Friday, July 31, 2009

Got Ballot?

So I received my primary ballot and voters guide this week; how about you?

The Times had an article about the District 5 School Board race. I thought it was fair. It focused mostly on what will likely become the campaign issue after the primary; running against Mary Bass's record. I did ask the candidates if they were running against Mary or because they believed they had something different to offer. It was the latter. However, come the general election, if Mary comes out of the primary (and I think she will), that other person might need to try to talk about Mary's work over the last 8 years.

So here is my assessment of the District 5 race which includes interviews (still haven't gotten together with Andre but I hope to and Mary never responded to my e-mail), reading the Muni questionnaires as well as other research. (One interesting thing about the Muni questions was the fact that almost no District 5 candidate really answered the question about what characteristics and traits he/she would bring to the office.) I would judge them all to be adequate, meaning, no one is unqualified for the office sought. I am still pondering who I personally will vote for.


Mary Bass - I've said this before, Mary is a person of integrity who deserves admiration and praise for taking on a hard job, seeing it through 8 years and standing for her community. I don't know what to make of the Muni League's downrating of Mary every election. I find it odd because she does know this district well and to call her "adequate" seems wrong. I found nothing wrong in her answers in the Muni questionnaire but I also found nothing that says why she should continue on. Mary is right about institutional knowledge (and that's why I advocating voting for candidates who CLEARLY know the entire district) because it is important. And Mary has asked questions of staff but they usually come too late to do any good.

I can't support Mary this election because I feel she hasn't been as effective as she should be especially for a long-time Board member.


Andre Helmstetter - As I said, I hope to still have a one-on-one with him. I was impressed with him at the forum I attended. He has energy and is very earnest. But I would need to find out how well he knows the entire district and not just District 5. He clearly seems to know his role as School Board Director is to represent all families but I would need evidence that he knows this district.

Joanna Cullen - I've talked to Joanna for years at various Board meetings and other meetings. She is a calm person and sometimes that calm belies her passion for public education. I believe she knows this district well. But she did not do especially well at the forum I attended. Her thoughtful answers one-on-one came across as labored and somewhat confused in the forum. Iworry about this ability to communicate clearly. I believe Joanna knows how to work with other people and find consensus.


Kay Smith-Blum - Out of all the candidates, she's the one I feel the most ambivalent about. She has energy (lots) and ideas (lots). She is also very bright. It is no small thing that she knows many different kinds of people throughout the city, many of whom might be the kinds of people/institutions that the district should be reaching out to now (with money so tight). She would know how to phrase a request and light a fire. However, I think her enthusiasm may be bigger than what she can do as a single Director. No Director can get things done on his or her own.

For example, in her Muni questionnaire she said she thought there should be foreign language taught starting in kindergarten and daily PE/music/art. Yes, and we could give each student a puppy, too. It is very easy to say what we would all hope for our students. Those things would be wonderful. But the reality is that (1) there isn't time in the school day - as structured - to do all those things unless it was in an integrated lesson which would necessitate special training for all teachers and (2) there isn't the money. So how to make those things come true? The devil is in the details.

I am impressed that she has done some homework. That tells me she is not a dilettante running for office. I'm not sure, though, that she knows this district well. I might tell her to be careful about talking up public/private partnerships too much as many parents feel suspicious or unsure what the might mean. I think she also may come across as a well-meaning wealthy person with all the answers. (We had that in former Board Director Don Nielson who is a smart man who cares deeply about public education. However, he always came across as a bit removed from most of the parents who have students in this district.) I do think that Kay would work hard for this district and might be an effective Board member except that her vision may be longer than her reach. As well she would have to gauge if what she thinks is important to get done is what parents/students/staff think is important to get done.

Any one else want to comment on your impressions or if you know one or more of the candidates?

6 comments:

heidi said...

I support Kay because she does have a vision on how things could be better. Also, I believe she can pragmaticly move things forward for a better school district for everyone of SPS students.

Edward said...

I have to admit that Kay was the least impressive in the two forums that I attended (Central and SE). She was especially disappointing on the matter of special education, appalling, really, to assert that really there's nothing terribly wrong and boiling the whole thing down to a matter of economic efficiency.

I appreciate that she has gone out to talk things over with some principals, to learn what's going on, but she doesn't really know the constituencies in district 5 very well.

heidi said...

Yeah Edward you mentioned that before. I wasn't there but listened to it latter (after your post) and only heard her suggest that things were not as bad as some parts of the country and that there was certainly areas for improvement.

I actually thought Mary did a great job which really surprised me after watching her over the last few years at board meetings.

Charlie Mas said...

The Video Voter's Guide is now available online.

reader said...

If Kay Smith-Blum is so interested in public education, why did she send her kids to private schools? Why is/was she on the board for private schools? If her kids' school was so horrible, why couldn't she fix it enough to send her kid(s) there. Oh yeah, she only is really for the elite public schools... and if you can't get into one of those, you go private. "I was on the board of Montlake and it was great", doesn't say a lot. It shows a lack of understanding or interest in what goes on in most public schools... or with how to improve them.

No getting a bunch of donations isn't going to do it for SPS. Those don't work. Look at Broad Foundation, look at Gates Foundation. They may (or may not) have poured money into the district but it doesn't really do what needs doing. We don't need more hairbrained private school schemes to "make our schools just like Lakeside." That isn't realistic. We really need broad based PUBLIC support, with PUBLIC funding... and then, accountability to prioritize and manage that support.

Melissa Westbrook said...

According to my interview with Kay, her kids graduated from Garfield and attended Montlake. I don't know about middle schools.