Election 2013

Independent Expenditure in the...School Board Race

A negative flier heats up school board race.

By Shirley Qiu July 31, 2013

The mayor's race isn't the only campaign that heated up last week. One of the Seattle School Board races got testy when an independent expenditure group did a mailer supporting Suzanne Dale Estey, an economic development consultant, who's running for the open District Four spot that represents Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Belltown.

Dale Estey's opponent Sue Peters, a journalist and blogger, says the flier "contains false and incomplete information about my campaign for Seattle School Board." She feels that the mailer misrepresents her views and qualifications.

The mailer in question shows a chart comparing the qualifications and priorities of Dale Estey, listed under “Candidate for Change,” and Peters, “More of the Same”—a reference to the supposed dysfunction that has plagued the Seattle School Board for the past few years. (The other candidate for District Four, Dean McColgan, was not mentioned.)

See the original mailer here.

Peters has since contacted Dale Estey about the flier and her disappointment in using “smear” tactics. She has pointed out several omissions, such as her Masters degree from Stanford University, and inaccuracies, such as her supposed priority to "Get the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation out of public education," that create a misleading message for voters. She says her priorities are: direct funding to the classroom; create engaging curricula for students that moves away from standardized testing; support teachers; and keep public education public.

As for "Get[ting] the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation out of Public Education.."? Peters certainly seems to think the Foundation is problematic.

Asked what she thought about the Gates Foundation's role in education, she told me: "I, and many others, have concerns about individuals and foundations who are able to influence local and national public education policy without any public accountability or expertise in the field of education. That includes the Broad and Wallace Foundations as well as the Gates Foundation."

Dale Estey  told me she played no part in the creation or distribution of the flyer, and had no knowledge of its existence until it arrived in her mailbox: "We need a school board focused on student achievement, increased funding, and respect for teachers, not personal politics...I will continue to run a strong and positive campaign," she said via email.

The $8,000 mailer was produced and paid for by “Great Seattle Schools,” an independent expenditure campaign that has raised about $33,000 overall. Great Seattle Schools is funded by "ed reform" movement backers such as the Civic Alliance for Sound Economy (CASE), the lobbying arm of the Seattle chamber of commerce; Matt Griffin, the managing partner of a real estate company who has also directly contributed $1,800 to Dale Estey; and Christopher Larson, a former Microsoft exec and current minority owner of the Mariners, who also donated $1,800 to Dale Estey. As we've reported before, these wealthy supporters of the Arne Duncan-style reform agenda have been an issue in past local school board elections as well. 

According to Peters, the flier has actually worked in her favor. She claims it has encouraged some voters to donate to the campaign. However, records of campaign donations on the Public Disclosure Commission website do not yet show any additional contributions since the mailer was sent out last week.

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