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Tacoma’s school money belonged in classrooms

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on March 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm with 5 Comments »
March 4, 2011 5:12 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

News flash: The citizens who pay for public schools expect their hard-earned money to be spent on public schools, not on adults angling for business contracts.

Especially when money for teaching actual students is getting scarcer.

Had the Seattle and Tacoma school districts kept their focus relentlessly on the classroom, they wouldn’t have wound up duped by a rogue operation that claimed to be cultivating minority contractors while in fact squandering or pocketing money that should have been spent in the classrooms.

The Tacoma School District’s role in this is relatively minor, though it did wind up spending $105,000 without seeing much in the way of results. Along with the City of Tacoma and several other local governments, it bought into the Seattle district’s “Regional Small Business Development Program” (RSBDP), whose purpose was to help minority businesses bid for contracts.

According to the State Auditor’s Office, the Seattle School District got burned to the tune of $1.8 million by the new program, which misspent the funds on “services” that were either impossible to verify or never delivered – or turned out to be pretexts for siphoning money into private hands. A criminal investigation is under way.

What triggered the auditor’s investigation was the discovery that a $35,000 check, made out by the Tacoma School District to the Seattle district, wound up in the account of the “RSBDP.”

Only this wasn’t the regular RSDBP – it was a private outfit set up with the identical name by the same slick operator who’d run the Seattle district’s program. It appears that school money was getting siphoned into a clone-like shadow organization by a man who’d grown accustomed to spending public money without grownup supervision.

The Tacoma School District was not a player in this scandal, but it did make two mistakes. One – obvious in hindsight – lay in trusting the administrative competence of the Seattle School District. That error should not be repeated.

The other mistake was more fundamental. Encouraging bidding from minority contracts is laudable, but school money ought to stop with the “encouraging.”

In this case, everyone knew that much of the money was to be spent, in theory, on training would-be bidders. Classes were held for them – or sometimes not held, according to the auditor – at great public expense. The instruction included such bonehead subjects as using Microsoft Word; the auditors found that the RSDVP even served free meals at times.

The program appears to have been spared hard scrutiny in Seattle because it ostensibly benefited minorities.

The Tacoma School Board and Superintendent Art Jarvis suffered from the same blind spot when they signed on in December 2008. Only board member Debbie Winskill, dissenting, saw right to the heart of the issue: “It’s an adult program, not a student program,” she objected.

Exactly. Money for public education is limited and precious; not a penny of it should go to anything but public education. If the district is anxious to help members of disadvantaged minorities – and it should be – it will find plenty of them sitting behind the desks of its schools.

Leave a comment Comments → 5
  1. BigSwingingRichard says:

    Would your opinion be the same if school district sent funds to the REACH non-profit, whose Director is school board president Kurt Miller?

    Has any school district money been sent to his non-organization or any of the non-profit organizations which sends funds to REACH?

    How about you ask the district about this. Has the TDS sent any funds to any local non-profits including REACH?

    Inquiring minds (and local reporters should) want to know.

    PS: Why did you bury today’s (Saturday) article inside the paper and not put it on page one. Perhaps if any of the money went to Dale Washam you’d create another ongoing page one series of articles.

    And why do I have to read the Seattle papers to learn about this misuse of TSD funds?

  2. “Inquiring minds (and local reporters should) want to know.”

    Why don’t you ask Art Jarvis and report back to us.

  3. Well Richard, it’s on the front page today.

  4. tree_guy says:

    I thought this money was “for the children.”

  5. PumainTacoma says:

    Dear Patrick:

    Why does the Tribune protect their own? You are 4+ years behind the scandal involving our tax dollars. Citizens brought forth information which your reporters had about the scams run by the Black Collective and area non-profits like the Urban League.

    The Black Collective whom Jarvis met with after he became Superintendent approved these bogus contracts to be awarded. I DO NOT APPROVE OUR TAX DOLLARS GOING TO SEATTLE!!!! There is more to this story GUARANTEED.

    Your own reporter and editor protected their past practices of faking petitions. Either you are in bed with them or you are incompetent or both!

    The Tribune’s credibility on the issue of INVESTIGATIVE journalism involving its friends and all these non-profits sucking our tax dollars is dismal.

    Don’t come back and write like you are shocked this scandal happened because you protected these phony baloney organizations to begin with so you could get rid of the former superintendent and insert your new heir to Tacoma’s “community organized” tax payer slush fund.

    And Board member Miller was the one pushing for Ms. Burke along with her Black Collective associates….the same Miller who hired “sex offenders” to work for his non-profit in Tacoma Schools. (Hello???)

    Where was that reported by your reporter or editor? Parents and fellow soccer coaches signed petitions in support of a superintendent who would “not get in bed” with these fake non-profits and parents from Tacoma, Sumner, came to the School Board and your reporter did not report on those petitions just the made up (which was proven) petitions from your Black Collective.

    Where is your front page Washam life story on Jarvis and the thugs working in the name of non-profits / minority / children / poor / social justice cartels ?

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