PubliCola Candidate Ratings: Seattle School Board

By PublicolaPicks October 31, 2011

Sticking with our commitment to be a more objective and balanced source of news, this year, we’re not going to tell you how to vote.

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.

You will find our take on this year's measures, initiatives, and other candidates 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 were all 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 of the Seattle School Board incumbents share a group of wealthy donors (many of them not even from Seattle)— 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.”)

That said, here are our ratings.

Seattle School Board

District No. 1, North Seattle

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

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.

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

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.
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