Friday, August 14, 2009

Publicola story about Mary Bass

SoulNerd writes about Mary Bass. Is she an insightful and effective advocate or is she an ineffective objectionist?

10 comments:

Danny K said...

I posted on the Publicola thread what I'll say here: I think her heart is frequently in the right place, but she doesn't seem to get anything done on the board. I'd rather see her as an education wonk and have a political animal in her spot.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Danny, you really summed it in fewer words than I could. Mary, with her experience and analytic skills, would serve better as an advisor. The role of Board member is not just advise and consent - it's being able to work with the other members and find consensus (and even persuade others).

Mary has served with a variety of people on the Board. One group was not kind to her at all and she really was alienated from those people. However, there were many like-minded people elected over the years and yet, Mary was still the lone vote on many issues. I find it hard to believe that with so many different people Mary could not find (or get) consensus with no one.

Syd said...

Personally, I would rather have the education wonk (the definition here seems to be "someone who knows something about how things work at SPS" in the position. I just voted for Charlie Mas for the same reason.

Charlie Mas said...

What could Director Bass do to be more effective at bringing her Board colleagues over to her side? Is she not speaking to them in the terms that resonate for them? Not enough data? Too much data? Not enough principle? Too much principle? Too much emotion and not enough logic? Too much whining and not enough alternative solutions?

Or is there nothing that she could do to move Director Sundquist, Director Carr, Director DeBell to her side of the vote? Is it a futile effort? Could someone more eloquent or more persuasive succeed where she has failed?

In the end, I don't think anyone could get Director Chow or Director Maier to change their vote. They believe that the Board's role is to support and facilitate the Superintendent's decisions, so they would never vote against the Superintendent or staff's recommendations - and they never have. It is pointless to work to change their mind on a vote because it would require changing their understanding of the Board job.

Honestly, the two things that scare me most about Wilson Chin are the fact that he is endorsed by Cheryl Chow and that he comes from the same organization that gave us Peter Maier.

Are the other Board members as hopeless as those two?

advocacyworks said...

When Mary voted "No" against the race tie-breaker in school assignments, federal courts upheld her position. When Mary voted "No" on charter schools, the state legislature and the public referendum backed her up 3 times! When Mary day-lighted and voted against the budget with a $34 million deficit and "plugged" accounting, audits confirmed her vote. Mary makes her vote count.

Mary takes an informed and principled stand on issues. It is not her fault that other board members are unable to think independently and separately from their big-money supporters--even in the best interests of the students and the district. School closures, fiscal irresponsibility, mold and water problems in our schools, opening school district contracts to more women and minority business, fighting for the rights and jobs of school bus drivers, disproportionality in academic achievement and disciplinary actions, opening board meetings for direct input from citizens to board members and the superintendent--Mary has stood firm on each of these issues.

Mary is the senior member on the board, and can get into the heart of issues more rapidly than most of her colleagues because of her experience and knowledge. They have access to the same information she has, but usually can't seem to analyze it with any depth.

Mary has been proven to be right time after time on the most important issues, even as a voice supported only by one or two other members.

northseattlemom said...

It was Mary that discovered the 35 million dollar discrepancy in the SPS budget in the first few months of her tenure on the board. She was responsible for the daylighting of that issue, the other board members were happy to keep it quiet. Even the Seattle Times-never a friend to Mary-conceded that she was responsible for the discovery.
So that board, after being forced to admit the huge losses and to commission the Moss Adams review, were never really chummy with Bass...The next crew got elected under the premise that they were progressives but when the feet were to the fire, only Sally Soriano held to her ethics. The others sold out to the business interests and gave us an unqualified Superintendent who never even went through the vetting process. They allowed school closures when the data did not support the district arguments but the desire of the business interests demanded them. They allowed closures even when it was shown that disadvantaged children were impacted disproportionately.
Mary fought against all of those things. Without her, the rubber stamp for the business elite get their way without any resistance at all.

Dorothy said...

To make an informed opinion about SoulNerd's conclusions, it would help to read a representative sample of her points of view on her blog. Link is on the bottom of her column.

Charlie Mas said...

I agree that Director Bass is right much of the time - particularly on issues that advocacyworks and northseattlemom reference. Let me be clear:

I think Mary Bass is right.

But being right isn't enough for you to win in Seattle Public School politics. In fact, it isn't even a factor. I want to know what Director Bass could do to help the right side win the vote. It may be that:

"It is not her fault that other board members are unable to think independently and separately from their big-money supporters--even in the best interests of the students and the district."

Or is there something she could do to help them do the right thing?

Maybe there isn't. In that case, there is nothing that Ms Smith-Blum or Ms Cullen or Mr. Helmstetter could do either.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Interesting because one person at the Publicola comments section said that being right was more important.

In life, in our relationships both personal and work, we have to be able to listen to another side, persuade, compromise and find consensus. Being right doesn't stand by itself. And, you run the danger of seeming stubborn because, as adults, we know you might be right on one point in an argument but that there are rare instances of a simple yes or no answer being the end all to a discussion.

I don't buy the argument that the entire Board is controlled by outside interests. Influenced, maybe but frankly, as noted by the thread about the Gates Foundation giving money to states for the Race to the Top, clearly SPS and the Board aren't on the good side of Bill Gates. He's a pretty big outside interest.

I think it is more the issue of those Board members who believe that if the staff has done due diligence, that they will vote for what the staff says. That's a problem.

Lastly, Mary moans a lot about not having staff to help her research issues. Mary, of all the Board members, has had a steady stream of supporters (including me in the past) who offered all the time to help. I don't think she ever took anyone up on the offer (certainly not me) and continues to complain about lack of time and staff.

anon reader said...

I think many people probably don't realize what Mary Bass does behind the scenes to make the rest of the board aware of and privy to the realities that minority communities face in this district. She is constantly approached by diverse groups, and carries their message forward. Neither of her opponents has access to those communities like Mary does. They don't know squat in comparison to her either. I think there are many things going on behind the scenes.