School Board Forum District 5

(Update: here is the audio from the forum from KUOW 94.9 FM)

I attended last night's forum sponsoring by the Seattle Council PTSA, ESP and CPPS at the Garfield Community Center. There were about 50 people in attendance. All the candidates were there as well with Charles Rollins moderating.

Overall, I thought I got a pretty good feel for the candidates. I did come away with a few thoughts.
  • not all the candidates are as good at communicating their views as they need to be
  • very few specifics were offered (with a couple of notable exceptions)
  • Mary Bass seems to be running more on longevity than on her record
The format was a bit confusing (as were some of the questions). There were different time amounts for questions which seemed to disorient some candidates. Some questions were multi-part and made for some muddy answers. They also got asked questions about issues that have now been voted on (like the math adoption and the SAP) so while it was good to hear what they thought, they can't change much by the time they are elected. One question -about Special Ed reform - seemed to flummox all the candidates. I'm not sure they knew enough or understood the question.

Also, they had NO and YES cards for some not-so-useful questions that might have needed a MAYBE. All the candidates voted the same way on charters, public schools being run by the Mayor, and creationism in the classroom - No.

(I am trying to interview the candidates individually. I am hoping to get them done by the end of July. Only one candidate has said no - Betty Patu .)

Here are my impressions of each candidate but please keep in mind, based on individual interviews, I'm getting a better picture of each candidate. Also, I am NOT endorsing anyone at this time nor am I currently working on anyone's campaign.

Kay Smith Blum - something of a surprise. Pleasant, enthused, she clearly has done some homework and gone out and talked to many educators. she said that her plaform is "client centric" (with students being the clients). She mentioned bell times a couple of times (which for me is right on but we are now past that discussion). She offered some specifics on ways to find money (streamline food service and find efficiencies in ELL and IT). She said she is a data-driven person who is willing to go out and find data (along with staff data). She was the only one to really mention reaching out to non-profits and creating more public/private partnerships. She also took a lot of notes which no other candidate did. She seems very high on K-8s and offered this time as a good opportunity to create "modular" buildings that could be moved as we needed temporary room. She also got a good laugh when she linked the district to Jessica Simpson(!) in terms of changing district perspective.

Andre Helmstetter - Andre wore a suit and was quite earnest. He repeatedly said the Board needed to be strong and unified and seemed to imply that any vote that wasn't unified showed a troubled Board. He said he wanted an engaged and relevant constiuency saying the Board is "here to represent what is going on out there". He said a correctly drawn out SAP is one of his key priorities as well as access to option programs and refocusing on what is happening in the classroom. He said the Board's job is governance and advocacy for the community saying the Board couldn't really succeed without buy-in from their communities. When asked about community engagement, I liked his phrase "get the feet on the street" and find out what people want. He said the Board members should attend more school functions to find these kinds of things out. He said it seemed a problem to put programs in schools where they were neither asked for nor wanted. On the question about the math reform, he had a thoughtful answer which was to explain that he was a great reader when he was in school but math was not easy for him and he wished there was as strong a support/culture around math as there is for reading. He did say something new which was an interest in finding out more about school-level boards.

Joanna Cullen - a very thoughtful candidate but at times seemed to have a hard time gathering up her thoughts. Her main focus is two-fold; to advocate for and empower parents and to keep a fire under other decision-makers like the City Council, the Mayor and the Legislature. She makes a good point that while they don't deal with day-to-day operations (and neither does the Board), they have some powers that the district could use. She also said she was running for stability and continuity in a district that seems to have neither. She said if we are going to a neighborhood plan, then the option schools should have a clearly defined mission so that people know what they are choosing. She said if neighborhood schools are being rejected, the district needs to go in and find out why. In terms of being a leader, she said that she would gather data and ask staff for "authentic" data. (Joanna has been a long-time district watcher and she's seen enough meetings to make a judgment on this issue.) She also advocates for stronger PTAs to work with the district.

Mary Bass - Mary was her usual friendly, soft-spoken self albeit seeming very at ease (whereas at the Board meetings she seems less so). She reminded the audience, repeatedly, of her family background in education and of her service. She was the only candidate to stand when answering the questions and other candidates picked up on this and stood as well. What was interesting to me is that Mary didn't really say why she was running again just that education was a passion of hers. She said her top priorities were the SAP and funding and stablizing school communities. Mary also made some claims that I'm not sure I either knew or believe. She said she has been able to change Board votes but the record really doesn't reflect that. She said that she and Dick Lily changed the time for the Board meetings (which I didn't know). She rightly said that she was the first to have community meetings and does so to this day. She also mentioned that the federal stimulus money has some earmarked for Special Ed so that's something to look for in the future. She wryly said that she had first thought that being a Board member would be about common sense but that politics got in the way. She talked about having on-going private conversations with Board members to find common ground. She also mentioned many endorsements which seems logical for an incumbent.

I think that all the candidates have a fight against Mary. She has a huge base of support (but I have heard about the other candidates having some as well) and is the incumbent. No one came out swinging at her but I suspect in the general whoever is up against her (should she clear the primary) will have to challenge her on key issues especially effectiveness.

I am not attending tonight's forum nor can I attend Wednesday night's so I'll post an Open Thread for those who do and want to post their thoughts. Wednesday night's meeting is supposed to be on the Seattle Channel but I'll find out when that might be (I doubt if it's live).


Josh Hayes said…
Jinkies, someone wanted creationism in the classroom? Or was worried that it WOULD be in the classroom?

This happens to be something of a project of mine, and I have no credible reports of creationism being taught in any SPS classroom. In private schools in Seattle, sure. In public schools not far from Seattle, alas, sure. But not in SPS.

This is something I'll happily stomp on the second I hear about it: if anyone knows of a teacher using regular' ol' creationism or crypto-creationist claptrap like "intelligent design" in the Seattle public schools, please do let me know. Doesn't seem to matter how many court decisions come down against it, there's nobody so determined as a true believer.
dan dempsey said…

I think we are safe. There is little evidence of any intelligent design in any area where the SPS Central Administration operates.

Michael Rice said…

Did Ms. Patu say why she did not want to be interviewed by you?
ARB said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
ARB said…
Specifically, what was the special ed question or questions the candidates had trouble answering?
reader said…
Aurora, disparaging remarks were made and it was evident that no one (except for Mary Bass) knew the score. Blum-Smith went so far as to dismiss the idea that SPS is particularly out of step with the rest of the country in how it does special ed.
The question was essentially: What can we do better for Special Education?
I was at the forum and not sure what disparaging remarks Edward is referring to. Here are the notes I jotted down (in the order of responses):
Kay said she'd look at what's working & try to balance efficiencies and spread best practice.
Andre acknowledged he has a lot to learn in this area but would start by talking to teachers, parents, experts.
Joanna said district is planning to move spec ed kids closer to home but she's concerned if that's best for each kid (and the classrooms that would receive them).
Mary cited her personal connection & experience & importance of not spending money earmarked for spec ed on non-spec ed items.
Here's another person whose recollection was similar to mine:
I think there is certainly a need for all of the candidates to learn more about the issues, but there's a big difference between that and "disparaging". I'd encourage anyone who is up on particular issues to contact some or all of the candidates -- now is a great time to start educating them, and then you can judge their desire and ability to listen and learn and take action, or not.
Another Mom said…
In reference to the math questions:

Although the adoptions have all been voted on, the implementation of the K-5 elementary math (Everyday Math) has two glaring shortcomings which have not been adequately addressed by the current Board:

1) The Board voted on a dual adoption of Everyday Math and Singapore Math, yet the Singapore materials have not been used in the classroom. We are going into a third year with no supplementation, but there has been no visible push by the Board to remedy this.

2) Everyday Math alone does not meet the Washington State Math Standards because it fails to teach standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These are core content standards and are considered part of the minimum of what should be taught.

The distict is pushing for "fidelity of implementation" (read no deviation from the Everday Math pacing and materials) and ignoring both the Board directive and the State Standards.
The specific question (which I did not write down but I am putting a link to the audio from KUOW) was about how this district is a very restrictive district when it comes to Special Ed and what the candidates thoughts were.

I heard no disparaging remarks.
reader said…
Melissa and Andrew, I don't know what forum you attended. The one I was at on Monday night included statements that SPS isn't really out of the national norm so much in its special ed system (Blum Smith), that kids can't be mainstreamed if they're emotional (Cullen), and that reform if any has to be efficient in economic terms (Blum-Smith). These statements are not about the rights of a whole class of students in our system to educational opportunities that are consistently denied to them, they are about stereotypes that, in the absence of real information and engagement, preserve the status quo.

I felt offended when I heard Blum-Smith put the matter of reform on an economic footing as if that is the main issue. The main issue is discrimination. THe main issue is prejudice. It is just awful to know that people who are seeking the public trust have literally no idea what is going on and why the need for reform is so critical. This is with the exception of Mary Bass, who seemed to know the issues very well.
Chris S. said…
I think it was Joanna that said mainstreaming kids too soon could be disruptive to the classroom. Which is undoubtedly true on some level but not hard to interpret as disparaging. I just started watching board meetings and I have heard that minority children are inappropriately sent to special ed. Is she unaware of that subtext? She also made the argument that is was bad for the kids being mainstreamed too - IMHO she should have stuck with that.
reader said…
The problem with Joanna's statement "it's too soon to mainstream kids" is that it puts the onus of proper support... on the kids themselves and not on the district where it belongs. It shows that the candidate doesn't understand the district's obligation to all students. It also shows that she doesn't feel that the district should follow the law. "Least restrictive environment" in the school a student would have attended if not disabled, is a right guaranteed under IDEA and is almost 40 years old. If it's too soon after 40 years, when will it be soon enough? What other laws does Joanna feel she can break? Which other students are OK to leave behind, or segregate? These people need to bake a little longer before running for office.
Unknown said…
I am confident that Mary Bass' grasp on this subject is really wasted. She has been completely ineffective over the last 3 years I have been following the board meetings. We need a change for someone that can move the board in the right direction!
gavroche said…
Here's another issue that ought to be discussed and proposed this School Board election year: campaign finance reform.

There are currently no spending limits for School Board races. So anyone with the means (and that leaves out most of us ordinary earners) can effectively "buy" a School Board member. Arguably that's what happened last time round.

Last election, Peter Maier, Steve Sundquist and Sherry Carr raked in close to $400,000, I believe it was, in campaign contributions, from business interests and even out of staters. -- An unprecedented amount of money in Seattle School Board campaign history.

This raises a couple of troubling questions: First off: Why were these three funded so heavily? And how does that allow for regular candidates without business sugardaddies behind them to fairly compete for a position on the Board?

There ought to be limits on campaign contributions so everyone has an equal chance at running for School Board, and so candidates can run genuine grassroots campaigns supported by and representing the interests of local voters. Only then will the election process be truly democratic.

Here's a Seattle Times article about this from the last School Board election year:

Saturday, October 27, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

School races get cash from business

By Emily Heffter

Seattle Times education reporter

The largest individual contribution in the 2005 Seattle School Board races was $4,500 — to incumbent Mary Bass, from her uncle.

This year, candidates have accepted more than twice that from people who don't even live in Seattle. The business community is pouring four- and five-figure donations into candidates' campaigns, playing an unprecedented role in this year's School Board election, donating thousands to unseat two incumbents and elect two other candidates to open seats on the board.

Some worry that corporations will have too much control over schools; others say the business community has a legitimate interest in making sure the school system is run by a qualified board.

"I think that the community was not terribly happy with how things have been running in the last few years, and after having sat out School Board races four years ago when the business community didn't really participate, I think they are interested in more stability in the schools, and they're starting with the board," said Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, a former School Board member.

(continued on next post).
gavroche said…
(continued from previous post -- Seattle Times article)

In 2003, when voters fired the majority of the School Board after the district discovered a $35 million deficit, the largest campaign contributor was the teachers union, which gave Darlene Flynn and Brita Butler-Wall $2,675 each. They, along with Sally Soriano and Irene Stewart, were community activists whose campaigns rested on a promise that they would carefully examine the superintendent's business practices.

A last-minute political action committee in the 2005 election raised almost $70,000 from the business community in just a few days. But in the end, the PAC was unsuccessful — two of the three candidates it supported lost their races. The PAC's organizers say there are no plans for a formal slate this year.

The two incumbents in this year's race — Flynn and Soriano — point out that the current board restored the district's budget reserve and closed seven school buildings despite a difficult political environment. But decisions didn't come without discord, and the board has been tagged with a reputation as troubled and dysfunctional.

When the superintendent resigned after the board backed out on a second round of school closures, state legislators and even the mayor's office suggested the board should be appointed instead of elected. Volunteers campaigning for the district's levy and bond in February warned that public confidence was plummeting.

Business leaders are looking for board members who care deeply about the school system and believe every student can succeed, think broadly about policy and understand that the school district "is a big business enterprise and that the management thereof has to be smart and strategically thoughtful," said Bob Watt, a Boeing vice president for government and community relations who has a long history of work with the school district.

Fresh crop of candidates

A fresh group of PTSA-minded business types signed up to run this year.

Peter Maier, an attorney who ran last winter's bond and levy campaigns, is running against Soriano, a Green Party and labor activist. His fundraising — 10 times what Soriano has collected — includes $10,000 from venture capitalist and League of Education Voters co-founder Nick Hanauer; $10,000 from Costco co-founder James Sinegal; $12,000 from Eastside cellular magnate John Stanton and his wife; and $10,000 and $8,000, respectively, from Microsoft executives Steve Ballmer and Jeffrey Raikes and their wives.

gavroche said…
(final installment of 2007 Seattle Times article about School Board campaign financing:

"I am interested in seeing people that can provide strong leadership and excellent management take roles in government," Stanton wrote in an e-mail, "and in this case, I think the community would particularly benefit from talented people joining the Seattle School Board."

Maier said he didn't seek the contributions. Businesspeople care about education, he said. And even if they don't have kids in the district, they understand that a dip in public confidence in Seattle's schools can make it harder to lobby the Legislature for more money for public education.

"Seattle's troubles spill over to the whole state," Maier said. "Lack of confidence in Seattle schools and the press that it receives hurts other school districts."

Business leaders are also supporting Sherry Carr, a Boeing finance leader and former head of the citywide PTSA who is running against Flynn, and Steve Sundquist, a retired investment executive who is running against community activist and public administrator Maria Ramirez.

"I think, looking at those four candidates, people think that they would have a board that was serious about education and willing to work together and move forward — kind of a more traditional board," said Schaad-Lamphere, who helped organize the 2005 business PAC.

"We had activists on the board and they were elected because we had a huge deficit four years ago, but not all of the activists managed to turn around, change their focus to governing, and I think that frustrated a lot of people in and out of the business community."

Strong schools are a recruiting advantage for businesses, said Marc Frazer, the vice president of the Washington Roundtable. Good schools also mean more local talent, said Patrick D'Amelio, the executive director of the Alliance for Education.

"I think it's a particular moment in time where there's some excitement around the opportunities that exist on a number of levels," he said. "It's a significant moment for education around this cycle."

Easily swayed?

District 1 incumbent Soriano, who has raised about $11,000, mostly from individuals and labor groups, questions the huge contributions her opponent has received and worries that if he and other business-supported candidates win, the board will be too easily swayed by business interests.

"It makes it more difficult when people are so highly funded, because then they're beholden to them," she said.

She's campaigning on a promise to fight private control of public schools, and she said she wouldn't accept money from businesspeople, anyway.

Cindi Laws, a consultant working on Ramirez's campaign and a former board member of the Seattle Monorail Project, wonders why such large sums are being given to people running for volunteer positions.

"How is just a regular parent or a regular taxpayer supposed to compete with that, if you can buy a School Board member?" she said.

No limits exist on campaign donations in the school races.

The business community has always supported schools through philanthropy and funding levy campaigns, said Boeing's Watt.

More contributions this year doesn't mean the business community wants to take over schools, he said. With a new superintendent in place and four like-minded candidates running for office, they are rallying around electing a solid School Board.

"I think the business community has been very much hoping that the Seattle School District will continue to rally and that all the kids in Seattle get an excellent education," Watt said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
Unknown said…
Anyone make it to last nights school board portion of the candidate forum?
owlhouse said…
I'm with gavroche in the importance of watching campaign spending this go round. It's twisted thinking, but as long as there's no limit on contributions, we can see very clearly the short list of deep pockets that bought the last election- venture capitalists, executives and and a few of their unnamed "wives".
beansa said…
Yikes. I wonder what those donors thought they were getting in Peter Maier. A very expensive rubber stamp?
hschinske said…
I'm extremely puzzled about why anyone would BOTHER to buy a school board member. What is the current school board doing that could possibly benefit anyone's business?

Helen Schinske
Joan NE said…
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Joan NE said…
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Joan NE said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan NE said…
Some numbers:

"Peter Maier, an attorney who ran last winter's bond and levy campaigns, is running against Soriano, a Green Party and labor activist. His fundraising — 10 times what Soriano has collected — includes $10,000 from venture capitalist and League of Education Voters co-founder Nick Hanauer; $10,000 from Costco co-founder James Sinegal; $12,000 from Eastside cellular magnate John Stanton and his wife; and $10,000 and $8,000, respectively, from Microsoft executives Steve Ballmer and Jeffrey Raikes and their wives."

The preceding quote from the same article quoted in preceding posts.

The following are some of my notes from analyzing the Washington Public Disclosure Commission website data. (It's quite easy to look up data on this website).

07 MARTIN-MORRIS HARIUM Total Fundraising $63K. 143 contributions, of which 22 exceeded $999 and accounted for 76.8% of total contributions ($2205 avg); popular support = $14, 620 ($122 avg). Maximum contribution was $5000.

07 MAIER PETER Contribution total was $163,677. 528 contributions, of which 29 exceeded $999 and accounted for 59.9% of total contributions ($98K total, $3,379 avg); popular support = $65.7K ($131 avg); Maximum Contribution was $10, 000 from Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue Partners, founder of League of Education Voters. Connie and Steve Ballmer each contributed $5000. The CEO of Costco (SINEGAL JAMES) and his wife each contributed $5000. Stuart Sloan and his wife each contributed $5000.

Mary Bass (2005 campaign) 50 contributions. 1 contribution > 999. Max contribution $1000. Average contribution for contributions < $1000 was $161.
Joan NE said…
Maybe the following data-driven conjectural essay speaks to questions posed earlier on this strand....

Re-Quotation from Gavroche's posting above:

"Business leaders are looking for board members [candidates to run in 2007] who care deeply about the school system and believe every student can succeed, think broadly about policy and understand that the school district "is a big business enterprise and that the management thereof has to be smart and strategically thoughtful," said Bob Watt, a Boeing vice president for government and community relations who has a long history of work with the school district."


Right here in this one quote from this article (predating the 2007 voting day by just a few days), we find an explanation for why a few wealthy people poored a tremendous amount of money in to the 2007 elections.

From this quote, one may feel justified to strongly suspect that Boeing Employees Sherry Carr and Harium Martin Morris were recruited by Bob Watt or his colleagues at Boeing. This quote establishes that Boeng's VP had a strong longstanding interested in the business of the School District.

Another quote from same article sheds more light, I think:

"I think it's a particular moment in time where there's some excitement around the opportunities that exist on a number of levels," he [Patrick D'Amelio, the executive director of the Alliance for Education] said. "It's a significant moment for education around this cycle."

Having in place, as of June 2007, a new superintendent from the staunchily anti-union, pro-privatization, pro-regressive-reform Broad Foundation, the Business community must have been highly motivated to get four candidates elected who could be counted onto deliver at least a 4-3 majority on EVERY PROPOSAL brought to the Board by the new superindentent.

This article, and this quote in particular, and the fact of the extraordinary campaign contribution patterns for the 2007 election all lend support to this thesis.

It has indeed happened since the election of the Gang-of-Four that nearly every proposal from MJG has received majority support from the Board. Often M-DeBell went along with the Superintendent, so Harium Martin-Morris could vote along with Mary Bass, without subverting the goals of the Big Donors, and he often did just this. Clearly it has helped him with his constituency to take this seemingly populist stance over these last two years. I recently started questioning his authenticity by bringing up in person at his Nov 30 coffee hour. the issue of his campaign sources, and other troubling matters. It looks like now he is giving up on trying to maintain this sherade as "No. 1 Friend of Alternative Schools."]
Joan NE said…
Now, some follow up comments to the Times article just quoted.

Just how much was raised for these four candidates in 2007? Over 1/2 a million dollars. There were some 1500 individual donors to the Gang of Four in the 2007 election season. More than FIFTY PERCENT of the aggregate donations to these four candidates came from just EIGHTEEEN of the more than 1500 donors. I call these eighteen the BIG DONORS. Mostly the eighteen include husband-wife donor pairs. So we can say about half-a-dozen weatlthy couples and about half a dozen wealthy individuals accounted for the majority of the total aggregate contributions to the GANG of FOUR.

One I learned this, of course I wondered what these 18 donors wanted from these four newly elected Board Members. Eventually I discovered that the BIGGEST of the BIG DONORS to the GANG OF FOUR was the cofounder of and one of the biggest donors to the LEAGUE OF EDUCATION VOTERS. LEV is NO GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft Corporation are top tier and 2nd tier donors to LEV, respectively.

My conclusions:

I. The priorities of the Seattle-Based LEAGUE OF EDUCATION VOTERS, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edith J. Broad, ARE MUTUALLY ALIGNED and are ALIGNED WITH THE PRIORITIES of the BIG DONORS.

II. The GANG of FOUR will always make sure that MARIA GETS HER WAY. When Maria gets her way, these BIG DONORS are getting their way, too.

III. Other supposed grass root orgs are also largely aligned with the regressive reformist pro-privatization interests. These are CPPS, SchoolsFirst, Stand For Children, and Seattle Council of PTS/PTSA.

QUESTION: Are YOUR priorities aligned with those of the BIG DONORS and with aggressive regressive education reform, including high stakes testing?

If your answer is YES: your priorities are being well attended to, both in Seattle, and at the STate level.

If your answer is NO: Here is a follow-up QUESTION: How can we overcome the influence of these BIG DONORS and the Broad Foundation and its ALLIES?

My thoughts:

1. Recall the GANG of FOUR members

2. Make Maria so uncomfortable by mounting a big display of public protest at her every public appearance that she resigns (San Francisco succeded in this way in inducing Maria's Colleague to resign.

3. MAKE CERTAIN we don't get another pro-privatization reformist superintendent to replace MGJ.

4. Educate the public to the fact that if they elect business-supported board candidates, they will get Board Members that have similar priorities as the GANG of FOUR. That is fine with me, as long as the public is overwhelmingly happy with MGJ. I just want the public to understand this electoral dynamic.

5. Make sure Mike McGinn does NOT get the authority to "take over the school district," by which he must mean, authority to appoint school board directors. [Does any reader know how to do this?]

6. Campaign Finance Reform: At present there is NO LIMIT on individual contributions to school director campaings. Mayoral campaign contribution limit is $700. Should not the contribution limit for School Board Directors be on par with this? Nick Hanuer and Wife together contributed a combined total of around $43,000 to the campaigns of the Gang of Four in 2000. The Big Donors donated more than HALF of the amount in Sherry Carr's (roughly) 1/3 of a million dollars campaign coffer.

7. Convince legislators to vote NO on SB3038 and SB6696. Here is the legislative hotline # - easy way to get a short message to a legislator in a hurry - 1.800.562.6000.

8. Form a true, representative coalition that will leverage the levies. The next levy ballot measure to be plied to voters will probably be the Families and Schools levy from Mayor McGinn in Fall 2010. The time to start is now.

Joan Sias

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