Sunday, June 30, 2019

How Are the Seattle School Board Candidates Faring?

I've now been to an endorsement meeting and the North Seattle School Board Candidate Forum that was held Monday, June 24th at Roosevelt High School.  Please let me know if you hear of any forums; they are not always widely advertised.

You can read the King County Democrats' questionnaires.  I haven't read thru them all but here's your chance.  I urge you to read them because they are a lot more revealing than most candidates' websites.  (Speaking of websites, where is Molly E. Mitchell's over in District 6? It's a dead link.  The other two candidates - Crystal Liston and Leslie Harris - have theirs up and running.)

43rd Dems Questionnaires  (they use the King County Democrats questionnaire, I believe)
The 43rd endorsed:
Eric Blumhagen - District 1
Lisa Rivera Smith - District 2
Rebeca Muniz - District 3
No endorsement for Position 6 - (As I previously reported, there seems to have been a snafu with the questionnaires for Leslie Harris and Molly E. Mitchell so they were not able to speak; Crystal Liston did speak but did not get the endorsement.)

The KC Dems endorsed:
*The link to Hampson's webpage, like Mitchell's, appears dead.

Highlights of the North Seattle School Board Candidates Forum

As I stated before, I found this forum oddly listless.  Maybe it was having the candidates literally sitting cheek to jowl and having to pass a microphone back and forth and back and forth.  Or maybe it was at least three incredibly lengthy and dense questions.  Even the candidates seemed to struggle to understand what it was being asked.

In opening statements:
Liza Rankin said she had visited half the schools in the district and has "broad and deep knowledge" of it.

Eric Blumhagen said he is running for accountability especially around Special Education and also to find out why good programs "get stuck in a silo" and how to replicate them throughout the district.

Lisa Rivera Smith said she is excited to get out into the community and talk with parents and the public.

Chandra Hampson said she was "super excited" about running for the board and working on equity, fiscal transparency and accounting.

Ben Leis explained he is a math expert and wis running over issues of governance and policy. "To see what we intend to happen, happens and if not, why?"

Rebeca Muniz explained her mom was an immigrant and was running for transparency, opportunity for students and student stability.

How many Board meetings have you attended in the last two years?  
Blumhagen, Rankin, Hampson all said probably about 10; Rivera Smith and Muniz said they watched some tv; Leis said he had only been to a few.  Only Leis and Muniz said they had never testified at a Board meeting. 

Have you been on district taskforces or committees or advisories?
Rivera Smith - No
Hampson - six committees
Leis - No
Muniz - No
Rankin - No
Blumhagen - three committees

The next question was lengthy but it basically asked about the Board member's role in managing policy and budgets.
 Hampson said she has 30 years of policy and budget analysis work.

Leis said he said the top policy he would like to work on is the student assignment plan which seems troubled by yearly adjustments and with community engagement "a mess."  He helped shape his school's $12M budget.

Muniz said her role is to listen and make recommendations and work with the superintendent as a team.  She said she had experience as a program coordinator with a budget in the millions.

Rankin also expressed concern over student assignment especially for Special Ed students.  She said she had worked on budgets for non-profits.

Blumhagen said the board should be talking about whether staff and the superintendent are following policy.  He said as an engineer, he had extensive program management planning and analysis.

Rivera Smith said there are "inequities rooted in the assignment plan" and that Option schools are more white and affluent.  She worked on budgets for the PTSA at Hamilton and Lincoln.

What does equity in public schools mean to you and what two steps in the next year would you want to see the district achieve?
Muniz said there should be expansion of racial and cultural competency, making advanced courses more accessible as well as HCC.

Rankin said it meant "every student gets what they need to meet personal and academic goals."  She said advanced students needed to pursue their academic goals as well.  She said the first thing she would like to see is for students to feel safe and valued at their schools and two, that "pathways and access are available to every child."

Blumhagen said he thought it was "the ability to succeed, regardless of where a student starts."   He said students need to see themselves in the curriculum, not just in ethnic studies but in all classes.

Rivera Smith said students need to see themselves in staff and the district needs to hire more staff of color.  She said all students and their families needs to feel supported.

Hampson said equity means the "opportunity to self-realize, regardless of background."  She said that the district has to "evolve as anti-racist" and hire/retain staff of color.

Leis said equity is the opportunity to achieve, no matter where a student starts.  He said to look for barriers for students and engage with communities and look at school successes and figure out how to broaden that success.

The educational outcomes for Sped students lag behind others - how do you plan to improve these outcomes and reach out to these families?
Rankin - There are funding challenges and "mindset" challenges with it being "easier to lump them into one group."  She said Sped students need to be with peers and that they are Gen Ed students first. 

Blumhagen said that the district should supply services rather than spend $1M in legal fees to fight that.  He said Sped teachers need support and students need to be served closer to home.

Rivera Smith said the district needs to review their policies and engage families, "meeting them where they are."

Hampson said there is a decent opportunity for the Legislature to fund dual language.  She said 65% of Sped students are of color and that students should be part of creating their IEPs. 

Leis said he is a Sped parent and part of that community.  He said parents have worries about inclusion and too much separation from peers.  He said something might look good on paper but harder to achieve on the ground in a school setting.  "People are angry out there."

Muniz said to go to Olympia for more money and support teachers as well as have more family engagement.

24 Credits and online courses?
Blumhagen noted that the district has just changed the policy on credit retrieval.  He said his child did take an online class "that worked okay" but it could be different for other students.  He said the policy needs to be studied closely and see how it plays out and who it affects.

Rivera Smith said her child had taken an online class and it's a good option but maybe not for all students.  She said there should be oversight for selection of online classes.

Hampson said it's the quality of the program that determines if it will work.  She said there should be equitable access and not just use online classes for credit retrieval.

Leis said "one size does not fit all."  He said online credit is not the answer to the 24-credit issue and "no one should pin their hopes on virtual classes."  He suggested partnering with other districts to examine the classes. 

Muniz said she agreed the Board needs to have more control and oversight with a conversation with families about "awareness of requirements." 

Rankin said she disliked the term "credit retrieval" and said online classes whouls have the same oversight as curriculum.

SPS buildings are not accessible to all children with issues of stairs, curb cuts and automatic doors. What would you do?
Hampson said she would look at a "matrix" but it needs to be done as part of equity analysis and BEX.

Leis said non-working elevators are a real problem and that the levy process and oversight needs to be looked at.

Muniz said parents have mentioned this to her and that "we need to have conversations with labor unions and maintenance teams about what is needed and how to solve it."

Rankin said she had testified to the Board on this issues and one problem is that ADA requirements are for adult bodies, not children's.  She said sidewalks need to be maintained.

Blumhagen said that ADA is the law and that buildings should be accessible, period.  He said there had been issues at Loyal Heights over a portable that was not ADA-compliant.

Rivera Smith mentioned the BEX Oversight Committee.  (Editor's note, the BEX Oversight Committee's oversight is limited to building construction, not really whether the district is keeping up with ADA requirements.)

What is the Board role in accepting PTA funding and the role of that funding in racial equity?
Leis said that the system is underfunded so the district is accepting those grants.  He said the WSS is for poorer schools and others have to backfill.  He said there needs to be more money in the entire system.

Muniz said that she thought the gifts/grants were creating racial equity issues.  She said they should "be making sure to hold those PTAs/PTOs accountable to the needs of all children in their schools." 

Rankin said she had been working on this issues for a few years.  She said the Board needs to have more understanding and transparency on holes in funding. 

Blumhagen said the Board has to take the lead.  He said in his district Northgate Elementary has a PTA budget of $15,000 and North Beach PTA has a budget of $150,000 (they are funding a counselor). 

Rivera Smith said she does feel it is an equity issue and it's "hard to tell parents this."  She said she could support "pooling the money" and would advocate for that.

Hampson said the money coming from parents "creates and hides what the real cost of equity is" and causes "inappropriate relationships" with staff and parents.  She also said it "starves" school-based CBOs.

Yes or No - would you be willing to allow audio recordings of IEP school meetings?
Rankin - yes
Rivera Smith - yes
Hampson - yes
Leis - No
Blumhagen wanted to know who would get to listen to it. 
(Didn't get Muniz' answer)

Yes or No - Bias training is not required of staff, should it be?
Rankin - yes
Blumhagen - yes
Rivera Smith - yes
Hampson - yes
Leis - yes
Muniz -yes

One question was about how to better engage communities and several candidates suggested childcare at Board meetings and/or Work Sessions.  There was no discussion about how to pay for that childcare.

What is your superpower?
Blumhagen - "I inherited my number sense from my mother and grandmother."
Rivera Smith said as a former reporter, it's information gathering.
Hampson - my ancestors
Leis - He said he was "a wonk" and it's his ability to think in a structural/logical manner, rather than emotional.
Muniz - She says her "internal GPS."
Rankin said "empathy."


Clipping said...

I'm appreciate your writing skill. Please keep on working hard. Thanks for sharing.

SCPTSA said...

Both Liza Rankin and Chandra Hampson sat on the SCPTSA board. They worked to pass the TakeBackPTA resolution.


PTA funding is a miniscule part of the district's budget. Dollars are used to make up for district shortfalls. They support all students. Grant, city and foundation funding get funneled to Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools also have smaller K-3 class sizes. I've not heard either one articulate an answer to this complex issue.

Anonymous said...

All your tricks are not going to work this time.

See ya!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Tricks? You mean research and advocacy? Going to forums and listening to their answers and then reporting them?

For people who can't do all these things themselves, it's a big help. And, people are welcome to make up their own minds and, of course, vote as they please.

I'm pretty amused by this small contingent of people who think trying to attack me will work.

Anonymous said...

Be very careful with Tracy Castro-Gill. She is far left of even the most rabid lefties and she has some associated fringe players who will seize the moment. I don't think Tracy Castro-Gill will direct them. Think of Portland this last week-end. If they think you are there enemy they will stop at nothing.

Watch your back!


Melissa Westbrook said...

JS, I appreciate the concern but I think my boyfriend - who's a cop - is pretty good at protecting me (should I need it).

Anonymous said...

There are some good candidates this year for sure, though the failure of SCPTSA to lead on any of the issues facing our district and their chumminess with district leaders should give some pause about putting them on the board.

Tracy Castro-Gill is a truly toxic human being. She seems to have some personal issues that she is taking out on Melissa, SPS leadership, and a lot of other people. She spends more time bashing Melissa than doing her own job. And she engages in racist, misogynistic attacks on women of color who dare challenge her. She is unfit to serve in her current capacity and should be fired. Melissa also has a strong case that Castro-Gill has been libeling her and that as a district employee SPS itself is liable for it (see the recent Oberlin College case). I’m not surprised that Castro-Gill isn’t faring well in her own campaign for office - who would possibly want her in charge of anyone’s education?

Ultimately the issue isn’t Castro-Gill but whether the district will continue to enable her. She hasn’t gotten anything done on ethnic studies and her advocacy of Amplify (a racist curriculum) means that the district has less money for ethnic studies as it is going to have to fork over millions every year to a bunch of white billionaires and investors instead of finding ethnic studies. But Castro-Gill thought it was more important to saddle kids with a curriculum she herself acknowledged is bad - because she literally thinks it’s more important to attack Melissa than advocate for ethnic studies. Sigh.


Anonymous said...

"PTA funding is a miniscule part of the district's budget. Dollars are used to make up for district shortfalls. They support all students. Grant, city and foundation funding get funneled to Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools also have smaller K-3 class sizes. I've not heard either one articulate an answer to this complex issue."

Yes. I am wondering if some of the candidates could actually be in the dark? This seems like something in which they should be aware, if I am even aware of it as just a parent who is reading and paying attention. Lisa Riviera Smith was a PTA president. Her answer was too simple. O.K fine if they pool PTA dollars then those schools funding counselors with PTA funds need more funding from the district! We need a "baseline" of equity.

A parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thorton, thanks for the insights. I will say that TCG does seem to have made headway on getting ethnic studies into schools; she always has a long list of things she has done when she reports to C&I.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? TCG basically threatened to DOX anyone who would not do what she asked. Please to not give any endearments to TCG the ... I will not name call , I will not name call!

Vacation time

steve said...

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