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Friday, July 29, 2011

Position 3 School Board Candidate Interviews on KUOW

Yesterday on The Conversation, the candidates for Position 3 were interviewed.   Joining host Ross Reynolds were the incumbent Harium Martin-Morris and challengers Michelle Buetow and John Dunn.  The interview was, again, too short for my tastes but did have some new and interesting content.

Harium, like the other incumbents, was asked about Pottergate.  He said it was complex, it when down several layers, there were structural problems with identifying this, etc.  But then he said now that they know this, they are putting structures in place.  (This becomes quite key in the discussion later on.)

He was also asked about the sale of the MLK, Jr. building.  He said that two of the bids were identical (something I was not aware of) and that yes, $1.5M extra (the Bush bid) was a lot of money.   When pressed on the issue of not much activity happening at the building since the sale, he said that it had only been 6 months and "immediate gratification" wasn't possible.

I get what he is saying but really, if making sure a building stayed community use was important, why wouldn't the district/Board made sure that concrete plans were in place? 

John Dunn was introduced as a teacher and former head of SEA.  He said he did not believe the Board was doing an adequate job on the budget.  And then he said something brilliant - he referenced the Moss-Adams report (off the scandal in 2002 with Superintendent Olchefske).  He said that at that time, governance was top down and the culture was an issue (as defined in the report).   He pointed out that it was still an issue today.

Then Michelle Buetow was introduced and she said that all Board members should be commended for taking on a hard job but, that said, they were not providing the stewardship that the district needs.  She then also said something brilliant - she referenced what Nancy Waldman, who had been the director in the seat Harium now holds, said when the Olchefske financial scandal occurred.

From the Seattle Times on September 8, 2003:

Waldman, 56, is aware that some voters believe she and the rest of the board are at fault for the budget fiasco, in which the district unknowingly spent $35 million more than it had.

"Once we knew there was a problem with the budget, we called for an independent audit and we appointed a committee of fiscal integrity," Waldman said. "I think we responded quickly and decisively. At the end of the day, we have a road map to make sure this never happens again."


Now many of you have heard me harp on Moss-Adams.  It was the roadmap to operational and fiscal responsibility.  It HAD the financial structures that the current incumbents seem so interested in establishing.  And the Board who instituted it believed it would protect the district from the same kind of lack of oversight that plagued them in the Olchefske scandal. 

But no one put it into place and followed thru.  If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 30% of Moss-Adams got enacted.  If it had been largely put into place, I doubt that Silas Potter could have proceeded on the path he took.  Are Board members coming into office looking at what came before them?  In this case, it doesn't seem any Board from 2003-2011 has given Moss-Adams more than a passing glance.  I think assumptions were made that, well, naturally these things are in place. 

This is really key because (1) no one should come into public office and assume that everything is in place and (2) what came before is important and woe to the person who forgets that. 

Harium was asked if he read it and he said yes, at the time it came out.  He then said that Moss-Adams was about changing the culture but that sort of thing didn't happen overnight.  He said "research" shows it takes 4-6 years.  So then the host said and when did the report come out?  Ten years ago. 

Harium then said he could only address when he came onto the Board.  He talked about the ethics hotline.  

Dunn and Buetow then had a discussion about the state of schools with Buetow accurately pointing out that many people who have the ability to go private are still doing so.  Dunn said he felt most schools were doing well but that we need more middle school capacity in the north end.

Harium was asked about communications and that there's a website and a communications department.  He said that there is this assumption that all people communicate the same way and mentioned strategic partnerships and key communicators.  He also mentioned how the Somali population is growing and I kept hoping he might mention the great work that CPPS is doing and yet he didn't offer any examples of what could be done.

Dunn mentioned having Family Support Workers and other to support students and referenced the declining dropout rate in Everett because of their direct supports to students. 

The host referenced Buetow's background in communications and asked what she thought.   She felt that the Board and the district didn't really view, until recently, how damaged the district's reputation has become.   The Board has the power of the purse and could make certain projects happen.  Family engagement has been "defunded" under this Board.  She did agree with the other two that the district does a poor job of reaching out to minority communities and said the district needs to go to those communities and not the other way.

I felt all the candidates sounded strong and confident.  There wasn't a lot of interaction among them but I expect after the primary that the gloves will come off.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harium Martin-Morris is the poster child for Foolhardy Hubris.

ken berry

kprugman said...

Your late superintendent had some parting shots - ours disappeared into the night and hasn't been heard from since - currently three District Attorneys are investigating. All promotions and demotions are being reviewed as administrators and their assistants have started turning on one another.

Our union has been very helpful in spotlighting problems. Its been quite a spectacle, although knowing our legal system, nothing will probably come of it.

In one instance a teacher (friend of the past Superintendent) of a mariachi class had been teaching crossword puzzles for an entire year until finally one of the fathers broke down the office door of the new old superintendent and gave him the scoop.

I think your teachers are going to have to get more involved if you want to see better candidates run for school board.

Anonymous said...

Communication !!!! Harium should have brought up his blog and how he discontinued it because it became too troublesome to try to fool the readers any longer.

example from his blog:
Harium maintained that the district was observing the promotion/ non-promotion policies and providing interventions for struggling students....... Then he recently voted for a complete revision of the promotion/ non-promotion policies .... Holly Ferguson wrote the new policy. It was based on the fact that the district was not following any of the existing policies and that the new policy would mirror current practice. ... Needless to say Harium voted for the New Policy.

What exactly does Harium mean by communication? It seems to me that often Harium has been involved in communicating less than the full factual information.

Consider Harium's rationale for voting for the extremely lame $800,000 New Tech Network contract..... He cited the success at Hillsdale New Tech in Durham NC..... He just failed to inform that the NT Hillsdale ranked in the bottom 19% in North Carolina on state testing.

Harium like the others elected in 2007 has regularly ignored the relevant data to vote for the District's preferred party line...... Accurate communications of relevant data are regularly discouraged, such communications would get in the way of explaining pre-made decisions.

Harium prefers "Cherry Picking" rather than research .... he is unlikely to communicate that fact.

If Harium was really in favor of increased communication ... his blog would still be accessible.

-- Dan

Anonymous said...

Awesome Job by Harium's opponents .... Sure hope the Seattle Times is following along ....

-- Dan

David said...

Strong challengers in this district. I think this is the only one of the four races where there is any chance the incumbent might not make it through the primary.

Anonymous said...

Hey folks here is what is happening in West Seattle.

David, It would be nice if several incumbents were not around for the General Election.

I think if the West Seattle folks have been paying any real attention.... Steve will not be advancing.

-- Dan D

Anonymous said...

So check the latest economy news from WA DC.

"The economy expanded at a meager 1.3 percent annual rate in the spring after scarcely growing at all in the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Friday.

The combined growth for the first six months of the year was the weakest since the recession ended two years ago. The government revised the January-March figures to show just 0.4 percent growth, down sharply from its previous estimate of 1.9 percent.
"

So the poor decisions by the current board become even more critical as an election issue.

-- Dan D

The Real Arnold said...

"He said that two of the bids were identical (something I was not aware of)"

How do you know he is telling the truth? Maybe that is just his opinion.

That Passionate Teacher said...

In fact, two of the bids were identical. This is because after the first round of bidding, Fred Stephens convinced them to unseal the bids and let the competition look at each others bids.

FAME essentially copied the bid of the community center folks (for whom the $1.5M had originally been secured by the legislature, BTW) and turned it in. Then, cronyism in this district being what it is, FAME's bid was called superior while the identical bid from the community center group was heavily scrutinized.

Harium's statement was technically true, but leads listeners to an incorrect conclusion. That may not cross the line between truth and lie, but it definitely is walking the tightrope.

Charlie Mas said...

Harium claimed that the current Board set an Ethics policy. They have not. That's an outright lie.

Not very ethical.

The current Ethics policy recognizes only one unethical behavior - self-dealing - and no other. It is completely inadequate. If Director Martin-Morris is running on the Ethics Policy, he is in deep trouble.