I had a good interview with Senator Ed Murray recently who will be in the General Election against current mayor, Mike McGinn. We sat down in his campaign offices to talk.
I asked him about what he believes the role of the Mayor is vis a vis Seattle public education.
He said that he believes it has changed from what it was traditionally as something of a cheerleader position to a more visible one. He believes that the Mayor should push for discussions about changes needed in the district AND in city government to find better academic outcomes.
He said, "Only the Mayor has the position to pull stakeholders together."
I told him that sounded a lot like mayoral takeover of the district.
He demurred saying that power is diffused in the West (as opposed to the East Coast where more mayors are in charge of districts). He wasn't suggesting nor does he have an active plan to take over the school district if he is elected.
However, he said that the larger issue is that we "import" people with bachelor's degrees rather than "producing" them.
I asked him what kind of things he thought the City might help with. He said a couple of areas might be demography and permitting for facilities. He said it just seemed wrong to have closed some schools only to reopen them just a few years later and wondered about the information the district used.
We got back to governance when he talked about meeting with stakeholders about finding what would be the best educational practices for Seattle. He mentioned talking with colleges of education. He said that financing and governance would pivot off that goal of best educational practices.
He brought up the fact that two-thirds of Seattle citizens do not have children and yet most seemed interested in supporting public education and are willing to pay more "if the product is better."
I asked him about what he might do differently with the Families and Education Levy. He said what he had heard is that some communities, primarily immigrant communities, may not have the ability to create a complete plan to submit to the City to apply for support for their programs. He said it might be important to create supports within those communities so they can create the best options to support learning.
I asked about early childhood education and he said he had had a conversation with City Councilman Tim Burgess and he said he could support those initiatives. (This was based on Councilman Burgess' announcement of a resolution to the City Council for trying to fund universal preschool in Seattle.) Murray said that, naturally, funding is always an issue and it may have to be a phased-in program.
I also asked about the role of public safety and schools. I pointed out that the school grounds are the district's responsibility but from the sidewalk on, it's the City's. He said that there has been a lack of leadership around policing and that he would like to see the City going in the direction of better safety around school zones.
What about a downtown school? He was pretty mild on this point, saying if the demographics indicated it, that is an important thing to keep families downtown. He said that a mayor can "make those connections and be the catalyst" to help the district and downtown groups make this happen.
He said he wanted Seattle to be the "education city" but only if we are an "educated city." He said "we want families to stay."
I did ask about the capacity management issues in SPS and what he knew. He seemed to think it was just in the NE but I told him there were several areas. This did not seem to be on his radar even as it currently is driving much of what is happening on the ground today.
We did come back to this idea of some kind of change in governance for Seattle Schools. He stressed - repeatedly - that he has no plan but would like to get multiple parties to the table to talk about what is and isn't working. He said that he thought maybe there could be a inter-local government agreement struck that the Legislature could then sign off on.
I asked was he thinking the mayor should appoint the Board or the Superintendent or what? He has no real idea but maybe a partial appointment of some School Board members could be one idea.
He said in four years he would like Seattle to be the city that other urban cities look to for both schools and policing.
This was the most animated I had seen the Senator and it was a refreshing change from his mayoral forum appearances. (He had just gotten married so it could have been the effects of that happy event.)
One of the beauties of being a blogger is that I can interject my experience/opinion and I did. I pointed out to him that while I might trust him as a mayor to make good judgments for the district, I might not trust the next person.
He said that's why he has no grand plan and would want to bring a lot of people to the table to talk about what might work.
He seems intent on creating a unique education system based on our city, our students, our goals.
I could feel both his passion and his frustration. I think he is right about how much public education matters in this town. We live in our own little bubble so it seems less than what it could be but honestly, we are one of the few urban districts that readily passes its levies AND is also now growing.
But, our district struggles and struggles and I can see why he might be willing to think about shaking thing up, even if only to have a discussion.
My only caveat would be who he is listening to and who he would bring to the table.