First and foremost, every candidate should be considered on his or her own merits. Don't vote for the incumbents because they are the incumbents or challengers just because they are stepping up to challenge them. In short, don't vote on a slate.
However, because of several votes that most of these incumbents made and lack of oversight on their part, they are all culpable for many of the embarrassments and financial losses this district has faced over these four year. Moreover, in their basic jobs as Directors, they have repeatedly not upheld or enforced their own Board policies. That they could not even do that is deeply troubling.
All the incumbents had the opportunity to see red flags for months and even years before Pottergate exploded. Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris were warned by union officials two years ago that Potter was hiring unbonded and poorly-trained contractors. Potter did not even do background checks on some workers in schools during school hours.
For at least 2 years prior to the exposure of Pottergate, Potter's budget for his programs had rising from $100k to $1M. One of the Board's primary duties is to review and approve the budget. Every single incumbent missed this or saw it and didn't ask the basic question why?
All the incumbents had an opportunity to read a report, that the district had commissioned without telling the Board, about issues surrounding one of the programs that Silas Potter was overseeing. It was called the Sutor Report.
Peter Maier, alone, was given a copy of it. He read the report, found it "deeply concerning" but took the head of Facilities' word that these issues in the report were being taken care of. He did not follow-up to see what was done but most of all, he NEVER told another Board member about the report. Not when it showed up in a newspaper article, not when the State Auditor's report in June 2010 called out Silas Potter's programs and said the Board was not doing its oversight. He had information that other Board members should have known and did nothing. This is a gross lack of good judgment and for this alone, I believe, he should be exited from office.
All of the rest of the Board members were told about the Sutor Report and the news article in the Superintendent's Friday update and yet missed both of those items.
In June 2010, the State Auditor issued an audit calling out the Potter programs for misuse of capital money (the Auditor still did not know at this time that there were any other illegalities). This was a huge red flag and yet the Board did nothing. Additionally, the Auditor's office called out the entire Board for lack of oversight which was highly unusual for the Auditor. As well, under this Board, State Audit findings grew from year to year. This is also not the case for most districts in this state.
The Board waited until December 2010 to launch their own investigation. They are being given credit for springing into action - firing the Superintendent and COO, reforming the Audit & Finance Committee, etc. - but this was AFTER the exposure and public outcry.
And that's just Pottergate. Then there's the sale of the MLK, Jr. building process whose eventually outcome was that the district sold the property for 3 times less than what another group was offering and sold it to a church that had to get the funds from public dollars to pay for the building AND has been slow to provide the youth education activities that predicated the sale to them.
To be clear, on balance, the good versus the bad, the positive versus the negative, the incumbents should not be supported. They did not bring all their experience and good judgment and plain intellectual curiosity to bear in their oversight and accountability to parents, students, staff and taxpayers during this term. That they learned lessons and have tried to right the ship is NOT enough to offset what appears to be a lack of common sense and good judgment.
(I am not including endorsements because the Voter's Guide is not up-to-date but generally nearly all the Dems precincts have endorsed the challengers. The Times is endorsing all the incumbents while The Stranger endorsed all the challengers but Michelle Buetow. This blog endorses all the challengers.)
Steve Sundquist versus Marty McLaren
Before he was first elected, Steve Sundquist has been a businessman and active in his children's PTAs. He has had two children in SPS. He is running now for his second 4-year term. he is currently the School Board President. Steve is bright and personable and calm. He holds regular community meetings (probably more than any other Board member). As a business person, he has sat on other boards and read budgets.
Marty McLaren is a parent and grandparent of students who attended SPS. She is friendly and easy to talk to and asks questions. Marty has taught pre-school, worked with homeless children and has been active in PTA. Marty received her teaching credential and taught in SPS schools, teaching math. She currently works part time in South Seattle Community College's Student Assessment Office. This is her first run at public office. After her experiences teaching math and learning that the State Board of Education had declared the Discovering Math series "unsound", she began working with UW professor, Cliff Mass and filed a lawsuit to remove the Discovering Math series from SPS.
On a person-to-person basis, I believe Marty is the better choice because she has a personal and inside knowledge of SPS from teaching. Working largely in the southend, she has seen issues around inequity up-close. She knows what the challenges will be in closing the achievement gap. She knows what good teaching and good curriculum look like. She saw the effects of the ill-timed school closures in West Seattle and understands how the choices made in the future will affect capacity management. Steve has shown that he is more of a Board member to have complete faith in what district staff tells him and rarely challenges their assumptions or data. He voted 100% with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's wishes. Under his leadership, the Board has weakened Board policies with more autonomy given to the Superintendent.
Sharon Peaslee vs Peter Maier
Sharon Peaslee has lived in Seattle only a couple of years after having lived in Bellevue and Lake Washington (this is something of a plus and minus as it is a short time but she also brings in the experience of knowing what is going on and works in other local districts). Sharon has an MA in English education and works as a producer/director/writer for her own production company. She has two teenagers in two different SPS high schools. Sharon has worked at the state level to improve WA math standards as well as working with parent groups on this issue. She also worked with the Bellevue School district on improving home-schooling policies. She co-founded Fast Track Math, a non-profit after-school program. She worked with other Ingraham parents and students and staff to retain Principal Martin Floe at Ingraham High School. Sharon is a soft-spoken but straight-talking person.
Peter Maier is running for his second 4-year term on the Board. Peter is a product of SPS schools and his children attended them as well. He was active in his schools' PTAs. He has a law degree from Harvard and practices personal injury law and also is a CASA volunteer. He was the head of the Schools First levy campaigns in 2004 and 2007. Because of that work, he knew the district fairly well coming in. He is active in the 36th Dems precinct. He is the chair of the Board's Operations committee. Peter is a quiet and soft-spoken person.
On a person-to-person basis, I believe Sharon is the better choice because of the experience she would bring to the Board. It's clear from her advocacy work that she cares deeply about education and has shown the willingness to step up and do the hard work. Because she has a special needs child, she would also bring that understanding and knowledge to the Board. Peter, while a Board director and a head of a Board committee, has never really been a leader on the Board. He has community meetings but seems uncomfortable if anyone challenges him on any of his votes/stands. Peter, like Steve, voted lock-step for the Superintendent's wishes. As I mentioned in the Mega-Concise, he had early and actionable knowledge about Silas Potter and yet did nothing with that information including even telling other Board members.
Kate Martin vs Sherry Carr
Kate Martin has two children that went through SPS. She is married to a Mexican immigrant. She is a professional planner in design and construction-related services. She has been a long-time activist in her neighborhood and worked with the City to provide safe skate parks in all areas of the city. She would bring a knowledge of the Latino community to the Board and the issues around their challenges in public education. Kate is a strong and out-spoken person. She has not been shy in her criticism of the Board and the district. Her strong style has both supporters and detractors but she would bring a sharp eye to the Board and be willing to challenge staff to make sure the best data is there to shape her votes.
Sherry Carr is running for her second 4-year term on the Board. Sherry is currently the chair of the Audit & Finance Committee. She has graduated one child from SPS and another is currently in high school. She has been active in PTSA for a very long time and was past President of the Seattle Council of PTSAs. She was part of the CACIEE group that wrote recommendations for sweeping reform in SPS (that sadly, went almost nowhere). She is a senior manager at Boeing (and frequently says, "At Boeing we do XYZ.") Sherry is quiet but a smart person and a quiet leader. She listens carefully.
On a person-to-person basis, I have my hardest time in this race. I would like someone more outspoken on the Board so it isn't business as usual. Business as usual has not served this district well even with a host of "professionals" on the Board. Kate Martin has done her homework and knows this district. She would devote her considerable energies to the betterment of this district. Sherry has also shown herself to be a hard worker with a deep concern for public education. However, I go with Kate because of my frustration and sadness over Sherry's inability to see the many red flags that could have prevented several issues that have boiled over and caused mistrust and resentment towards our district by the general public.
Harium Martin-Morris vs Michelle Buetow
Harium is an SPS parent with two children in SPS (I think one may have graduated). He is currently a software development manager at Boeing. He is seeking his second 4-year term in office. Harium is the only African-American member of the Board and brings that diversity to it. Harium taught school for 4 years. He is the chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Policy committee. Harium is quite soft-spoken.
Michelle Buetow is the mother of two children attending TOPS K-8 school. If elected, she would be the only Board member with children in the primary grades. She has been active in her Eastlake neighborhood's community council. She is a former high-tech marketing executive with 15 years experience in online marketing and communications. Michelle would bring some sorely-needed experience in presenting a better public face to SPS and communications with the general public and parents. Michelle is an open and friendly person.
On a person-to-person basis, this is a fairly easy call for me. Director Martin-Morris is the director in my district and I have found him to be increasingly distant. He travels frequently around the country to talk about education issues but I haven't seen him offer one new idea from all that traveling. He does have in his favor that he did vote against the school closures and the high school math adoption. He has also chided his fellow Board members - at a Board meeting - for asking challenging or even asking questions of staff on data presented. Michelle would be a refreshing presence on the Board and would raise the level of the public face that the district presents to the world.