Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Op-Ed in Seattle PI

"Putting Trust Back in Seattle Schools" is the title of an op-ed in the PI this morning by Betty Hoagland (former Seattle Council PTSA president and now president of Schools First) and Lisa MacFarlane (longtime public education activist). Schools First did a survey, in late 2006 (anybody participate?) about Seattle schools asking parents and voters.

There are various piecharts for five questions (it is unclear if only 5 were asked but I don't see a link to the survey so probably). One thing that is interesting is that no matter what the district or Board say, people still think we have financial problems. (78% of all voters have a negative belief and 86% of parents have a negative belief.) But the piechart says "budgeting and handling of finances" so I'm not sure if that means people believe we are solvent (the district says we are in the black) or if people agree with how things are being done to manage finances (i.e. school closures will save money).

I'm surprised by the results for "listening to the community" with voters at 59% positive and parents at 62% positive. With all the calls for more community engagement I wouldn't have thought this would be the vote.

And, we approve of our teachers with voters by 71% and parents by a whopping 90%. Again, not quite what I would have expected but it certainly signals unhappiness at the management level and not the school level.

They also clear up some confusion in my mind about the upcoming Board elections. I had been confused by the early date to run for Board (I clearly remember a July deadline but it's early June this year). This from the op-ed:

"For the first time, we will vote in a summer primary, on Aug. 21. Voters should mark their summer calendars and be sure to request absentee ballots if they are going to be on vacation. It is too important to skip this school assignment."

Well, that changes things. I really didn't know the primary was in August. If you are running for school board that really makes for a different strategy. Right in the depths of summer, there's the primary? I wonder how that happened. I'll try to write a separate piece about what I've seen about how school board elections are different from most other ones (maybe Charlie can chime in as well as he ran for the Board) but basically, you need every single vote for the Board. I know that sounds oblivious but the point is that when you look at election results for an election that includes the Board, you see that Board candidates generally get far fewer votes than other candidates. Meaning, you might see 100,000 people cast ballots for Mayor and out of that voting pool only 50,000 cast ballots for the Board. (My theory is that it's like the judicial and port races; people just don't know those people and are wary of casting a vote.)

So in the primary in the dead of summer, I would think even fewer people would vote, making it really important to have a solid base to propel you to the general. Of course, so far, there's only one race that has 3 people and that's Darlene Flynn's district with Lisa Stubing and Sherry Carr running. If there's only 2 people in each race, then they'll just go onto the general.

One other thing about the upcoming vote in November. The ballot will contain the Simple Majority vote for levies. I was listening to a KUOW program that had the heads of the state Republican and Democratic parties. The Republican made it clear that they will campaign against Simple Majority because it makes it too easy to raise property taxes. When pressed about the value to education to having a simple majority for levies, the Republican shrugged it off and said a good district shouldn't have a problem passing a levy if what they are asking for is fair. I bring this up not to put down Republicans but to point out that there will be a clear and organized opposition to Simple Majority in the fall.

2 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

The Legislature moved the primary to August to make the Washington State presidential primary more meaningful. Of course, the Washington state presidential primary is almost meaningless anyway because that's not how the two major parties choose their delegates to the convention.

I know, weird.

I still don't know why the state pays for these elections. Do the political parties kick in some money for them? The Supreme Court has ruled that they are private entities, so they shouldn't get publicly sponsored elections. That constitutes a state gift to them.

I would think that anyone who wants to run an initiative for the ballot that would require the political parties to fully reimburse the state for the cost of the primary elections would find that cause to be a slam dunk.

More to the point, the filing fee for an election is a percentage of the salary paid for the position. Since School Board doesn't pay (there is a small stipend, but no salary), candidate filing is free.

In the primary, voters can only vote for the candidates for their District. I live in District VII, southeast Seattle, so I won't be voting in a school board primary this year. School Board is a non-partisan position, so the top two vote-getters in each District move on to the general election. In the general election, each voter in the city can vote for a candidate in each of the Board Districts. So in the general election I will vote for one of two candidates in Districts I, II, III, and VI.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Spoke with Betty Hoagland. The survey was done in-house for Schools First so the questions aren't available to the general public.