Mayoral candidate Kate Martin—a long-shot contender who garnered a little over 70,000 votes in her bid for Seattle school board in 2011, coming within about 8,000 votes of the winning incumbent, Sherry Carr—is still raising education as an issue in her campaign.
Although the mayor has no direct jurisdiction over Seattle schools, the city does oversee the implementation of the Families and Education Levy (which funds school support services like on-campus health clinics and after-school program) through the Seattle Office for Education, a division of the Department of Neighborhoods.
As a school board candidate, Martin assailed her opponents for taking campaign contributions from corporate-backed education reform supporters, prompting school board member Sherry Carr, whom Martin was opposing, to accuse her of making "insensitive remarks" and "insults and outbursts." Martin filed a recall petition against Carr and other school board members because she disagreed with a contracting decision by the district. Since that race, she's toned down her volume, but not her speaking points.
At a forum in Southeast Seattle last month, Martin identified the Office for Education as the city's "worst department." (She said SDOT was the best.) And, in a candidate questionnaire for the Service Employees International Union, she said the Families and Ed Levy has "spawned a tremendous spike in the Failure Industry in Seattle. Lots of organizations – some with great intentions, others not so much – making the money they need to self- preserve, but not move the ball down the field in terms of helping the kids and famiies."
So, our one (two-part) question for Kate Martin is: What are your issues with the Families and Education Levy, and why do you think the Office for Education is the worst-run department in the city?
Martin's response (edited for length):
There were some things that really bothered me procedurally. One was that they didn’t allow any public comments at the Families and Education Levy Oversight Committee meetings, where they were discussing what they were going to recommend. I thought that was odd, so I talked to [city council member, Families and Ed advocate, and former mayoral candidate] Tim Burgess about it. He was quite dismissive and rude about it, and said, "Not now, Kate, not now." And I said, If not now, when would the public be able to make comments? And he said they should send a letter or an email. That was bothersome to me because I wanted to make comments publicly.
In general, the Families and Education Levy completely lacks a focus, and that keeps [the Office for Education] very unaccountable. When I proposed doing a cost-benefit analysis of the things that they would invest in so that they could get the biggest bang for their buck [Office for Education Director] Holly Miller told me they didn’t have time for that process—that the process didn’t allow fro them to do things like a cost-benefit analysis, which is staggering to me considering the amount of money they spent on that program. That was a real sticking point that I found unacceptable. If they had pursued a very basic cost-benefit analysis, that would have precluded them from spending on some of the wasteful things that they’re investing in.
The Families and Education Levy doesn’t float all boats. I feel that all the families and all of the kids in the city should be benefiting from such a massive investment. I wanted it to be a program that serves all disadvantaged kids. [Currently], it only serves kids that are in schools that are completely overpowered by poverty. If a kid’s in a school with a lower concentration of those problems, they don’t get the funding.
What has happened basically the Families and Education folks have totally, lock stock, and barrel bought into corporate education reform. So, for instance, they use the MAP test [a controversial standardized test that has been the subject of a boycott in Seattle] to determine what’s effective with how their investments are going, regardless of the fact that the MAP test is not designed to evaluate teachers or programs. It’s so misused.
In response to all the failed strategies of corporate education reform, a failure industry has mushroomed that is just unbelievable. There are situations where they’ve got tutors being paid $60 dollars an hour to be, quote unquote, helping kids, where you can take an organization like [the nonprofit literacy and tutoring group] 826 Seattle, which runs on a shoestring, that offers free tutoring and homework help and writing help for sturdents, and they don't even qualify for funds.
I just disagree with the whole reactive orientation of the program. The school district has failed to teach kids to add, subtract, multiply and divide. That has more to do with unqualified teachers and terrible textbooks. That’s a terrible mistake the school district is making. The Families and Education Levy goes, basically, that’s too bad, but let’s just do more of what we're already doing—throwing good money after bad money. All the money the Families and Education Levy spends on health centers—most of that could be covered by Medicaid. I didn’t see that it was effective to put health centers in schools that are closed on nights and weekends and in the summers, because the kids need that [service] all the time.
We also asked Martin about one of the organizational membership she lists on her questionnaire: The Seattle Math Coalition. Turns out it isn't a grownup version of the Mathletes; it's a group dedicated to promoting basic math education in Seattle public schools.
And one more interesting education footnote from Martin's questionnaires (which we highlighted in a recent Fizz item): She told the King County Democrats that she doesn't support Affirmative Action and she doesn't support repealing I-200, the 1998 measure that prohibited using race in school assignments. She was the only candidate to anwer that way.