Sunday, September 05, 2010

Thinking about School Board Elections

I've been giving thought to the School Board elections next year. I might run. I say that not for anyone to comment on but because I'm musing out loud on it. There are many reasons NOT to run but I have one main reason TO run.

Accountability.

To this day, I am mystified over the number of people who run for office that don't believe they have to explain anything to voters AFTER they are elected. And I'm talking here about people whose work is not done with a vote (like the Mayor) but people who have to work in a group (City Council, School Board).

I truly doubt that these people get challenged on every single vote but I'm sure people ask on some. Why would they not respond? If asked, what data or information did you use to make this decision, why can't they answer in specific? Why wouldn't you be accountable to explain how you came to your decision?

I have worked on other campaigns and felt like yes, this person is willing to be open and honest about their votes. Mostly, it didn't pan out this way.

(Just to make clear, when I was on the Closure and Consolidation Committee, we were given sensitive information. When you are working on issues that have sensitive information or personnel or privacy issues, yes, you do have to be discrete and yes, sometimes keep your mouth shut. I understand that.)

But it does feel like things happen in a vacuum at the Stanford Center. It feels like things are already decided before any public discussion or vote. It feels like staff gets to decide where and when public engagement happens; I don't agree with that. The Board is accountable to the public and should have a large voice about public engagement.

So I have talking about accountability from Board members but there is also the issue of Board members holding the Superintendent accountable. I do NOT want the Board members to publicly ream out the Superintendent for a mistake or error. But when it is obvious that a serious error has been made a simple statement lets us - the public - know that the error has been pointed out as well as its seriousness.

Case in point: the retirement dinner.

(Thanks to Meg Diaz, I was able to read additional information from the State Auditor (and I said this at the Board meeting). Here's part of what I said:

"Here the auditors are speaking with a staffer in the district Accounting office.

“She told us the District has no formal policies for banquets and awards ceremonies. ">Every year, the Superintendent will have a retirement banquet for long-term certificated employees. We discussed such banquets usually are tied to entities' longevity incentives and are found in employee manuals. We discussed guidance from the AG that we audit to, that tells us that unless there are policies in place to address this topic it is considered gifting of public funds.”

Now the district says they will be spending money every year on a banquet for certificated employees only. That we have the money for such a party really throws into doubt that we are running on empty. I know that $7K is not a lot compared with the overall budget. But as soeone who ran an elementary school chess club, I know that amount could likely fund about 3-5 clubs throughout the district."

Was that so hard? Nope. Did it single out the Superintendent? Nope. Did acknowledge the issue and address the concern? Yes. Because see, I couldn't be making this case against the retirement party if the district had a policy on funding food for banquets and parties. But they don't and the Superintendent knew that and yet, went ahead. (And, according to what the State Auditor was told, is going to continue to do so.)

And frankly, I think the genteel air around School Board elections should cleared out of the room and the windows thrown open. Every single incumbent Board member who chooses to run again should be held accountable for what they did and did not do, starting with why there is an accountability phrase at the bottom of every single sheet of SPS paper and yet there is no public evidence of this happening.

18 comments:

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

I hope you run, Melissa. You are intelligent, knowledgeable, disciplined, hard-working, honest, and articulate. And, most importantly, you are independent-minded. It's what parents, taxpayers, children, teachers and, yes, even administrators need.

I believe that you can win if you commit yourself to a campaign. Good campaign managers are out there, and you know how to find them. You will organize a good campaign, you will raise a lot of money through your effective organization, and you will beat Martin-Morris, if he decides to run for reelection. There is a good chance that he won't, but you should assume an ed reformer will be in the wings, ready to replace him.

You are an adult who lives in the real world, and the people of this city need you.

dan dempsey said...

Ditto the above.

Here is the latest on unaccountable SPS math.

Clover Park SD adopted Math Connects k-5 and is making real progress as evidenced on the MSP. Seattle is doing much worse than CPSD looking at cohort changes from 2009 to 2010.

Check it out here.

Note: Harium wants to leave this ineffective vertically aligned k-12 math program in place for at least three more years.

RUN Melissa .. RUN.

dan dempsey said...

Hopefully Harium can be recalled and would not be running as an incumbent.

Court hearing on recall on September 23.

Maureen said...

Here's the page that tells you when a Director's term ends and links you to the maps of the areas they represent. You have to live in the area to run to represent it. Four Directors will be up for reelection in 2011: Harium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr, Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier (his area is really strange--the whole north end of the city, wrapping down the Sound on the west and Lake Washington on the east.) I wonder how hard it would be to put together a group of people to run for (some, all? of)those seats?

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

"I wonder how hard it would be to put together a group of people to run for (some, all? of)those seats?"

Trust me. People are working on this.

Melissa Westbrook said...

My advice,though, is not to run any kind of "slate". That happened somewhat in a previous election (all 4 candidates got swept along in this "upset the incumbents" fervor) and it didn't play out well.

Everyone should run on their own merits.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

Meanwhile, while we all wait for that happy day when Melissa announces her candidacy, we can get to work on a pro-education .

In the 34th, Michael Heavey and Joe Fitzgibbon are vying for an open seat. Joe Fitzgibbon, former staffer for Sharon Nelson, is a strong supporter of public education. Michael Heavey has thrown his lot in with the ed reformers. Not surprisingly, he's been endorsed by Stand for Children, which has contributed $800 to his campaign.

So. Are we for fighting ed reformers on blogs only? Or will we take action? We can make a difference in this race. There are legislators who will not wait to push the reform agenda. It's important we take action now so that they know whose side we're on.

LA Teacher's Warehouse said...

Melissa,

I completely agree with you. No slates. A slate will be a disaster for any organization which attempts to promote one.

LG said...

Melissa, PLEASE run!

Arnold said...

Talk about accountability-
I was reading about I 1098. Here is what they had to say:

• School districts must allow citizens to comment on planned distributions and report annually on how funds are used.

Can you see any of this actually happining?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Arnold, they would have one public hearing, poorly advertised, and then say, "We spent money on the programs in the Strategic Plan to close the achievement gap."

End of story.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Arnold, they would have one public hearing, poorly advertised, and then say, "We spent money on the programs in the Strategic Plan to close the achievement gap."

End of story.

Eric M said...

Hmm. The main thing parents could do to help teachers ?

Defeat the levy, jettison the Superintendent, recall the the School Board.

And make sure your kids get enough sleep.

wseadawg said...

Anti-incumbent feelings elected the last slate of School Board Candidates? Wrong! LEV elected them by contributing large sums to the war chests of each, causing them to outspend any opponents by nearly 10 to 1.

Let's open the windows and clear the air indeed!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Honestly, I don't think it's money that wins in School Board elections (yes, you need to get your name out there).

It's a different kind of animal. I think I know pretty well what can make it work.

That said, you need votes.

Even Bill Gates, Sr. and all his push and pull could not put charters through.

Power and money don't always win.

Sahila said...

wonder how you'd stack up against someone with $100K to spend on getting name recognition and endorsements, Melissa...

And interesting thought - wonder if the four who got such generous Gates/Microsoft/Hanauer affiliated money were endorsed by the Times? Would be easy enough to find out by checking the archives, but somehow I dont think I have to bother...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sahila, name recognition IS key and someone who is not known by the public going into it isn't going to get the kind of recognition they need just by mailers and signs. It doesn't work that way in school board elections. You need a base going in.

Charlie Mas said...

You need a base to get through the primary.

You need to violate the rule against putting political yard signs on public property (I know that everyone does it, but it is, strictly speaking, illegal).

You need a professional on your team.

You need money to pay for the professional and to pay for the stuff that the professional is going to tell you to get and do.

You can be negatively impacted by the LEV - and other establishment interests. Last year they recruited a candidate for the specific purpose of knocking me out of the race. They also froze me out of professional help by warning some pros not to work with me. Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get me.