It happens every single time there are school board races - that it is VITAL to vote and get the right people on the Board.
I will admit that last time, in trying to find good candidates for a couple of races, I certainly got fooled. I really thought that Sharon Peaslee and Marty McLaren were change agents. They did present themselves that way even as I realized they really didn't know the district well. My vetting of them found two fired-up women ready to come in and ask hard questions. Well, that really didn't happen (or it was piecemeal and uneven).
I read everything I could find online and attended five candidates forums.
Here are my picks for School Board, some with comments and some I just decided that I will let the candidates' words speak for themselves.
District 6 - Leslie Harris. (Public disclosure, we are friends.) Harris is the only candidate running against an incumbent.
Harris has gotten nearly all the endorsements that McLaren garnered in her first run. Indeed, Harris points out that she herself (as did I) voted for McLaren the first time around. But McLaren has shown herself to be more interested - it would seem - in working in a committee-style, "collaborating" than actually getting things done or showing real leadership.
That Harris has cultivated friendships that have led to her massive build-up of endorsements, both social and political, is a good thing. I'll go old-school and say she has a very big Roledex that she says she won't hesitate to use for the good of the district.
She will be the change agent that McLaren promised to be. It is deeply troubling to hear McLaren, at forum after forum, wistfully wishing for change, seemingly unaware that she IS in a position, right now, to make change. She is in the position to hold staff accountable and doesn't.
One telling example is at the Hale Forum where a student leader asked when the district is going to follow its promise of giving the ASBs the revenue from the district calendar advertising to backfill the loss of ASB funds from vending machines. This was a real promise made - out loud at a Board meeting to ASB leaders - a couple of years back.
McLaren sighed and said that that the Board "had been wrestling with this issue" and "made progress" but "change comes slowly." I can ask but I'm willing to bet the money from the advertising is probably no higher than $100K and more likely more towards $50K. That's pretty much chump change for the district and yet it would be a huge support to these students. And for schools like Rainier Beach and Cleveland and Sealth, it would truly be a lifeline.
Harris will hold staff accountable for the dollars and how they are spent. And make this district be transparent will all the money. Vote Harris.
District 4 - Rick Burke. There really isn't a whole lot to say here. Rick stands head and shoulders above Laura Gramer.
With each forum, it became apparent how his engineering and business background are valuable assets he would bring to the Board. His steady-state kind of being and expansive answers to questions shows that he has truly thought about the issues (but has the good grace to admit he has more to learn).
Gramar is a smart, passionate advocate for people with disabilities. But she is not ready for this position and does not know the district well. She may be a better candidate for a future Board election.
District 3 - Jill Geary. This is the most competitive race of the four. When you attend the forums, you see two smart, savvy women up on the stage. So why Geary over Lauren McGuire?
Simply put, Geary's skill set is the one we need for the time and place this district is in. With McGuire, you'll get a smart person who will not challenge staff at all. We have some smart people on the Board currently who don't challenge staff for oversight and accountability and look where we are. We do not need more of the same.
For example, Leslie Harris brought up FACMAC at one forum. Harris said it was a great group of people doing good work (I agree) and yet it just disappeared a year ago with no explanation. So then, McGuire says yes, that she was ON that committee and it did do good work. And then she stops. She doesn't say she knows why the committee stopped its work nor if she wishes the committee was still working. Why not?
Geary's legal background - plus her knowledge of education law especially around Special Education - make her the best choice. Like Burke, she's a calm, steady-state kind of person (and again, that may be her legal training).
District 1 - Scott Pinkham. Not good choices here but yes, there is a better choice between the two and that is Pinkham. He's a Native American, has children in SPS and is a UW lecturer in American Indian Studies.
Pinkham, like his challenger, does not know this district well. Both candidates admit knowing little about McCleary and seem to want to pass that off to some other Board member. Pinkham has not showed up at all the forums. It's a bit stunning.
But when he has been present, he speaks clearly and firmly about two things. One is listening to parents and community and including them in decision-making. Two, he talks about building up community relationships and the strength it will give the district in doing so.
His challenger, Michael Christophersen, is a bit of like a box of chocolates - you never know what you will get. He is a software tech with three students in SPS.
(I note that both men seem either shy, withdrawn or both. Being elected to public office, especially an office that involves a lot of public interaction, seems a tough gig for two men that have a difficult time making eye contact.)
I believe that Mr. Christophersen does not have the temperament or maturity to be an effective Board Director. Here's some of the things he has said (and there are witnesses to all of them):
- got verbally abusive and loud at a Sped PTSA meeting to the point where it made others afraid and the president had to shout him down to get him to stop. (And I believe this is what The Stranger has been alluding to in its rejection of him and their endorsement of Pinkham.)
- Hale High Forum - He was teh first person to give an opening statement and he went on a tirade about The Stranger endorsement which was odd and confusing.
- Eckstein Forum - The question was round the "root causes of inequality in education for children of color." He said he was "uncomfortable with the question as you can imagine." He went on to say it was like that "dream where you are in your underwear in front of other people." H talked about his own childhood with a single mother and that the issue was "more socio-economic than a racial problem."
- Eckstein Forum - The question was about if, like in California, a bill is brought forth in the Legislature about reducing the personal belief part of the vaccination law. He said it's a "financial issue" and that the state would have to pay to educate the students. I can find no RCW that says that. There are services the state has to provide but not for full education of the student.
- League of Women Voters - When asked about views on facilities and capacity management, he said not to "throw stones at current staff" about being off on the current enrollment count. He said more buildings should be vertical (I believe there is a height limit for free-standing schools) or that the district should bring on "second shifts."
- League of Women Voters - Mr. Christophersen's special interest - which he says at every single forum - is Special Education. He said here that there is "injustice" for Sped kids and that it would be better to help "low-hanging fruit" like kids with dyslexia which would free up other "resources for economic injustice."
- Horizon House - There was a question from the audience about guns and school violence (this right after the Oregon community college shootings). Christophersen said he "didn't think it was a problem" and that, as a teen in Bellevue, he used to ride his bike around with a loaded .22 on his back.
Mr. Christophersen seems to be sincere but his actions - toward Sped PTSA as well as towards this blog - as well as his words out in public forums are ones I find troubling. (I note that he has scrubbed every comment he ever signed his name to on this blog.)
I'm going to end my endorsements with first impressions of the candidates from some Hale students whom I sat in front of during the forum. Some are funny, some are telling:
Christophersen - out there, opening statement - what was that?
Pinkham - like him, seems to care
Laura - a nice person
Rick - vanilla
Jill - overdressed but smart
Lauren - liked her but why did she keep going on about being student body president in her high school (shades of Suzanne Dale Estey)?
Marty - felt bad for her being attacked by all of them but she is elected
Leslie - aggressive but liked her/she has the experience.