Members of the Seattle School Board,
I have been watching this Board with growing concern. Last month, however, when the Board conspired to evade public discussion of the superintendent's evaluation, I became convinced that the Board has lost its way. It makes me heartsick to have to remind you that you are the elected representatives of the public and to call upon you to remember your better selves.
You are the elected representatives of the public. Think about that for a bit. It was the public who elected you – not the District staff. The members of the community are your constituents, not the people who work in the JSCEE. After the students, you owe your loyalty to the public, not the superintendent. We're not seeing that. In your Affirmation of Responsibility, I see a lot of duties you owe the superintendent and each other, but the only duty you name for the public is to refer their concerns to the appropriate staff person. Don't you think you owe the public something more than that?
You are the representatives of the public; you're supposed to represent the public's voice. When the public perspective and the staff perspective are in conflict – as they often are – presuming it makes no difference for the students, you should be advocating for the public perspective. We're not seeing that. There's no one else here who has the duty of representing the public's perspective – that's your job. And if you don't do it, then no one does.
You were sent here by the public. There's no one else in the District who is accountable to the public. The people in the schools are accountable to their principals and then up to the education directors, the central staff are accountable to their supervisors and then up to the "C" level executives who are accountable to the Superintendent who is accountable to you. Everyone else in the district can (and does) ignore the public because they don't have to answer to them. You alone are accountable to the public. You need to start acting like it.
So when there is universal agreement that the community engagement on a project was inadequate – as it was on the Denny/Sealth co-location –– but you approve the project anyway, then you are saying that community engagement doesn't matter. If the project goes forward with or without community engagement, then community engagement doesn't matter. And when every single stakeholder group opposes a project – as was the case with the Denny/Sealth co-location – but you approve the project anyway, then you are saying that stakeholder views don't matter. And if the Board, the elected representatives of the public and the only people in the District who are accountable to the public disregard the public's perspective, then why in the world should the superintendent or the staff care about it?
If you are simply going to approve every staff recommendation, then what function do you fulfill? You have not written policy, you have not enforced policy, you have not rejected any staff recommendation - what difference does it make if you are here or not? If you are not going to provide the necessary push-back then there is no point to having a Board. We should just skip the formality of having a Board and allow the staff to make the final decisions because you have ceased to function.
Finally, last month, you showed yourself so contemptuous of the community that elected you that you conspired to shut the public out of any discussion of the superintendent's evaluation. In violation of District Policy, in violation of your bylaws, in violation of your affirmation of responsibility, you made the calculated and conscious choice to circumvent any public discussion of the superintendent's evaluation. It is clear that your loyalty to the superintendent and the staff is greater than your loyalty to your duty or to the public. It makes me heartsick.
How can I call upon you to remember your better selves? How can I call upon you to show the courage of the convictions you avowed during your campaigns? What sign can you show that you have remembered your duties and your loyalties? I honestly don't know. It may be too late. Of greater concern to me is the possibility that you have already shown us your best selves – that this is as good as it gets, and that your actual loyalties are to those in JSCEE rather than to those in homes across the city. You are the elected representatives of the public. When are you going to start acting like it?
- Charlie Mas