Goodloe-Johnson fired; Enfield to lead Seattle Schools

Mar 3, 2011

Seattle's school board fired Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Don Kennedy, the district's chief financial officer, Wednesday evening, as was widely anticipated. The votes were unanimous.

The action was swift retribution following revelations of a financial scandal that drew the anger of board members and the public. The board then voted 6-1 to appoint Susan Enfield as interim superintendent.

Enfield has served as chief academic officer, and was recruited by Goodloe-Johnson's administration. Board member Betty Patu opposed the choice, calling for a clean start.

Firing Draws Cheers

Upon passing the motion to fire Goodloe-Johnson, the packed board room erupted in applause and chants.

Prior to the vote, speaker after speaker stood to support the dismissals, with few speaking against, according to The Seattle Times' Linda Shaw and Steve Miletich:

Many speakers chastised the board, saying they share as much responsibility as the superintendent. "If you didn't know, you should have, and you should have asked the questions," said Rickie Malone, a former Seattle school principal.

Board members Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier made statements of apologizing to the public for the scandal. Most expressed their extreme disappointment in learning about the extent of problems in the district's small business contracting office only after a state audit brought its scope to light. 

Goodloe-Johnson will receive a year's severance and benefits of about $273,000. Kennedy will be paid $91,000. The board opted for termination "without cause," a status which may avoid costly legal battles that might otherwise require higher payouts and legal fees.

Background of the Scandal

The audit found about $1.8 million in questionable, if not wasted, spending on work that was either never performed or could have been carried out by staff.  The program manager was fired, and his immediate superior left the district last year. A criminal investigation is ongoing by the King County Prosecutor's office.

Another investigation by Seattle attorney and former prosecutor Patricia Eakes condemned the business practices and oversight of the office, and described an atmosphere of fear among district employees who said they felt intimidated to air their concerns. 

Enfield Promises Better Communication

Enfield addressed the room following her appointment, and vowed to improve an area Goodloe-Johnson struggled with during her four years in Seattle:

I am committed to strengthening communication across the city, with our community partners and our families.

She said the current challenge offers an opportunity for school leaders on behalf of Seattle's students:

"Now is the time for us to model for them how to responsibility and respectfully engage in difficult, but honest problem solving together."

Enfield's appointment lasts until June 2012. After the fall's school board elections, members will have the option of reviewing the current agreement, beginning in January. 

Some of the Accused Speak Out

Meanwhile, the ousted program manager, Silas Potter, who left Seattle last June, spoke to The Seattle Times' Christine Willmsen, claiming he's "been thrown under the bus," and has become the easy fall guy in the scandal:

He said culpability lies with two people above him, who demanded that he give school contracts, without bidding, to African-American businesses.

One of those businesses, Seattle civil rights group Urban League, held a press conference Wednesday where its leader denied allegations that the nearly $600,000 in contracts it collected from the school district resulted in work whose value was vague, as inferred by the state audit.  

Interim leader Tony Benjamin told KPLU's Paula Wissel:

We want to set the record straight.  We have done nothing wrong.