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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Candidate Endorsements

I had a call at home today from Sally Soriano asking me for my endorsement. I hadn't really thought about it much, as I've never been one to go in for candidate endorsements. Since she asked, I considered it for a while and granted it. I think that Director Soriano does her job well and has earned the chance to keep doing it. Of course, that opinion is based in my belief of what her job is.

The School Board Director's job is to set policy. I have found Director Soriano to be thoughtful enough about writing Policy. More than writing policy, setting policy requires enforcing policy. Director Soriano is more willing than most of her colleagues to enforce policy.

The School Board Director's job is to oversee the Superintendent. The previous Superintendent needed a lot of oversight, and Director Soriano was among the best Board members about that. Few others had the stomach (or the heart) for it. Let's not forget who and what Raj Manhas was. Let's not forget how he failed to accomplish his duties or how poorly he executed his office.

The School Board are the only people in Seattle Public Schools who are accountable to the public, they also have the job of representing the public within the District. Here, again, Director Soriano has done very well. She meets regularly with her community and she faithfully represents them on the Board. I can think of several occassions when Director Soriano asked staff a question that a member of the public had raised in public testimony.

There are those who don't like how Director Soriano performed during the debate on school closures. Mostly for providing an affidavit to those who attempted to use the Court to stop school closures. If the case had gone forward, then all of the Board members would have had to give sworn statements. Let's remember that a significant segment of the population opposed the closures and those people deserve representation. The vote on Phase I closures was 5 to 2, so if about 30% of Seattle was against the closures that should be seen in two votes. I would wonder if representative democracy were working if there were not two votes against it.

The School Board is not a non-profit Board. This is an elected legislative body. They don't have to be unanimous anymore than the Congress or the State Legislature have to be unanimous. It's a creepy expectation.

As for Phase II of closures, that vote was 5 to 2 also. I don't hear anyone faulting those two for holding out in a minority.

Finally, we cannot forget how Director Soriano, more than anyone else, is personally responsible for District action on water quality and air quality. The District Staff, including the Superintendent, were rolling dice with the health of the teachers, the students, and everyone in those buildings when they obstinantly stonewalled action on water quality.

Did Director Soriano's active performance of her duties damage her relationship with Superintendent Manhas and CAO Steve Wilson? Maybe, but they are gone. Her relationship with the current superintendent and CAO appears strong. I have seen her in committee and, even when closely questioning staff, she is respectful and courteous.

She does her job well. She has earned our votes.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

You make a good case, but I respectfully disagree.

Teachers at the school I work for are under the impression that she's hostile to a key program there. They don't want her representation, and when funds were cut for the program, they turned to a different Board director, one whose district didn't include the school.

I found her to be clueless on technology issues. Truly clueless. We live in a high tech corridor. Our schools need to be more technologically savvy. Sally Soriano is anything but.

She voted against the bond issue. I still don't know why. I've heard her explain it twice, and both times her explanation has been incomprehensible.

On truancy--an issue I care about--she has nothing to say about policy, and she's unaware of even the most basic statistics on unexcused absences within the district.

Peter Maier would make a good director representing our school because he believes in its programs. He's knowledgable about technology issues. He worked to get the bond issue passed. And he's aware of the truancy issue and has some ideas about how to address it.

In all fairness to Sally Soriano, I appreciate her stand on the military recruiting issue, but her negatives outweigh her positives, in my view.

Anonymous said...

Here's my 2 cents: I find that I'm voting with a whole board in mind - by no means a "slate" but rather that I vote differently than if I were voting for each candidate on a stand-alone basis - and which means it's something of a crapshoot if I bet wrong on any one of the candidates I choose.

I like Sherry Carr and Steve Sundquist. A lot. So you might brand me a certain kind of voter - but as I look at those two and add Chow, DeBell and Bass (and Harium, knock wood)...I think I'll probably vote for Sally over Peter Maier.

Why? If the other candidates I'm voting for prevail, and I hope they do, Sally would provide a dissident's perspective that would be needed. Not that I think the thinking of "my" board would be homogeneous, but I do think they would be more likely to agree with each other than with Sally on a number of issues (other than Mary - though it's hard to tell whether they're agreeing with each other or just each disagreeing with the majority...)

Anyway, in my experience the best results come from the dynamic tension of disparate views (as long as all are sane and committed to results) - so we're better served by diversity always than by homogeneity of any kind.

What I also like about Sally is 1) her commitment to community engagement is genuine, and 2) she expresses her point of view without rancor or contempt - and by her manner can introduce concepts to the "establishment", the balance of the board, the district, and/or the city that they/we might not have considered - which can sometimes flame out in ways that "are not helpful" (i.e., "everyone who thinks he was harmed by mold should sue the district") but can also mean subtle and/or incremental shifts in policy or focus that the district or the balance of the board would probably not have been moved to make.

I'm obviously not the first to think or say that all of the essential shifts in our thinking as a nation - about race, gender, environment - have been forced by dissidents, not the establishment.

Now..a board with a dissident majority? Not for me, thanks - they don't often seem to have the discipline or experience to implement and sustain change on the ground, nor do they seem to have the skills to work compromises - it's marches and grandstands or nothing - but I do want their presence and influence, absolutely.

I'm wondering if there are others out there like me...

Melissa Westbrook said...

I had planned to write about my endorsements/who I'm planning to vote for as well (Beth?).

I will just chime in here to say that I have yet to meet a Board member who knows the entire District and its issues well. So when Anonymous says that Sally doesn't know about truancy/technology well enough, that may be true. We all have issues that matter to us more than others. Sally knows a lot about water quality because it became an issue that many people came to her about and a district-wide issue (as are truancy and technology).

I can tell you why Sally didn't vote for the bond measure - she didn't believe it supported schools who need the capital improvement more than others. It wasn't about schools in her area (Hale was one of them) but her belief that Facilities doesn't receive enough oversight, has gone over-budget numerous times on past projects, has moved money from projects that have been patiently waiting their turn and that this list of projects didn't address schools with the most serious safety problems. Whether you agree with that or not, that has been her explanation.

I also agree with Ultimate Fan; you do not want a Board who walks in lockstep. We saw this with Olchefske to a very bad end, both for him and, more importantly, our district. You need people who are willing to ask the hard questions.

Anonymous said...

I just can't, I won't, support or endorse a school board director who voted against our bond levy. I understand her reasoning, yet, I still feel very strongly that she chose to block vital funding to our schools. There is no doubt in my mind that there were a couple of schools that needed and deserved funding more the some of the schools the district selected to receive them. However, to block 100% of funds, seems to me, very counter productive and self centered.

Couple the no vote on the bond levy with Sally's providing an affidavit to the group bringing a law suit against the district regarding school closure, and she has lost my vote. She seems to loose sight of the big picture. What would that law suit have done to the district, financially? What resources would that take out of the classroom. What would happen if the levy didn't pass? We would have taught the district a good lesson, at our students expense. No facility would be improved. Her thinking is sometimes short sighted. She doesn't think about the big picture.

I personally like Sally. I commend her for her community engagement, and tackling the huge water quality issue, successfully! She also takes issues from small groups like CEASE, and the alternative school communities and brings them to the table. This too is commendable. However, they do not erase her irresponsible actions on the bond levy and affidavit and I just can not endorse her.

I like Ultimate fan like diversity on the board. I wish their were a candidate that shared some of Sally's activist qualities, but was sensible, Like Brita. Unfortunately we don't. I have to go with Peter this round. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Melissa Westbrook,

"I will just chime in here to say that I have yet to meet a Board member who knows the entire District and its issues well."

That is a fair comment. No, Sally Soriano shouldn't be expected to understand everything within the district.

However, she should have a good grasp of what goes on inside of today's classrooms--or at least some of our classrooms. She doesn't, in my experience. There was a day when perhaps she did, but I don't see it now.

Peter Maier, on the other hand, has had children in the schools, unlike Sally Soriano. In addition, he has a daughter who is a teacher. In my view, Peter Maier has a better sense of what the issues are in the classroom.

I'm not saying Sally Soriano doesn't have her strengths. Rather, I'm saying Peter Maier, on balance, is a better candidate.

Anonymous said...

Sally's unprofessional leadership during the school closure process is enough to vote against her.

Her inability to look at the district as a whole and make decisions based on her own opinions does not make an effective school board director. She votes in block with Mary Bass, brings Mary to her district meetings to speak about issues, and fails to respond to direct questions via email, phone, or in person meetings.

I have definite concerns about Peter Maier, but he will get my vote over Sally Soriano.

WW parent

Anonymous said...

I think Sally was absolutely terrific during the school closure process. Unlike my own board member, Cheryl Chow, who appeared to do everything in her power NOT to engage with her constituents, Sally met with parents, explained her point of view and really listened. Mr. DeBell did the same. Just personal experience here. I never met or thought of her, really, before the closure thing happened.

Anonymous said...

Has Sally ever paid the District back for the attorneys fees wasted in fighting the school closure lawsuit she supported in violation of the School Board's Ethics Policy?

Until then, she does not desire this job. Charlie, your main point is almost always about staff not following policy. Given that Sally flat out violated policy, I am surprised that you give her a free pass on that one, particularly given that it had real monetary consquences.

The appropriate way to express a dissenting opinion is to vote no. She did that. It should have stopped there, or at most, if she felt that information was not before the Board that warranted the decision being reviewed, made a motion for reconsideration. Her support of a suit against the School Board was childish grandstanding, unprofessional, and unethical.

Charlie Mas said...

Director Soriano's affidavit in support of the lawsuit didn't cost the District a dime. The lawsuit was quickly dismissed on its own lack of merit and technical failures by the plaintiff's attorney.

You could have just as easily written that Mr. Manhas needs to pay the District back for his inadequate public relations effort around closures that allowed the lawsuit in the first place. Or pay the District back for the cost of delay as a result of his disastrous first plan. Or the cost of delay as a result of his disastrous Phase II.

Moreover, Director Soriano broke no Policy that I'm aware of. If you think she did, then name the Policy.

Anonymous said...

Sally spends so much time engaging with her small faction of radicals that she misses the middle. Sorry. I can't risk my child and I won't risk yours either. I'm voting for Peter.

RH

Anonymous said...

"Moreover, Director Soriano broke no Policy that I'm aware of. If you think she did, then name the Policy."

Sure thing.

Board Policy/Bylaw B49.00"

"Members shall take no private actions that will compromise the Board or administration."

Supporting a suit against the School Board, particularly one that even you admit is merritless Charlie, is an action that compromises the Board and the adminstration.

You can say what you want about Raj Manhas, but unlike Sally, he did not committ a breach of fiducary duty. Do youknow what that means, or do you need someone else to look that up for you?

Charlie Mas said...

Well, now I can see the confusion.

First, Director Soriano didn't take a private action. She was not a party to the litigation. I recognize that is a distinction that a lot of people have missed, but it is a significant one. I think everyone who talks about that case should be careful of their statements to keep them accurate.

Did Mr. Manhas commit any breach of fiduciary duty? I don't think so. At least not as his fiduciary duty was defined. I have worked as a fiduciary for the past twenty years or so, and I can assure you that many of his failures and mistakes would be seen that way by those in my business.

As Superintendent he didn't adequately monitor the spending of the capital budget and therefore overspent it by $12 million. If that were a Trust, he would have been liable. He didn't make some financial reports that he had committed to make. Failure to provide statements would be a breach of fiduciary duty for a professional. As COO he failed in his oversight of the budget office when the District overspent the operating budget by about $35 million. "Failure to oversee" costs hundreds of people their investment industry careers every year.

But given the narrow legal definition of Mr. Manhas' fiduciary duty, none of these actually meet that standard. That's why I've never said that about him. Funny that anonymous should mention it. Funny also that anonymous should wonder if I were familiar with the word that has defined my career.

I'd like to hear from people who have something more supportive to say about Peter Maier than "he isn't Sally Soriano". Do you think he will engage the community? Do you think he will hold the District staff accountable? Do you think he will advocate for those without a voice?

Anonymous said...

You bet filling a declaration is a private action contrary to the instrerests of the district. Stop trying to avoid Sally's failures by making this about a Sup who isn't even here any more. This is about the failures of Ally, plain and simple. All you have to do is admit that you only care about "voilations" of Board policy when they suit you aims and then the debate is over. That is fine, everyone is allowed thier soap box. I am just saying that you need to stop argueing the polucy enfocrcement bent if you are excusing Board members from polucy compliance....

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear from people who have something more supportive to say about Peter Maier than "he isn't Sally Soriano". Do you think he will engage the community? Do you think he will hold the District staff accountable? Do you think he will advocate for those without a voice?

Okay then, and I appreciate the invitation:

Yes, I do believe he will engage the community. I think he has done so in his leadership positions advocating for schools and as a consumer advocate civil rights attorney through his whole career. I think his extensive pro bono work against Charter Schools is a great example of that. We have seen him in the community attending countless meetings both as the Chair of the Levy/Bond Committees, prior to his running for the board and certainly waging a high profile campaign.

I think with his legal training and forthrightness he will hold staff accountable - perhaps not in a confrontational manner and by grandstanding, but by asking the appropriate questions and demanding follow-up to questions asked and updating long out of date policies - a favorite and appropriately so, topic of Mr. Mas'.

Folks w/out a voice - Yes. The pragmatic desire to replicate successful schools and best practices is not rocket science but something that is a consistent theme for Mr. Maier and not seen that from others, including Ms. Soriano.

Do I have my issues w/ Mr. Maier - yes. The Bond issue that included New School and lack of transparency and community engagement as that bond issue was put together troubles me greatly especially as a Pathfinder parent looking at the decrepit state that Genessee Hill school is in.

I have yet to hear Ms. Soriano address the declaration given in the lawsuit that served to foster mistrust in the SPS board other than "I was asked to do it." It was bad judgment - if she would address it by stating "in retrospect I would not do it again because of the implications of perception . . . " I would be fine with it, but have heard nothing but defensiveness or parsing about it. When the SPS Board met in Executive Session to discuss litigation, did she excuse herself? I don't see how one can have it both ways. Did it violate policy - close call there but nonetheless the issue is one of judgment and owning the fallout.

Has Ms. Soriano attempted to change or force examination of the new public input policy? I haven't seen it. That troubles me greatly.

Do I appreciate Ms. Soriano's contributions. Yes. Hugely, but will be strongly supporting Mr. Maier and think he will meet and exceed my high expectations.

Anonymous said...

I like what Ultimate Fan said regarding diversity on the board, and I agree 100%.

I believe that Peter Maier will bring diversity. He is not "establishment" as Sally likes to label him. If you look at his career, he spent most of his days as a consumer rights attorney,representing the little guy against large car manufacturers (establishment). He CLOSED his law office for several months to VOLUNTEER on and head the levy campaigns, SUCCESSFULLY. He came to many, many schools, talked at hundreds of PTA meetings and many community events, promoting the bond/Levy. Hows that for community engagement?

We also have Harium Martin-Morris, who will bring the diversity in many forms. As an African American, with high achieving students, and as an alternative school parent (AEII). He has been very active, politically, and has a vested interest in our schools success.

I think we can have diversity without settling for a disruptive, extremist like Sally. Board members should not have a pocket group that they serve (CEASE, Alternative schools), that is just as bad as being establishment. Board members should look at the big piture. The district as a whole, and what will work best for everyone involved.

It's time for Sally to move on.

Anonymous said...

I think her position on the levy was completely unbelievable. In her own account, she objected to just one single project on the list. I can completely understand people not liking specific programs, but a board member needs a wider perspective. And to hold the entire district's multi-year capital budget hostage over such a disagreement is just ridiculous. It really seems to come down to her politics being more important than anything else. Personally, I want someone on the board whose main concern is the kids, not their own agenda. I’m sure some people will call it principle, but to try to block a major capital plan over a ideological difference is just nuts.

Charlie Mas said...

There was a story in the P-I today,
After son attacked, parents push back, about crime at Hale, a topic of some discussion on this blog.

In the article, Jessica Blanchard writes:
"At least one School Board member is supporting the Sheas' proposals, but other district officials -- including the board president and the superintendent -- are hesitant to make any changes."

If you read way down the story, you'll come to this:

"To School Board President Cheryl Chow, it's not just a matter of timing -- she doesn't really see the point in providing crime data on individual schools. "I don't know if that would be helpful," she said, adding that it would be more beneficial to provide parents with safety tips to share with their children.

Board member Sally Soriano, who represents Hale and other schools in North Seattle, said she believes more needs to be done. She was surprised at the number of people who have approached her recently to discuss security concerns, including assaults, thefts and gang violence.

She urged the Sheas and other concerned parents to create a rough proposal for updating the district's security policy and helped arrange a meeting between the parents and several senior staff members to discuss it. "Parents are asking to daylight this so they can deal with it, and I think that's legitimate," she said.
"

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about. Director Soriano listened to what the people were saying and invited them to come and help the District find a solution. She arranged a meeting and got results. Was this micro-managing? Was it micro-managing if the District officials had the chance to take action and passed on it? Is it saved from being micromanaging because it will lead to a Policy - a Board concern?

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to know what Peter Maier would have done if someone came to him with this issue? Having sent his own children to SPS I would think that this would be a concern of his, and that he would encourage action, but I don't know?

I'm not a fan of Cheryl Chow, and if anybody represents the establishment, it would clearly be her. Her response is typical of her, perhaps it comes from working FOR the district for so long.