Maria Goodloe-Johnson was released from her contract in Seattle last night in a move that was a little about a freshly brewing scandal and a lot about the way she led the district.
Maria is supposed to be the woman we can't get out of our minds — whether its Santana's "Maria, Maria," Brooks & Dunn's "Maria," or West Side Story's "Maria." Charleston's former superintendent left our school district more than three years ago, but we're still fascinated by this sometimes controversial Lowcountry leader who apparently was saving some of her more scandalous moments for Act Two as Seattle's schools chief.
According to various Seattle news outlets, a small business program in the district that is supposed to diversify construction contracts came under criticism before Goodloe-Johnson was hired in spring 2007. But she received a report on problems in the department in early 2009 and never shared that information with the Seattle School Board. Late last month, scandal broke out when a state investigation into the department revealed $1.8 million in questionable spending. Nearly a week ago, headlines were suggesting that Goodloe-Johnson would be out within a week, and the school board didn't disappoint. They also let go Don Kennedy, a former Charleston County School District CFO, was also let go.
It's been noted she was given a handsome severance package ($264,000) because she was essentially being let go without cause. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a timeline that put all of this into context and shows that this is likely more about Goodloe-Johnson's tenure, than this one investigation. In early 2009, she recommended closing or relocating 13 schools and, nine months later, she released a new districting plan that squeezed out school choice. Last May, activists were calling attention to her weak community engagement skills and, according to the Post-Intelligencer, "teachers, aides, and other school employees passed a vote of no-confidence against Goodloe-Johnson" in Sept. 2010. It's also important to note Goodloe-Johnson's scuffles with the teacher union — something she did not have to face in Charleston County.
The Seattle Times called for Goodloe-Johnson's exit last weekend, but praised her for many of these changes: "Goodloe-Johnson has done several praiseworthy things since coming to Seattle. She closed schools her predecessor should have closed. She returned to a system of neighborhood schools. She oversaw the negotiation of a much better teacher contract." But, "she was brought here from South Carolina in 2007 to fix several problems, the first of which was the district's lax control of its money. The latest mess shows the task has not been done."