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Report: Seattle schools scandal went deeper than thought

Sherry Carr.JPG
Gabriel Spitzer

The Washington state auditor has uncovered another batch of questionable spending by Seattle Public Schools in recent years, widening a scandal that cost a former superintendent her job. The new investigation found that former district official Silas Potter, Jr. made even more inflated payments than was previously known, spending millions of taxpayer dollars on work that was never done or grossly overpriced.

One contract paid $65 an hour for cleaning services, when the going rate was just $18. Another paid out more about $36,000 for security equipment that really cost about $5,500. All told, the audit finds the shenanigans may have cost the district about $1.3 million through is program for small contracts, on top of the $1.8 million already identified in previous probes of a program meant to engage with women- and minority-owned contractors.

“To think that there were people that helped themselves to money that was intended to go not only to the public good, but to the children of this public, is deeply disappointing,” said Sherry Carr, chair of the Seattle school board’s audit and finance committee.

The scandal erupted last year and cost then-superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson her job. Carr says since then, the district has tightened its lax financial controls and oversight. The Washington state auditor’s office is satisfied with the steps SPS has taken, but spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said districts need to tighten up their accountability, especially when they put their hands out for more public money.

“The school districts around the state are always saying, you know, we need levies. We need to raise more money. I think the citizen expectation is once they have this money, that they have systems in place to account for it and protect it,” Chambers said.

Seattle schools will have two levies on the ballot next year.

Gabriel Spitzer is the Host and Senior Producer of Sound Effect, KNKX's "weekly tour of ideas inspired by the place we live." Gabriel was previously KNKX's Science and Health Reporter. He joined KNKX after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.
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