Seattle School Board District No. 5 and No. 7: PubliCola Picks Mary Bass and Betty Patu

By PublicolaPicks October 19, 2009


Seattle’s school board races are often ruled by a throw-the-bums-out mentality. It’s easy to understand why.  The school district has been in crisis mode for years—dealing with budget gaps, school closures, shifts in graduation requirements, and bussing plans. And it appears to be one or two missteps away being taken over by the next mayor, President Obama, or a mob of feral fourth graders, only interested in following the law of the jungle gym.

While it’d be easy to just vote out all the current board members and start fresh with a new group, Publicola believes we need board members with the experience to confront heart-wrenching decisions that effect thousands of students and families, and a real understanding of what goes on inside the district’s messy, stinky guts.

In the primary, PubliCola endorsed central Seattle incumbent board member Mary Bass and, for the south Seattle seat,  former Rainier Beach High School teacher Betty Patu. We haven’t seen any reason to change our endorsements.

Bass, a self-proclaimed “dissident” who currently represents Capitol Hill and the Central District on the board, has been a watchdog for budgetary problems (spotting a $34 million dollar budget “miscalculation” in 2002) and has brought emotion to the dispassionate board, sometimes bursting into long, tearful monologues, which is kind of helpful. We think.

Bass, who was one of two school board members to offer what were ultimately symbolic votes against last year’s school closures, is also one of two African-Americans on the board. The district is currently shifting to a neighborhood school assignment plan that could create further educational disparities in Seattle.

We believe Bass will provide both continuity to the board and keep a watchful eye over the district, to make sure that minority communities receive the same resources and education as everyone else.

Bass’s opponent, Kay Smith-Blum, is an accomplished businesswoman—who was able to raise enough cash in the race to buy up at least one billboard in North Seattle, which is kind of nuts for a school district race—but we believe the district will be better served by keeping Bass on board.

PubliCola picks Mary Bass.

Patu, a former teacher at the problem-plagued Rainier Beach High School (which William Golding once wrote a novel about), has seen the worst that the Seattle school district has to offer.

At Rainier Beach, where test scores are low, the drop out rate is high, Patu was a major player in the South Pacific Drop-Out Prevention Program (SPDOPP!), where she helped students bridge cultural gaps and attain their diplomas. Patu also worked with a gang prevention program, personally muscling gang-involved students into returning to class. She’s one tough (or possibly crazy) lady.

Patu’s opponent Wilson Chin, a research scientist at the University of Washington, has an impressive resume of volunteer work, but after spending so much time in one of the district’s toughest schools, we believe Patu will bring a unique perspective and perhaps more pragmatic approach to finding solutions to keep kids in class, improve education in the district, and work with the city in implementing gang-intervention programs in Seattle schools.

PubliCola picks Betty Patu.
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