Candidate Forum at Town Hall

I was at the Stranger's School Board Candidate Forum at Town Hall last night. It was very interesting and I would encourage everyone to look for it on the Seattle Channel.

The festivities began with a quick answer round. The MC, Dave Ross, asked a number of questions and candidates would take a position on the stage behind signs that said "Yes", "No", or "Dunno". The questions were pretty good and they caused some folks to struggle with their answers. A number of the answers - particularly from the incumbents - were VERY surprising. When asked if they wanted to change the math curriculum, all of the incumbents clustered at the "Yes" sign. They also clustered at the "Yes" sign when asked if language immersion schools should be option schools. I was not the only person in the audience who wondered why their voting records didn't reflect the positions they were taking on the Town Hall stage. There were some times when the incumbents were clustered at one sign and the challengers at another. There were some times when nearly everyone was together. There were a couple questions with only one or two candidates in a clear minority of opinion.

The meat of the event were three one-on-one debates in which the candidates for each seat got the opportunity to answer a question and respond to each other. It was real, meaningful exchange that highlighted the differences between the candidates. There were only three because Steve Sundquist was unable to attend due to a family emergency. Marty McLaren answered her questions alone. After each of these one-on-ones the audience was invited to vote on the winner using their cell phones. As the votes were counted two experts, our own Melissa Westbrook and Seattle Council PTSA President Lauren McGuire would offer a quick sort of "Truth Squad" review to call out anything said that might have been inaccurate.

Peter Maier did surprisingly well in his debate with Sharon Peaslee. He was more animated than we have seen him for four years. Ms Peaslee tried to stick him with his failure to oversee and he tried to squirm away from it.

Kate Martin, I believe, had the strongest performance of the evening. She spoke with such confidence and conviction. Sherry Carr, who I understand had not been feeling well, didn't hold up well and, despite having a better record than the other incumbents, fared poorly.

Harium Martin-Morris has been nothing but surprises in this campaign. First, he said that he wanted to do a Superintendent search - which is the opposite of what he said in the Seattle Child questionnaire. Harium also said - a couple of times - that he represented and spoke for a "diverse" group of people. I couldn't be the only person who heard the thwack of the race card being played. This was surprising because Harium doesn't speak for anyone. The man barely talks at all. Moreover, I haven't ever heard anyone say that Harium speaks for them. Michele Buetow spoke very well, but struggled to connect.

Marty McLaren, answering questions on her own, presented well and positively impressed.

I'm pleased to say that the "truth squad" didn't have to bust anyone. It's probably a good thing that Melissa was on it instead of me. I would have cracked a couple heads. Peter Maier prattled about "replicating success" - as if the District had EVER done that. Sherry Carr falsely claimed that the NSAP maintained choice and that she would "follow up" to ensure that policies were followed. Harium Martin-Morris falsely claimed that there was no oversight system in place when he joined the Board.

On the whole, an illuminating evening. Look for it on the Seattle Channel.


anonymous said…
"Peter Maier prattled about "replicating success" - as if the District had EVER done that."


We asked the district to replicate the John Stanford International school model and they did it.

We asked the district to replicate the Montessori programs and they did it.

We asked the district to replicate the IB program at Ingraham and they did it at Sealth, and are now considering it at RBHS.

We asked the district to replicate programs like the bio tech academy at Ballard and they created the Cleveland STEM school, and an environmental science K-8.

I may not agree with the who, what, where, and how it was all done, but to say that the district has never replicated successful programs is, well, simply not correct.

It takes years for programs to be replicated, schools to be built, and progress to be made in our archaic school system. But, I have seen more change in our public schools in the past few years than I have seen in all 25 years that I've lived in Seattle, combined. And most of it was done under MGJ. We might not have liked her, but she did get a lot done during her tenure.

Noam said…

How are things going over at the urban league?
David said…
Thanks for the report, Charlie, good to see the challengers did well.
anonymous said…
Noam, I was speaking specifically about replicating successful programs. If you would like to challenge that, go ahead, but the fact remains that all of the replication that I outlined happened under MGJ's tenure.

That doesn't mean that I think she was a good superintendent, or that I think she did a good job overall. I don't. But I do think she did a good job in this particular area.

mirmac1 said…
I think MGJ destroyed more than she replicated for a net zero in tangible achievements. As for the intangibles, like good will, trust, ethics, and true community engagement, it was a frickin' bloodbath.

But that's neither here nor there. I'm glad the challengers did well.
Anonymous said…
I was there, and that voting thing was unstable - several people in the crowd called out that it didn't work for them, it didn't work for me (in 3 different ways), and people I spoke to afterward said the same thing.

The results aren't credible - for anyone.

oh - and true to character of Kate to slander the people hired by MGJ from South Carolina as "criminals". Charming as ever -

mom of 4 in sps
Eric B said…
I went into the debate planning on voting for a minimum of two to three challengers. I came out undecided in all but one of the races. Here's some unsolicited advice to challengers:

1. McLaren: I understand your reservations about the Families & Ed Levy's standardized testing, but you shouldn't be in the Dunno category as to whether you'll vote for it. Either you will or you won't, since you've had plenty of time to think about it. If you won't, I'm going to have real trouble voting for you given all of the good that comes with the FEL.

2. All challengers: Please tell me what you're for. I heard a lot of what you are against, and not much about what you would do. How would you do it differently?

3. Buetow: I appreciate that you want to hear from parents. That's a refreshing change. However, I think you also need to recognize that you'll get conflicting advice from parents, teachers, and staff on every issue. Anyone who comes to Board meetings sees people testifying for and against just about every issue. Tell me how you'll resolve those differences and your philosophy in choosing what's right.

Thanks to everyone who put this on! It was a good event.
dan dempsey said…
Hummm.... I was there and I may need to check the video but here is my recollection about the math question that as Charlie said sent all 7 candidates to the spot behind the "YES" sign.

Charlie wrote: "When asked if they wanted to change the math curriculum, all of the incumbents clustered at the "Yes" sign. "

I think the question was more along the lines of:
"Would you support a change in the math curriculum?"

This is an entirely different question. I am sure if the Central administration put a change in the Math Instructional materials before the board for approval, then all four of the current board would give a bobble-headed yes vote.

This is entirely different than: Would you advocate for a change in the instructional materials and practices used in the Seattle Public Schools. .... Look for the four challengers to do this advocacy... NOT the incumbents.

According to this blog, The Superintendent recently turned down a waiver request for Singapore Math at Loyal Heights. I heard no current board member ever address that waiver denial.

While all the candidates running mention closing the achievement gaps (sometimes renamed to opportunity gaps) .... NOT one incumbent cared to reply to emails to them and two school board testimonies which asked this question:

"When did the Seattle Public Schools perform a careful review of all options for closing the achievement gaps?"

This review was required before requesting conditional certification for TfA members from OSPI.

Never answered because the review never happened. Neither the Board nor OSPI is interested in discussing legal requirements that are not met.

If you desire a Republic, then vote for all four incumbents.

Cleveland STEM is hardly a replication of the Ballard bio-tech ... top-down is not home grown. This is a huge difference in how these programs were built and developed. ... $800,000 to New Tech Network for essentially "ZERO" of real value is quite a difference .... but then again according to the four incumbents who were the only four "Yes" votes for Cleveland STEM... the district was in a hurry and had to do something.
Eric B said…
PS Martin's "Puppy mill superintendent school [Broad Academy]" and "bringing criminals with her [MGJ]" lines were unhelpful and irrelevant at best, and racially tinged at worst, depending on what lens you want to look through. Any way you look at it, not a good reflection on her IMHO.
klh said…
I was at the forum last night too. It was a great way to get a feel for the candidates in person.

I want to support Peaslee, but was as concerned about the way she presented her data on central administration raises as I was about Maier's (and the other incumbants) presentations about reducing central administration costs.

If there were people at central who were moved into empty pre-existing positions with pre-existing higher pay scales, that is reasonable in my book, even in tough times. Creating new titles to justify higher pay (if that happened - I have no idea, just speculating) or doing a market survey to justify increases - those things aren't acceptable to me. When Sharon did clarify that the staff person getting a 108% increase was Susan Enfield when she moved into the interim supe's position, it bothered me that she hadn't revealed that earlier.

I'd like to know how many people previously working for "central" in SPS were laid off, and how many positions that emptied (due to quits, retirement, etc.) were not filled. Like actual human beings that either are or are not on any SPS payroll. That's the only important number to me and no one has presented it. No incumbant or challenger.

Kate Martin was much stronger than I anticipated! That was the race I was still struggling with, but came away quite pleased with most of Kate's answers. There were still a few things that I would have called insults rather than strong statements in the way she described things she doesn't like, but I liked her clear descriptions of how things should be run. She really sounded like she understands how things need to work to get valid community engagement, and clear, transparent information out to the commmunity.

Michelle Buetow did get off to a slow start, but seemed to improve as the debate went on. Harium really did say amazingly little, and I was listening hard for content. Michelle lost the cell phone vote of the person I was with (my mother, in her 70's, and she and her friends all vote) over her presentation style and appearance. It may be silly (and it was an event sponsored by The Stranger), but appearances count in politics. Michelle is gorgeous - but needs to play up her solid, responsible, focused on the kids side.

Had to leave to get home to see if any homework had actually been completed while I was gone, so missed most of Marty McClaren.

Very worthwhile event!

P.S. I want Melissa and Lauren McGuire for School Board.
Anonymous said…
I agree 100% with Eric on all points, and especially about "parent engagement" - to promise the audience (and families and voters) they'll be involved in every decision you and the district make, as Michelle and Kate seemed to in many of their answers, is somewhere been incredibly naive and disingenuous.

Their general smugness about the ease with which they would do the job was stunning.

mom of 4 in sps
Mom of 4, no one is saying the results are credible. It was just an audience interaction. Neither Charlie or I even noted those results in our wrap-up threads.

"That's the only important number to me and no one has presented it."

On this issue of staff, NO one knows the number because staff never gave an accurate accounting of how they dropped form 9% to 6%. I wish we did know.

It's very interesting to hear the interpretations of what was said and how people came across.
dan dempsey said…
It took 22 hours to go from press release to buy out.

Given that the Board failed to allow the public any real time to discuss the "Firing with Cause option" for MGJ and Mr. Kennedy before the big buyouts ... the criminals charge may be controversial. The huge number of findings from the state auditor's office showed many violations of laws. Criminals violate laws, thus it is not a huge step to the belief that some criminals may have come from South Carolina.
Mr. Kennedy could have been one ... criminals violate laws... I really am unsure on Mr. Kennedy's actions.

MGJ ... put forth proposals before the board that often times ignored requirements of various types. Some of the Board approvals were appealed and the Board never filed transcripts of evidence certified to be correct with the courts. This goes to the appeals court on 11-3-2011 in regard to school closures and the New tech Network contract. There has been a lot of law breaking going on. The use of the word criminals, while not Seattle nice, is not particularly inappropriate. .... It is a campaign and Ms. Martin's campaign rhetoric certainly gives an indication her desire for change in the current system.

"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data"

The intelligent application of relevant data---- that is the change I am looking for.... and that is why all four incumbents need to be replaced.
Charlie Mas said…
Thank you, FWIW, for reminding us that the district replicated the popular JSIS language immersion program at Beacon Hill, Concord and (soon) McDonald. And yes, they have placed additional Montessori and IB programs.

The success that Mr. Maier said we had to replicate was the success at Maple and Mercer. These aren't structured programs like language immersion or Montessori, but practices. I can't remember how the district has replicated successful practices developed at one of our schools.

I'm not sure what the Board can do to make this happen. Replicating successful practices such as those at Maple and Mercer are outside the Board's charge. That appears to be a management matter, not a governance one.
Anonymous said…
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Kathy said…
Question for Peter Maier (Chair of Operations):

What is being done NOW to find the missing $20M?

I understand this issue is being kicked down the road.
Kathy, you remind me that I need a thread on that. It's not so much "missing" as "now where did I put that and what did I use it for?" (Oh, and, how much did we get for those buildings?)
dan dempsey said…
Holding the Superintendent responsible and what you qualities you would like to see in a superintendent.

#1.. Board makes policy.

#2.. Superintendent should be evaluated on effectively implementing Board Policies.

I would like a Superintendent that is transparent about decision-making and that effectively implements the policies of the school board.

Think about the last four-years.....

Four incumbents need to go ASAP.
There has been very little in the way of governance and that is the JOB.
dan dempsey said…
MAJOR TYPO above..... at 8:48 AM


If you desire a Republic, then vote OUT all four incumbents.
Meg said…
Peaslee probably shouldn't have included Enfield's raise. Even so, she has a point.

How does Maier justify $689K worth of additional expense, in the form of raises for district administrators, when staff who work directly with students are being squeezed out of schools?

District leadership has, over the past several years, pretty consistently exaggerated the level of cuts that district administration has coped with. Several directors, and Maier is one of them, have actively helped to promote the exaggerations. The raises are an example of that. The 2010 "central office" cuts (and the 2011, actually) are another example of district leadership exaggerating how much has been cut from the district's administrative burden. The 2010 cuts were portrayed as 85. But when looked at closely, 33-60 positions were cut (the range is because even with records requests, 27 positions couldn't be verified one way or the other). Those are still cuts, but not at the claimed levels. Of the most highly compensated positions that were supposedly taken off the books in 2010, instead of an expenditure reduction $790K, there was an expenditure increase of $164K.

So while Enfield's raise is one I might not myself count as part of the downtown raises, simply because of her move to Interim Supe, there were some pretty fishy things going on with those raises. An "equity/retention" raise of $20K for Cathy Thompson? Thirty-two "market study" raises, the overwhelming majority of which were in HR?

I think Peaslee's larger point is valid, and worth really thinking about. I will be voting for Peaslee, not Maier. I respect his effort and sincerity, but I do not think the students in the district have benefitted from his tenure as a director.
Anonymous said…
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Sharon Peaslee said…
Below is the link to the HR spreadsheet showing salary increases. Everyone is free to decide how they feel about Enfield's 108%. In light of all the classroom cuts I view this as indicative of a highly self-serving administration. Beyond that, it's astonising that Peter tried to deny it. He's either not aware of it or willing to mislead the public. You decide.
Erin said…
The debate last night was the second time I have personally witnessed Peter Maier lie. He lied to me when I asked him a question about the state auditor's report last year and last night he lied about the Sutor report. Both times he was minimizing the findings and saying "how could I have known?" Whether it was purposeful or not I don't care. It's dishonest, much more dishonest than Ms. Peaslee's interpretation of data. In addition Mr. Maier has attempted to shift responsibility and accountability through his dishonesty. He did have access to the correct information and he missed the warning flags. At least Ms. Peaslee is analyzing the data, instead of sugar coating it.

Meg says it nicer than I would. For me, when asked the hard questions, Peter Maier is a lying liar who lies.
my 2 cents... said…
I really, really would like to see Melissa and Lauren run for school board. Melissa is right-- they have areas of genuine disagreement. But one trait they share is that they think deeply, care deeply, and DO THEIR HOMEWORK.

My own reaction: I am not impressed with Kate Martin. Her answers are flip and underlying them I do not sense the drive to get to the bottom of issues by hearing from lots of people and gathering information BEFORE MAKING A DECISION. Kate does not appear measured to me and seems like a leader who would jump to a conclusion based on an emotional reaction and then justify it after the fact.

Michelle seems very knowledgable and seems (by my criteria above) that she would do her legwork. Sharon strikes me the same. I think incumbents Sherry and Peter also do legwork but I'd like more info about Steve and Harium that way.
mirmac1 said…
I have done a line by line comparison of the FY12 adopted budget and the FY11 reconciled budget. CA went down by 4.5 FTE and $743K (accounted for with a drop in Library materials:-$420K and in election costs: -$400K).

Losing a net 4.5 FTE (primarily from HR and Maintenance) does NOT increase workload enough to justify some of these exorbitant raises.

BTW, that such a miniscule reduction in CA (.12% of total budget) can have the seemingly miraculous effect of dropping CA to 6% of the budget is easy...increase the total budget by $10.8M!
klh said…
Sharon, thanks for reminding me about your web-site. I pulled up the spreadsheet on staff and salary changes, and I think you may be misinterpreting the data there (or else I am). When I got to the line for Susan Enfield is when the light went on.

You said that she had a 108% raise when she was moved from CAO to Interim Supe. I do see that there is a listing in the "rate" column of 108.17. That is her hourly rate (divide the current salary of $224,989 by 2080 hours/year), not her rate of increase.

To double check, if you subtract her old annual salary from her new annual salary you get a dollar increase of (224,989 - 175,000) $49,989.

Quite a chunk of change, yes! But that equates to an increase from her $175K of about 29%. Still quite significant, just off from what was stated.

I'm still poring over those "Market Study" increases. Those are the ones that really bother me when teachers are facing cuts (who did a market survey for them?) and supports are taken out classrooms.
Anonymous said…
Notice that lots of the 'market study" raises were for HR positions. Was the logic really that these HR folks are so in demand that there was risk of losing them to another employer if they did not receive these "market study" adjustments to salary? Again it goes to the question of 1) who requested/authorized this "market study"; and 2) who actually performed the study?

I was told it was done 3-4 years ago but who requested it and who did it, I don't know.
Sharon Peaslee said…
klh makes a significant point that never occurred to me. The "rate" column may not be the rate of increase but rather the hourly rate. Does anyone know for sure?
dan dempsey said…

Melissa said about the market study for raises:
"I was told it was done 3-4 years ago but who requested it and who did it, I don't know."

I sure hope that is incorrect.

Look at the current economic climate.... contrast that with 4 years ago.

These raises were flat out insanity. RIF counselors and give raises to HR folks.

Current incumbent Maier is trying to justify these insane raises. Unfrickin' believable that folks have reelect Maier signs in their yards.
dan dempsey said…
Hey Sharon ... since Enfield went from around $175k to around 250..... unless she received some incredible benefits that she did not have before {Bentley car and driver .... Meal plan .... vacation plan ... Retirement portfolio contributions.. etc}

it would be difficult to get to a 108% increase.

175=>250 = 75k raise
75k/175 =3/7 = 42%

So with certainly a predictable increase in benefits as well the overall cost to the district for Susan Enfield likely rose more than 42% ... but less than 108%.

As to whether a Superintendent salary of $250,000 plus benefits is appropriate, who knows.
Anonymous said…
Um, yeah, the rate column, multiplied by 2080 ends up as the annual salary.

Anonymous said…
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Marty McLaren said…
In answer to Eric B's comment:

Regarding my "dunno" on the Families and Ed Levy: I took that spot on the stage to flag my reservations. As I said later, it deeply concerns me that the City is amplifying the school district obsession with standardized testing. I don't think parents appreciate schools as test-taking factories -- schools as learning centers in their neighborhoods is more like it.

Thus, I support the Levy, but with reservations.

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