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Playing the Race Card Paved the Way for Fraud in Seattle Schools

February 28, 2011

L-R Silas Potter, Fred Stephens

The Washington State Auditor’s Office has released a jaw-dropping report detailing fraud and questionable spending of $1.8m dollars belonging to the Seattle School District by a former employee.  The scandal has implicated well respected organizations and individuals in Seattle’s African American community who the state auditor says received money for work that either didn’t benefit the district or was never completed.

Rumors have swirled for a few years that Silas Potter, as the director of the School District’s Regional Small Business Development Program, used district money to pay off some of the district’s harshest critics in the African American community who were upset about school closures and their impact on children of color.   The audit found no proof of that, but it’s curious that once those individuals started getting money from the district by way of contracts, they mostly if not completely stopped criticizing school closures.

Some of the most prominent African American men and organizations in Seattle have been cast in a light less than flattering by the auditor’s report. Eddie Rye, Tony Orange, The Urban League, Charles Rolland- these are well known individuals who have been around for a long time.

Some people feel they represent a self-serving good ol boys club and others feel they’re leaders and trailblazers.

From 2006 to 2010 the Urban League received nearly $600k of district money, funneled through a specific department called the Contractor Development and Competitiveness Center.  The CDCC assists small, minority and women owned businesses to increase their competitiveness in the world of contract bidding.

The Urban League was paid with school district funds to provide a database of business owners that would match those owners to contract opportunities with the school district. That in itself certainly isn’t a crime and is actually a good thing, but the district reported the database was not functional and they never used it.

The database represents only a tiny fraction of the money the Urban League was paid. The rest of it was a flat bill that ranged from 5 to 15 thousand dollars a month for administrative costs billed over the course of a few years.  The state auditor found that this money was used basically to keep the doors open at the Urban League and did not benefit the school district in any way. The Urban League is not alone.

Eddie Rye is credited for leading the successful effort to have the King County emblem changed from a crown to the profile of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   He also received payments from Silas Potter’s department.

Charles Rolland was once our state’s democratic chair. Tony Orange is the former Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. Both are named in the auditor’s report. Both refused to be interviewed during the investigation.

I’ve heard from a few people in the African American community who feel these folks are being unfairly targeted because of race. I couldn’t disagree more.  We’re talking about minority and women owned businesses so naturally we’re going to be talking about people of color more than anyone else.  They aren’t being targeted because they’re Black.

But there was a race card at play.

Silas Potter and his supervisor Fred Stephens, both Black men, didn’t go unnoticed during their time with Seattle Schools. Many employees complained about the culture of the Regional Small Business Development Program.  Those employees were concerned about how money was used, and which ethics and laws were broken. They regarded Potter and Stephens as con-men.

Their complaints didn’t get very far.  When school district employees complained, or tried to express concern, Potter and Stephens responded with bold threats. They told anyone who questioned them that their actions were based in racism. It was like ‘if you tell on us, we’ll tell everyone you’re a racist. Keep your mouth shut.’  So they did.

It is the race card personified. You know, the whole, “it’s because I’m Black.” An excuse injected into an otherwise cut and dry instance of wrong-doing. It is outrageous. It is disgusting.

Couple the trick play with a culture at Seattle Schools that discouraged employees from lodging complaints above direct managers and we have a recipe for disaster. Silas Potter went unchecked.  He took advantage of that at every turn.

Sometime late last year he fled the state.  Just a few days ago he was discovered hiding out in Florida.

He has no intention of coming back.

UPDATE: The Urban League has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday 3/2 at 10AM.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    February 28, 2011 10:50 am

    Thanks Sable for your fair and just reporting. Indeed, greed crosses all color lines.

  2. King Ceasar permalink
    February 28, 2011 11:19 am

    These men are disgraces; Black or otherwise. And to misappropriate funds from a school system that has been struggling for some time now, deplorable. Its going to take SPS a long time to 1.) recover from the money lost 2.) trust someone else of color to lead the organization 3.) trust the Urban League.

    As a black man, this sucks. Here these men are, true minorities in a predominantly white city, get power, and screw it up. They have set potential black leadership back at least 5 years. Thanks, dickheads.

  3. February 28, 2011 12:11 pm

    I had things to say, until I read King Ceasar’s comment. He pretty much covered everything. A disgrace indeed.

  4. Black in Seattle permalink
    February 28, 2011 1:06 pm

    I cannot believe the cat is finally out of the bag after decades. That’s how long those people have been doing dirt.

  5. The Spook Who Sat By The Door permalink
    February 28, 2011 2:33 pm

    What sickens me is the damage done to everyone else. Although some are questioning why SPS had the RSBDP in the first place, I think that there is a place for that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the actions of a handful of corrupt “good ole bros” only feeds into the agendas of those who would like nothing better than to eliminate any sort of programs that aid the disenfranchised. You only have to read the comments on the mainstream websites to see the freepers crawling out of the woodwork doing a happy dance.

    Now the First AME church’s acquisition of the old MLK school is in question because of Fred Stephen’s involvement.

    King Ceasar is on the money. Potter and company had the potential to help a lot of people. Instead they got theirs and fucked it up for everyone else.

  6. wseadawg permalink
    February 28, 2011 7:23 pm

    King Ceaser & Spook are dead on. These goons stole money from kids. Period. They don’t represent anybody but their greedy despicable selves, regardless of what the trolls and haters think.

    I dunno Spook. Maybe doling out contracts will be fairer and actually go to deserving minorities and women after this. I’d like to think so. This monetary circle jerk certainly didn’t do sh!t for the community. Hard not to improve upon.

  7. Corruption in Tacoma permalink
    March 1, 2011 10:36 am

    Look at the Tacoma Urban League audit years past. The school district’s own auditor stated that they did not account for kids or even lunches. They then threatened a district employee talking about dead bodies found. There you go. This goes much deeper. I suggest everyone ask their school district why we are paying non-profits huge amounts of money that have nothing to do with in the class education!!!! end of government waste time to cut all non-profits out of getting money (just in the name of the poor, kids, blacks, whites… etc..) Totally corrupt

  8. Disgusted permalink
    March 1, 2011 5:17 pm

    Sadly, this is not just a “Seattle Thing”. I lived in the Newark, NJ area, as well as Detroit. The school officials were rotten to the core. They probably didn’t start out that way, but the power and the temptations were just too great.

    I recall the scandal in Detroit where it was exposed by the Free Press that school board members were assigned personal limos and driver. The drivers sat by all day on the taxpayers dime, waiting for their board member to get off work at their regular job so they could take them to a school board meeting.

    In the meantime, all we ever here is that “We need more money”, or “We’re not paid enough”. This country spends twice as much per student as any other developed country, and our SAT scores get worse every year.

    Despite all the money pumped into schools, the number of teachers seem to be stagnant, but the number of “administrators” has gone through the roof.

    Enough already!

  9. Angry Northwesterner permalink
    March 2, 2011 11:01 am

    In the mean time, people like me, who barely make enough money to raise a family of four, kill ourselves with TONS of overtime and extra jobs just so we can put our kids through a basic private school. We do this because the public juvenile school penitentiary’s are so pathetic and you only get one chance at raising your kids so they turn out to be productive, personally responsible, members of society. The differences between my kids and kids that come out of the public schools is frankly shocking. The crap that all my co-workers talk about with their kids and school, that we do not have to deal with amazes me. And here’s the kicker, it has only cost us about $6,000.00 to $7,000.00 a year for the private school! And Wa state spends what? About $12,000 or more per student?

  10. It's everywhere permalink
    March 2, 2011 12:37 pm

    This “disease” is everywhere. Even the little school districts. Check out the pay and perks of public school administrators. After all…It’s for the children!

  11. Forrest permalink
    March 3, 2011 8:20 am

    I remember that a couple of years back the Seattle school district couldn’t account for over a million dollars. It just simply “vanished”. And then the story vanished shortly thereafter. Unless this is the same million, then the Seattle/state taxpayers are now out over two million dollars. Does anyone have any info on what happened with the previous missing million? It’s “little” (heh) things like this that make me vote against any school levies, along with illegal teacher strikes.

  12. Racketeering Tacoma permalink
    March 3, 2011 9:38 am

    Why the hell is the Tacoma School District giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Seattle. I pay taxes in Tacoma and do not authorize the school superintendent or board to send my cash to Seattle Schools!!!!

    And the Tacoma Urban League should be audited for the past 10 years. They get money from the City and Schools and yet can’t account for children or lunches? This is a huge scam and racket going on for years and it is about time we the TAXPAYERs get some answers.

  13. Sherman permalink
    March 20, 2011 2:02 pm

    It is interesting the 35 million dollars misplaced by the Seattle School administrator who replaced the General did not get the same results.

    However, this is a sad picture of where we, as Black administrators and community leaders. We continue to sell our souls for chump-change without regard for building a system that will benefit all. And, Black children are the bigger losers for our actions.

    I have worked with several of the individuals named in this incident and am not surprised at the allegations. I am surprised how they continue to maintain their level of influence, after failure after failure, to have a positive impact on the communities they serve.

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