Yesterday on The Conversation, the candidates for Position 3 were interviewed. Joining host Ross Reynolds were the incumbent Harium Martin-Morris and challengers Michelle Buetow and John Dunn. The interview was, again, too short for my tastes but did have some new and interesting content.
Harium, like the other incumbents, was asked about Pottergate. He said it was complex, it when down several layers, there were structural problems with identifying this, etc. But then he said now that they know this, they are putting structures in place. (This becomes quite key in the discussion later on.)
He was also asked about the sale of the MLK, Jr. building. He said that two of the bids were identical (something I was not aware of) and that yes, $1.5M extra (the Bush bid) was a lot of money. When pressed on the issue of not much activity happening at the building since the sale, he said that it had only been 6 months and "immediate gratification" wasn't possible.
I get what he is saying but really, if making sure a building stayed community use was important, why wouldn't the district/Board made sure that concrete plans were in place?
John Dunn was introduced as a teacher and former head of SEA. He said he did not believe the Board was doing an adequate job on the budget. And then he said something brilliant - he referenced the Moss-Adams report (off the scandal in 2002 with Superintendent Olchefske). He said that at that time, governance was top down and the culture was an issue (as defined in the report). He pointed out that it was still an issue today.
Then Michelle Buetow was introduced and she said that all Board members should be commended for taking on a hard job but, that said, they were not providing the stewardship that the district needs. She then also said something brilliant - she referenced what Nancy Waldman, who had been the director in the seat Harium now holds, said when the Olchefske financial scandal occurred.
From the Seattle Times on September 8, 2003:
Waldman, 56, is aware that some voters believe she and the rest of the board are at fault for the budget fiasco, in which the district unknowingly spent $35 million more than it had.
"Once we knew there was a problem with the budget, we called for an independent audit and we appointed a committee of fiscal integrity," Waldman said. "I think we responded quickly and decisively. At the end of the day, we have a road map to make sure this never happens again."
Now many of you have heard me harp on Moss-Adams. It was the roadmap to operational and fiscal responsibility. It HAD the financial structures that the current incumbents seem so interested in establishing. And the Board who instituted it believed it would protect the district from the same kind of lack of oversight that plagued them in the Olchefske scandal.
But no one put it into place and followed thru. If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 30% of Moss-Adams got enacted. If it had been largely put into place, I doubt that Silas Potter could have proceeded on the path he took. Are Board members coming into office looking at what came before them? In this case, it doesn't seem any Board from 2003-2011 has given Moss-Adams more than a passing glance. I think assumptions were made that, well, naturally these things are in place.
This is really key because (1) no one should come into public office and assume that everything is in place and (2) what came before is important and woe to the person who forgets that.
Harium was asked if he read it and he said yes, at the time it came out. He then said that Moss-Adams was about changing the culture but that sort of thing didn't happen overnight. He said "research" shows it takes 4-6 years. So then the host said and when did the report come out? Ten years ago.
Harium then said he could only address when he came onto the Board. He talked about the ethics hotline.
Dunn and Buetow then had a discussion about the state of schools with Buetow accurately pointing out that many people who have the ability to go private are still doing so. Dunn said he felt most schools were doing well but that we need more middle school capacity in the north end.
Harium was asked about communications and that there's a website and a communications department. He said that there is this assumption that all people communicate the same way and mentioned strategic partnerships and key communicators. He also mentioned how the Somali population is growing and I kept hoping he might mention the great work that CPPS is doing and yet he didn't offer any examples of what could be done.
Dunn mentioned having Family Support Workers and other to support students and referenced the declining dropout rate in Everett because of their direct supports to students.
The host referenced Buetow's background in communications and asked what she thought. She felt that the Board and the district didn't really view, until recently, how damaged the district's reputation has become. The Board has the power of the purse and could make certain projects happen. Family engagement has been "defunded" under this Board. She did agree with the other two that the district does a poor job of reaching out to minority communities and said the district needs to go to those communities and not the other way.
I felt all the candidates sounded strong and confident. There wasn't a lot of interaction among them but I expect after the primary that the gloves will come off.