School Board Challenger Flags Incumbents' Past Donors

By Josh Feit June 16, 2011

School Board challenger Kate Martin, who's running against District 2 incumbent Sherry Carr (Carr represents north central Seattle around Green Lake), has been one of the most passionate speakers at the candidate forums the past two nights. At both the 43 District on Tuesday night and at the 36th District last night, she lamented that only four of her son's friends were graduating, while the rest, more than 40 kids, had dropped out.

And though Martin hasn't gotten any district Democrats' endorsements, she has prevented Carr from getting the nod. Last night, she had back up from local celebrity Cliff Mass, the recently ousted KUOW weatherman.

Martin is part of the strong backlash movement—not only the standard "throw the bums out" wave that hits Seattle school board incumbents every time they're up, but specifically against the education reform agenda pushed by President Obama and supported by Republicans. On Tuesday night, Martin name-checked the "Gates Foundation agenda." A recent NYT front page story linked the Gates Foundation to Obama-style reform groups, criticizing them for wielding the kind of political influence that has skewed data.

PubliCola did a follow-up article on NYT report showing that the local chapter of the national Obama-style reform group, Stand for Children, got $330,00o in Gates money this year.

Something else Martin says in her stump speech is that Carr has eight donors who "own her."

Martin is referring to eight power couples who contributed to Carr in 2007, some who have strong ties to the education reform movement, including Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes and his wife Patricia. The couple contributed $12,000 to Carr in 2007 when Raikes worked at Microsoft. (There are no contribution limits in Seattle school board races.)

The group of contributors from 2007 also includes Nick Hanauer (who co-founded the League of Education Voters, an ed reform group that's local allies with Stand for Children.) Hanauer and his wife Leslie gave $15,000. Other Carr contributors included: Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie at $10,000 and developer Matt Griffin and his wife Evelyne Rozner at $13,000. Overall, the eight couples accounted for $84,000 of Carr's $149,130 in contributions in 2007.

Carr thinks the claim that she's doing the bidding of these donors is absurd, and laughs that she doesn't even know most of them, including Raikes and Ballmer. "Never met them." She says she called James Sinegal—a Costco exec who gave $10,000 with his wife in 2007—to donate this time, "and he didn't even remember who I was. He didn't commit to donating again and said to send him a letter and a remit slip. I'd be honored to have his donation."

Carr adds that her contributions are at the Public Disclosure Commission for everyone to see. "It's all transparent," she says, adding that if Martin wants to work on capping campaign contributions that's fine with her.

Of the 2007 group, only Griffin and Rozner have shown up as Carr donors this year, contributing $1,000 each. Carr says she met Griffin to ask him for money in 2007 and knows him through his active involvement in education. The couple is chairing the campaign for this year's Families and Education Levy.

Carr has raised a little over $9,000 so far, including $1,000 from her brother. Campaign finance records report that Martin has raised $1,500, but no contributors are listed.

One of Carr's biggest donors this year is Jennifer Vranek, president of Education First Consulting, which consults for Stand for Children as well as for Microsoft, the Gates Foundation, and the Washington Roundtable, the Washington State CEO lobbying group—all of which back the Obama education agenda.

Vranek has also given SFC $1,000. However, her firm also consults for the American Federation of Teachers, one of the two major national teachers' unions. The unions oppose much of the Obama agenda. (The Obama education agenda includes linking teacher evaluations to student test scores and allowing charter schools.)

Carr currently has 44 donors with more than half of them at $100 or less.

"Nobody who has given me money has told me to do this or that," Carr says. She says she and Vranek are friends through the Women's Political Caucus and describes Waiting for Superman, a documentary film often associated with the Obama ed agenda, as being at one extreme in the debate. Carr says she's running on her record, boasting about pushing through the new neighborhood-based student assignment plan and instigating reforms to give the board more power so they're not just rubber-stamping the superintendent's budget.

A recent PubliCola ThinkTank featured a union teacher vs. the head of the Washington Round Table debating the so-called education reform agenda.
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