The mayor hangs out with preschool kids the day of the big city preschool announcement.
  • City of Seattle
  • The mayor hangs out with preschool kids the day of the big city preschool announcement.
The mayor and city council's decision to put funding for a pilot version of a public preschool program before voters this fall has become a hell of a lot more controversial than anyone might've guessed.

I mean, universal pre-K, of which this city pilot is a hopeful precursor, is one of the most widely supported public policy measures out there, with the goal of, y'know, helping children succeed in life. The Children! Think of The Children!

But this is still politics. And with two unions who represent preschool teachers and child-care workers not feeling heard by the city and thus gearing up to pass their own semi-related initiative—that's I-107—it's been a lot more shit talk than kumbaya around here. (As you'll recall: I-107's backers thought their measure would go to the ballot as a stand-alone attempt to require higher pay and more centralized training of the city's preschool and child-care workers, but the city council has set the two up as opposing measures on the ballot, a move that caused the I-107 campaign to take the city to court.)

The current drama: The Yes on I-107 campaign, called Yes for Early Success, alleges that someone at the city deliberately leaked a legally privileged memo to the Seattle Times, spurring an editorial in the newspaper the next day that used secret legal and fiscal analyses done for the city to slam I-107 as being expensive and potentially opening the city up to liability. Whatever was in those memos was strategically leaked and used to promote the city's preschool measure at the expense of I-107, charges the union campaign, and they'd like the opportunity to refute these analyses. The problem: When Yes for Early Success requested to see the city's paperwork, the city refused.

"We've officially asked for and were denied our Public Disclosure Requests to see these memos," says Heather Weiner of Yes for Early Success. The city's opinion? The documents are exempt from disclosure under attorney-client privilege, which the city says it has not waived even though the Seattle Times got a peek. "For all we know, the city's numbers are based on yesterday's winning lottery numbers," gripes Weiner, who wishes she could actually see how the city arrived at them.

The difference between the two sides is vast.

Yes for Success fully admits their initiative will cost the city some money, but they argue that how much will largely be up to the city council if the measure passes; as far as they're concerned, all it mandates are some city staff hours and then a few hundred thousand to a couple of million dollars a year, depending on how you do it, to run a training institute for child-care workers. That's not nothing, for sure, but they think it's worth it. But the city's argument—which again, few people have actually seen—is that it will cost upward of $100 million a year, or 10 percent of the city's general fund budget. And they also say it could open the city up to litigation—but we don't know what kind, because those memos are still under wraps. That sticker shock/lawsuit fear combo is a powerful argument against I-107, and one the backers of the city's preschool plan have already used against I-107.

Yes for Early Success has filed an ethics complaint with the city, in part over that leak, which they continue to allege was deliberate and political—in their ethics complaint, they call the city's behavior "the swift-boating of I-107."

And hey, leaks are part of life! We love a good leak. We live for leaks! But it's interesting to see exactly how they happen and how the city responds. In this case, City Attorney Pete Holmes posited in an e-mail to staff, which Yes for Early Success was able to obtain via public disclosure request, that "I don't believe we asked the Council members to return the hard the copies at the end of Monday's executive session." Translation: We didn't collect all the paper copies of those secret memos after our closed-door meeting to discuss legal matters, and one of them walked out the door and into the hands of a reporter. In the same e-mail, Holmes says he confirmed that no one in his office was a source of the leak, leaving only council members and their staffers as potential culprits. (Or, you know, memos just getting up and walking away of their own accord.)

In another post-leak e-mail, a city lawyer politely requests that the Seattle Times please return their copies of the memo; you can almost hear the laughter from the ST newsroom through the computer screen.

I'd ask Tim Burgess, Godfather of Preschool™, what he thinks of all this drama, but he's out of town. Suffice it to say: This preschool showdown isn't settling down anytime soon. We already have leaks, ethics complaints, court filings... maybe we can get a shoving match or two? The parks district campaign got a shoving match—it's only fair.