation of instructional time by week, semester and school
    term. The school district board shall establish in the school district
    curriculum plan the allocation of instructional time, by week,
    semester and school term, among all subject areas.
    During the work of the Fine Arts Task Force, we looked at the above rules in the WI Administrative code. While there were School Board approved curriculum plans for music and art, they were not being followed, primarily due to budget cuts. As a result, one of the task force’s key recommendations was that the music and art curriculum plans be updated; and ,more specifically, that the updated curriculum plans contain the information required by the Administrative code. In July 2009, the School Board approved this recommendation be implemented.
    During the past year, there were a number of false starts on this implementation that were in no way the responsibility or due to the teachers who were members of the committee doing this work. However, more on how the implementation of this recommendation has gone from my experience and perspective in a future blog as well as more on why updating the music and art curriculum plans was an important first step in the task force’s recommendations.
    For now, however, following along the thread of board governance, I feel an initial set of questions from a board member might be: 1) does the School District have standards-based curriculum plans for each of the subject areas identified in the Administrative Code – dates of School Board approval and locations of these documents, 2) do each of these curriculum plans contain the information specified in the Administrative Code – objectives,
    course sequence, course content, resources, an objective process
    of determining whether pupils attain the specified objectives, and
    an allocation of instructional time by week, semester and school
    term and 3) are these curriculum plans being implemented as approved – why or why not?
    If the responses to these questions are incomplete or inadequate, then a board, given their overall responsibility in this area, might decide to go into more detail, ask more specifics about the process, gather more information, etc.

  2. Thanks, Jim. I posted the following comment on School Board member Ed Hughes’ blog:
    “As to curricular matters, Board members should look to see that there are sound procedures in place for regularly reviewing curriculum and adopting appropriate materials. When we have a process in place, we need to respect the process. When you’ve got a School Board picking the curriculum, you’ve got a mess.”
    I agree wholeheartedly with this paragraph, but would add the following: Board members should “look to see” that there are sound procedures in place to develop curriculum plans that are implemented and subsequently assessed in accordance with state law, district strategic plans and objectives, best practices, etc. I’d also add the Board might want to check in on any process, even before evaluation, to see if it’s meeting a board’s expectations.
    As with the extensive program evaluation protocols approved this evening, has the School Board done the same for a protocol for curriculum plans upon which program evaluations would follow and be designed? I kept wondering this as I listened to the discussion and will follow up with a question to all board members via email when I get the chance.
    In a comment regarding governance on SIS, I pointed to the WI Administrative Code Chapter PI 8 and curriculum plans. While the code says “…Each school district board shall develop, adopt and implement a written school district curriculum plan which includes…” it does not say the board members are expected, or required, to do the work. As you noted that would be a disaster. I would agree with your comment that board members need to know adequate processes and procedures are in place.
    I watched the entire Board meeting this evening, and I did not see any signs of board members being adversarial toward the Superintendent during this evening’s meeting. I did notice some questions that might appear to some to be more pointed, some minor flashes of irritation with the course of discussion or with one another. But, overall, my sense is that each board member is doing his/her best to be responsible to their elected position and to the agreed upon goals of the board and the district and generally trying to work together despite some tweaking of one another. Didn’t seem unusual to me. Having to do all your work in public is challenging.

Comments are closed.