With Overlapping City/Public Education Issues, Here's What the Candidates Think

I've managed to interview six of the top eight candidates for mayor of Seattle.  (I previously said seven, my error.)  Those are:  Cary Moon, Mike McGinn, Bob Hasegawa, Jessyn Farrell, Casey Carlisle and Nikkita Oliver.

I reached out twice to Mary Martin (Socialist Workers Party) with no reply.  I also reached out three times to Jenny Durkan's campaign (both in person and via email).  They promised an interview but it never materialized.  Given what Durkan said to the 36th Dems in her interview with them (see end of this post), I would not recommend her as the mayor to watch over public education in our city.

My Recommendations
The candidates I think have the best grasp of what is currently happening in Seattle Public Schools as well as good ideas about how the mayor can work with the district are Jessyn Farrell, Mike McGinn and Nikkita Oliver.  Farrell and McGinn are current SPS parents and Ms. Oliver works in SPS schools.

In speaking with candidates about public education, I came away the most impressed with Farrell and Oliver.  Both spoke with knowledge and passion about the issues facing Seattle Schools.

The only candidate that addresses education at her campaign website is Nikkita Oliver. 
She has a whole page of concerns and ideas.

Honorable mention for Farrell, Moon, and Hasegawa for mentioning education/child-related concerns at their websites.

All the candidates I spoke with understood the role of the City is not governance of schools and, to a person, were not for mayoral control of the schools.

Editor's update: I did overlook mentioning that I asked candidates about charter schools receiving funds from the Families and Education levy.  (The current language would not allow that but I perceive that charter supporters will try to get it into the next version.) No one thought that a good idea save Mr. Carlisle.

Here are the questions I asked of the candidates.  As I did with school board candidates, I won't be printing all their answers but, for each candidate, ones that were particularly thoughtful or added dimension to understanding the candidate.

1.  Where did you go for your  K-12 schooling?

2.  How many students are in Seattle Schools?  What is the name of the superintendent?

3.  What do you understand about Seattle Schools and/or what do you hear from other people you speak with about public education?

4.  What do you think the role of the Mayor/city should be in public education in Seattle?

5.  Would you consider mayoral control of the school board or district?

6.  Do you support impact fees to support schools (as well as other issues)?

7.  The HALA committee's report calls schools "amenities."  Is that a term you would use for public schools?

8.  Do you support charter schools?

9.  Would you support changes in grants given to schools under the Families and Education levy to include more measures than test scores and attendance records?

10. The district has a neighborhood enrollment plan both to save transportation costs and encourage students to walk/bike to their school.  However, many students don't have sidewalks in their neighborhoods.  Do you support funding for more sidewalks?

11. In April 2016 at the City's Education Summit, Mayor Murray said he wanted to end homelessness for Seattle children by the end of the year.  Do you believe that is a doable goal in terms of addressing homelessness in our city?  (Editor's note: the Mayor says he meant the end of 2017 but his office's own transcript reflects "end of the year" and the year in question was 2016.)

12.  Do you believe the city needs downtown schools and what have you heard about this topic?

13.  Candidate Jenny Durkan has suggested that there might consideration of housing subsidies for teachers; would you consider this idea?

Casey Carlisle
Mr. Carlisle is the libertarian candidate for mayor.  He was educated in the South, in both public and private schools.  He has no children of his own and did not know the answer to either question on SPS.

He believes that the City is trying to do too much and cites the 39 departments that currently exist.  He said that education is important but does not believe it merits a department in the city.  He does not support mayoral control.

Carlisle thinks there is an "obsession" with testing and thinks that leveling the playing field should be one big effort for better public education.

He does not believe there should be housing subsidies for teachers, saying costs are not the fault of developers and would not support impact fees, saying it is "sticking it to the developers."  

He supports charter schools and vouchers.

Bob Hasegawa
He attended SPS schools - Beacon Hill Elementary, Mercer Middle School and Cleveland High School.  He did get the number of students in SPS right but couldn't name the superintendent.

On the question about what he hears about SPS, he veered off and said he wished, as a legislator, that he heard more from SPS in Olympia.  He said he hears a lot more from the WEA.

Hasegawa said the role of the City in public education is to be supportive and said he is not interested in mayoral control.  He said that in creating a city Department of Education, there is a more bureaucratization and further separation from the schools.

On the HALA question of schools as "amenities", he laughed out loud.  He said schools are an essential element to a city.

He is for impact fees -  "gotta have 'em" - and that developers have to be responsible for what they are creating in terms of impacts to transportation, schools, etc.

He is not for charter schools.

He believes that there should be multiple ways for testing students.

His plan for building more sidewalks would be thru his proposal for a city-created bank.  He said that it would allow the City to leverage revenues beyond what is currently possible and would "magnify" the funding capacity.  He also cited this idea in terms of the question of downtown schools saying the city could sell bonds and have a lower interest rate for repayment.

Mike McGinn
Mayor McGinn does have students in SPS and knew both the answers to my SPS questions.

He said when he was mayor that he tried to meet monthly with the superintendent.

As for mayoral control, he said he wasn't personally interested in that but if the public asked for it, he would consider it.

He also laughed at the idea of schools as "amenities" and said that he believed impact fees would be needed.  He said HALA was a "top-down" process and that ended up making their work divisive.

He said he might consider teacher subsidies for housing part of a social structure for the city (as they do in Europe).

He said he was not a "fan" of charter schools.

On the Families and Education levy, he said it was important to show progress and that isn't always seen from a test score.  He said outcomes and measuring them are important but there needs to be thoughtful measures.

In terms of funding sidewalks, he suggests that 100% of the school speed zone money go for school safety issues like sidewalks.

About homeless students, McGinn said the overall homeless issue was one reason he got in the race.  Stating that city revenues have grown 25% over the last three years, he is puzzled about Mayor Murray's actions on homeless issues.  He said you "can't pull the fire alarm and then leave the building."  He said they need to scale up tiny homes.

But, he also said he wanted to hold the line on property and sales taxes and thinks there may need to be an income tax on the wealthy.

He thinks downtown schools would be wonderful but it would be important to evaluate where the need is first.  He said he was aware of $5M in BEX IV for downtown schools research.

I also mentioned Memorial Stadium as a site for a school and he said that under his administration, there was a deal in the works but that it didn't work out when the district wanted a lot more money than the City could give.

Nikkita Oliver
Ms Oliver went to public schools in Indianapolis and has lived in Seattle 13 years.

When I asked her about what she hears from others about SPS, she cited the siloed nature of SPS and its schools.  She mentioned a lack of alignment across the district and the equity gap.

Oliver works in SPS with the Writers in the Schools program at Washington Middle School, Franklin High and Rainier Beach High School.

She is not for mayoral control and said "the health of the school district impacts the health of the city."  The role of the city is to leverage resources to support its schools.  She said it is troubling that McCleary has not been completed.  She cited rapidly rising housing costs as an issue for many homeless families with children.

Among her ideas for education; family support workers, an initiative for student supports, ethnic studies, restorative justice, expanded city support for arts in schools, early childhood learning and supports for transportation for students.

She has an idea for an initiative for student supports called All Students Belong:
To direct the City to partner with the immigrant rights organizations, LGBTQ community groups, women’s rights advocates, and the Seattle Public Schools to develop greater supports for marginalized students. These supports could include funding professional development for teachers to become more effective advocates for these students in the classroom, as well as after school programs designed to provide marginalized students social and emotional support. In addition, the City would work with school officials to strengthen and extend the sanctuary city protections for undocumented immigrants at school.
She also supports the Children's Defense Fund's Freedom Schools program to support summer learning.

By providing summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books, the CDF Freedom Schools program plays a much needed role in helping to curb summer learning loss and close achievement gaps — and is a key part of CDF’s work to ensure a level playing field for all children. In partnership with local congregations, schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, and secure juvenile justice facilities the CDF Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, increases self-esteem and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities.
By providing summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books, the CDF Freedom Schools program plays a much needed role in helping to curb summer learning loss and close achievement gaps — and is a key part of CDF’s work to ensure a level playing field for all children. In partnership with local congregations, schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, and secure juvenile justice facilities the CDF Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, increases self-esteem and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities.
Freedom Schools® Program
As for the Families and Education levy,
Nikkita will seek to immediately end the practice of withholding City levy dollars to schools based on test scores. City funds would be distributed to schools, in consultation with Seattle Public Schools, based on need. 
She said that the issues of sidewalks is both a north and south end issue.  She said not all sidewalks have to be the same and the city could explore how to make this a reality at less cost.

She believes schools are foundational to a city.  She supports impact fees, saying that rapid growth "demands it."

As for charter schools, she said it was "complicated." She worries that there may be ways for some parents to "buy their way" out of districts and it will leave some students behind.  She said, "If you believe in public education as I do, it's hard to see them as effective as it is" now.

Cary Moon
She went to public schools in Michigan and had her children in SPS for their elementary years.

In terms of what she hears about SPS, she said it was "a mixed thing."  People love their own schools and their communities but that parents feel the state seems to be abandoning its responsibility to the paramount duty of the state in not fully funding education.

Moon is not for mayoral control, citing the many issues and concerns that a mayor already has.  She said she has not heard of an example where mayoral control has made a difference.

Like other candidates, Moon thinks of schools as infrastructure within a city.  She could be for impact fees but she said it was important how to roll this out without increasing the costs for housing.  She thinks housing subsidies for teachers might be a good idea.

She has never supported charter schools.  She said a public school system needs equity and providing the greatest benefit for all children.

She's for downtown schools but said the siting of them would be a challenge.

She'd like to see more after-school programs and civics classes, saying "kids need to know how to see the change they'd like."

Jessyn Farrell
Farrell attended schools in Shoreline.  She has two students in SPS.  She knew both the answers to my SPS questions.

She was one of the few candidates who had good things to say about SPS (all of those currently involved with SPS had good things to say about the district).  She said she is impressed with the teachers and parents in Seattle Public Schools.

She said that she's not for mayoral control.  She said the district needs resources to address inequities across the city like some schools not having PTAs or fewer PTA dollars.

Farrell said there should be money coming from ST3 dollars that could be used for homeless services like a McKinney-Vento coordinator for schools (M-V is the federal law around homeless students and I was impressed that someone knew that).  She said that the King County Board would be deciding on where those dollars go.

On the issues of sidewalks, she said the Safe Routes to Schools project work needs to be sped up.   She said as a state legislator, she had advocated for the school district to partner with the state to move those projects along.

She also does not consider schools "amenities" and believes they are foundational to a functional democracy.  She said it is great that we have so many new citizens coming into Seattle and that's why she supports impact fees to address different needs.

Regarding the Families and Education levy, she said "accountability matters."  She said there needs to be more conversation around the use of testing and its exaggerated use. She believes there are multiple ways to look at progress including homework and observational assessment.

Farrell would like the Youth Advisory Council to have more input about issues that they believe are problematic to better and more equitable education.

On downtown schools, she pointed out that she's a mother of three children and it would be something for her family to consider - moving downtown - should she become mayor. She said downtown schools for families who want to live there could be important with increasing density.
But she also recognizes that there are many pressing facilities needs and capacity issues in SPS.

She also brought up city surplus properties like the reservoir near Roosevelt High School.  She said that could have housing and a school.

She also supports increasing arts exposure for SPS students especially when the opportunity gap tends to widen during the summer months when students are not in schools.

She spoke about "Trump-proofing" Seattle if we are going to maintain status as a sanctuary city especially if federal funds get pulled that could affect students.  She said the city needed to be ready to step up to that challenge.

Jenny Durkan
As I stated, I was unable to obtain an interview with Ms. Durkan.  Her website has nothing about education; indeed, it has no issues listed yet.

However, she did an interview with the 36th Dems which was videotaped that does have some statements in it about public education.  (bold mine)

Question: In your view, what is the role of the City in assuring equal educational achievement and achievement opportunities in Seattle Public Schools?


You know, I think it's a really difficult thing when the City has such a critical role in education but yet the School Board controls it.  And I think we have to reexamine those connections as a city but there are things we have done and continue to do.  

For one, pre-K. You know, universal pre-k , I think, is not just an important issue but I think it should be a universal right.  I think if we are looking to the future and what families need, we have to have it.  Our pre-k initiative, you know, the initiative we funded ourself, it expires.  

But we have to work with the schools and find better ways so that every kid has the chance to excel and not get left behind.  I think we are more and more balkanizing into neighborhoods and locales and have so many languages that are spoken in the public schools...the future of our city is the kids.   There's just no question about that.   And I think we have to find ways to work with the School Board and to reexamine if that's the most efficient way to work in schools.

One thing I think we can't do is blame teachers.  You know, I was a high school teacher for two years, between college and law school.  And teaching school is one of the hardest jobs there is.  You're required to not just be teacher but social worker, sometimes absentee parent, you name it - you have every single role.  And more and more I think we have not done enough to support our teachers.

She would target populations like teachers, firefighters and cops to give them supports to assure they can continue to do their important jobs.

I find her language about the Board troubling.  That she singles out the Board as an issue - not the Superintendent - not once but twice seems odd.  Equally odd is that she wants to be an elected official and yet seems to be putting down other duly elected officials.  That would not seem to make a good start to working relationship with the Seattle School Board.

The City can certainly go its own way in supporting public education in Seattle but I might offer that it could end up looking like the kind of relationship that the district currently has with the Alliance for Education - cordial but not with a lot of real and authentic interaction.

I suspect if I had been able to interview Durkan, she would have been a yes for mayoral control. You'd think any candidate would survey the landscape in Seattle and think that he/she had enough on their plate.


walker said…
I'm happy to see so many of them supporting sidewalks. Here's hoping that's not just campaign promises.
John stewart said…
We have been underfunding sidewalks for decades, and the backlog is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Show me the financial plan to prioritize pedestrian infrastructure.
Robert said…
Thank you Melissa! We really need to get someone in the Mayor's office who understands SPS.
Anonymous said…
"Regarding the Families and Education levy, she said "accountability matters."

I would be pretty worried about Jessyn Farrell when it comes to the Families and Education Levy. Nikkita Oliver is by far the best on that topic.

SW Dad
Anonymous said…
I like Durkan's analysis of the school board's dysfunction.

Amateurs propped up with money from dubious sources.

They don't know how a bureaucracy works or how real politics work.

Monkeywrench, care to elaborate? What money is propping them up? And who isn't an "amateur" school board member?

Also, school board is a non-partisan race, fyi
Anonymous said…
Jessyn Farrell is strong all around on multiple diverse issues that affect everyone in Seattle. Education as well as transit and etc. She also knows how to get things done politically. Personally I feel this city needs a more rapid response to the pressures of its growing pains. Jessyn gets it and has plans on how to make it happen. She will have my vote.
-a voter
Anonymous said…
Don't forget that Mike McGinn as mayor tried to privatize and shut down the Queen Anne Community Center and showed a deaf ear to the fact that it provided a focal point for children in the community. He was not pro-children in his last administration.

Book Doctor said…
Thanks for interviewing them, Melissa!
Jet City mom said…
Yes Helen, McGinn proposed cutting hrs to Queen Anne community center as well as Alki, Ballard, Green Lake and Laurelhurst, as part of coping the the $67 million dollar deficit in the city budget.


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