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Audit Finds Seattle Schools Misspent $1.3 Million

Ann Dornfeld
09/18/2012

A state audit has found that Seattle Public Schools misspent $1.3 million in public funds on construction projects from 2005 to 2009. That nearly doubles the size of the financial scandal that resulted in the firing of former Superintendent Maria Goodloe–Johnson. KUOWS Ann Dornfeld reports.

TRANSCRIPT

The man in charge of the latest questionable contracts was former district official Silas Potter. He was head of the district's Regional Small Business Development Program.

The district created that program to help minority– and female–owned small businesses win district contracts.

Last year an audit found Potter authorized more than $1.8 million in sketchy contracts to some of those businesses.

He faces first–degree theft charges for allegedly stealing $250,000 from the district.

Potter was also head of the Small Works Roster Program. That program awarded public works contracts of $300,000 or less.

Last year, the district asked the state auditor's office to review contracts Potter granted as head of Small Works. The resulting audit has now turned up another $1.3 million in questionable contracts.

That brings the grand total to $3.1 million.

Seattle School Board Member Sherry Carr lamented the findings at a news conference.

Carr: "I know that I can speak comfortably on behalf of all the board members that we continue to be outraged at this violation of trust and are deeply disappointed that the fraud has expanded."

The latest audit found that the district paid for security cameras that were never installed; school and warehouse security systems that didn't work.

The audit found the district paid several times the going rate for janitorial and demolition work. And a 660 percent mark–up on the cost of electronics.

Contracts to 14 vendors were found to be fraudulent or contain serious flaws, and documentation was minimal.

Carr says Seattle Public Schools has significantly strengthened its financial practices in recent years.

Carr: "We did not, in the past, have tight financial controls, and we did not have strong oversight measures in place as a board. I believe both of those things have been addressed."

The district is still trying to get its money back. Carr says the district has added the latest findings to its pending insurance claim.

The state auditor's office has forwarded the case to the King County Prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Silas Potter's felony theft trial is scheduled for February. He's scheduled to appear alongside co–defendant David A. Johnson, who allegedly benefitted from fraudulent contracts Potter authorized.

A second co–defendant, Lorrie Kay Sorenson, pleaded guilty to first–degree theft in June.

I'm Ann Dornfeld, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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