Three Seattle School Board seats are up for election this year and two seats have Primary Elections. The School District has an odd hybrid electoral system where candidates run in a district in the Primary and city wide in the General Election.
Seattle School Board President Michael DeBell is running unopposed and will not be on the Primary ballot. In the second seat up, incumbent Mary Bass is opposed by 3 other candidates, Joanna Cullen, Andre Helmsletter and Kay Blum-Smith. The third seat is that being vacated by Cheryl Chow and has three candidates running. Wilson Chin, Charlie Mas and Betty Patu.
Despite the fact that the Seattle School District is in Seattle and of obvious interest to Seattle residents, campaign finance information for the candidates is not posted on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website. This is something that the city should include, especially considering how often candidates running for Seattle City Council or Mayor seem to mention the issues of our schools.
Also conspicuously absent is the fact that there are no campaign contribution limits for those running for Seattle School Board. While candidates for city office are limited to accepting a maximum of $700 per person per election cycle, no such limits exist for Seattle School Board. Two years ago this allowed some large contributions by a few individuals to influence the outcome of the races to a significant degree.
The following information is taken from the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission’s website.
One candidate this year for School Board, Wilson Chin, has received 4 contributions over the limit for other city offices. Two were for $2500 and two were for $1500. All told Chin has raised only $9,938 but it is the most in his race for Position #7 in South Seattle. Betty Patu has raised $1,035 and Charlie Mas has reported no contributions to date.
In Position 5, Mary Bass the incumbent, has raised some $6,142 , including a loan of $3,000. One contribution from Nadean Bass was for $1,000. Kay Smith-Blum has raised $26,165 and spent $19,710 to date. Her fundraising includes some $10,720 from 86 contributors; a $7,200 loan and $7,000 of her personal funds. Her largest individual contribution was for $400. The other two candidates, Joanna Cullen and Andre Helmsletter reported no campaign contributions.
Two years ago the races for Seattle School District saw huge amounts of money spent, much of it coming after the primary and in contributions much larger than the $700 limit for Seattle City Council and Mayoral races. The money was a coordinated effort to put more “congenial” people on the Board who didn’t ask as many questions. It worked if that was what you wanted.
Sherry Carr raised $149,130 with 31 contributions over $700 totaling some $105,700.
Peter Maier raised some $167,000 with 30 contributions over $700 totaling some $101,500.
Stephen Sundquist raised some $116,775 with 35 contributions over $700 totaling some $61,000.
The goal of this extraordinary amount of money was to defeat candidates like Darlene Flynn and Sally Soriano who disturbed the powers to be by asking too many questions and not taking the word of school administrators all the time.
Those who replaced them brought different results. You got people, for example, who did not question an administrative decision still ongoing to build in a rare plant habitat at Ingraham High School. They also were the votes that picked the fuzzy math approach for new textbooks. As the Seattle Times wrote about the math textbook vote:
“The other side, however, did not make a case for the reform text.
They argued instead that the “Discovering” books had been recommended by a committee, and that the board should respect the committee. Board member Steve Sundquist said, “I should probably not be telling educators how to teach.”
They argued that textbooks aren’t that important anyway. Board member Peter Maier said the books “allow a variety of teaching methods.”
They argued that textbook adoption was too important to waste any more time. “How many classes are we willing to graduate while we disagree over textbooks?” said board member Sherry Carr.
So the dominant paradigm — and reform math is that — continues. Dominance has its privileges. The supporters of reform math did not have to define their terms or label themselves. They did not have to make a logical argument or show any data.
They engaged in what you might call a cooperative group activity, and led themselves to discover the books that were wanted.”
So far contributions this year seem much more subdued but we could see a repeat. It would be unfortunate if once again large contributions influenced the races and produced more yes votes toeing the line of the Seattle School Administration without asking the tough questions.