Inspired by the even-keeled Seattle/King County Municipal League, which ranks candidates based on skill, experience, and policy acumen rather than on ideology, we’ve been talking to candidates and interviewing folks on both sides of the ballot measures and coming up with our own ratings. Our scale: Exceptional; Above Average; Acceptable; So-so; Unimpressive; Unacceptable.
(Our City Council candidate ratings are here: Position 9; Position 7; Position 5; Position 3; and Position 1. Our evaluation of the tunnel referendum, Ref. 1, is here and our evaluation of the King County Proposition 1, the veterans and human services levy is here.)
Seattle Public Schools appears to be in a state of perpetual crisis. Add the embarrassing minority programming scandal, a screwed-up bidding process for the MLK School property, and the stunning conflict of interest with the MAP standardized test to poor graduation rates (70 percent on-time), the achievement gap, and poor financial management, and PubliCola's ratings for all the incumbents had to be downgraded a notch.
As school board candidate and longtime Greenwood activist mom Kate Martin put it in our interview: "The school board is not overseeing the district, it's overlooking the district."
The challengers like to point out that all four incumbents share a group of wealthy donors—Steve Ballmer from Microsoft, Matt Griffin from Pike Street Properties, Bellevue conservative donor John Stanton, and Mariners' owner Christopher Larson—who are associated with the Waiting for Superman education reform movement. We actually think the backlash against the ed reform movement is way overblown—and also think the current board did a heavy lift on the new student assignment plan that linked students to their neighborhoods (and closed schools) and on the compromise teachers' contract which (amazingly) balanced the extremes in the teacher evaluation debates.
But tapping into that backlash and combining it with the ever present "throw the bums out" mood that wells up every school board election, the challengers are poised to win en masse.
We find it troublesome, then, that many of the challengers, when pressed repeatedly for specific remedies, were high on anger about "corporate agendas" but vague on specific plans—"hire a new superintendent," "create a citizen oversight panel" (isn't that what the board is for?)---while their resumes weren't particularly noteworthy ("just doing the mom thing right now," "I see the schools through my wife's eyes.")
Seattle School Board
District No. 1, North Seattle
Special ed teacher John Cummings is good at listing off the missteps at the district, but he's too frantic to be articulate, and he's shy on solutions: Unimpressive
Harvard-educated attorney Peter Maier, the incumbent, has been a steady presence in some recent successes, such as the teacher contract: Acceptable.
Sharon Peaslee, an advocate for better math standards who organized parents on the Eastside (where she used to live), is well-informed on the issues and focused, but hardly brimming with solutions: Acceptable.
District No. 2, Green Lake
Jack Whelan, a longtime UW prof, cites his wife's experience as a teacher in Seattle schools a bit too much and doesn't offer many ideas of his own: So-so.
Terrance J. Menage: Did not return our calls. Insufficient Information.
Mark T. Weber: Did not return our calls. Insufficient Information.
Former Seattle Council PTSA President and Boeing financial manager Sherry Carr, the incumbent, chairs the board's Audit and Finance Committee where she established an internal audit team and put metrics and benchmarks in place: Acceptable.
Greenwood mom, Kate Martin is super informed about testing models and super angry about the moneyed interests backing the current board: Above Average
District No. 3, Downtown, Capitol Hill and heading Northeast above the cut taking in Laurelhurst and Roosevelt and stopping south of Wedgwood.
Retired Seattle schoolteacher John Dunn brings a pro-union perspective that's actually pro-stringent teacher accountability. However, beyond that interesting POV, he doesn't have much else to say : So-so.
Perennial candidate David Blomstrom bloviates with comedic radical rhetoric. For example: "Freedom fighters in Iraqistan have committed suicide in protecting their children from the trailer park trash and sex predators who find a safe haven in the U.S. military. So why can’t Seattleites take a stand against the corporate predators that run Seattle and its increasingly privatized public schools?": Unacceptable.
Boeing software development manager Harium Martin-Morris, the incumbent, is a former teacher who notably voted 'No' on the schools closure plan shut down a batch of local schools and the opposed the conflicted sale of MLK to a local church: Acceptable.
Mom to two young SPS students, Michelle Buetow, is charismatic and has a track record of results as a site council leader at TOPS, a magnet elementary in Eastlake: Above Average.
Position No. 6, West Seattle
Nick Esparza knows the issues, but has a slight resume: So-so.
Math teacher, parent, and longtime schools activist Marty McLaren is great on paper—she led a lawsuit against inadequate math texts---but unpersuasive in person: Acceptable.
Steven Sundquist, the incumbent, is a former longtime exec at Russell Investments and president of the school board: Acceptable.
A former counselor for at-risk children, Joy Anderson was the go-to community organizer for the fight to save her daughter's West Seattle school, Cooper Elemetary. She lost, but her leadership skills were clear: Above Average.