Blah blah blah. This trite (and predictable) stance--a little faux boosterism about the faltering school board--hides the actual lesson we should take from Lilly's de facto resignation: The current school board is a dysfunctional mess that's incapable of shepherding through reform. In the wake of Lilly's announcement, I'd like to make a different proposal. Nobody should run for school board. We should ditch the democratically elected board, and let the mayor and city council appoint them.
"Even when I was on the board, I thought, 'What a weird thing, to elect laypeople,'" says former School Board Member Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, a board member from 1995 to 2003, who's advocating from behind the scenes now to have Seattle follow the lead of Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland, which have all switched to appointed systems.
Specifically, Schaad-Lamphere says that amateurs ("PTA moms" like her) don't have enough expertise. Overseeing a $444 million operating budget, 47,000 students, and a staff of 7,000 tasked with altering Seattle's classrooms in this era of education reform, is not a job for (albeit passionate) do-gooders who are catapulted into office on the momentum of pet peeves and pet projects. It's a job for education professionals--those who understand budgets, understand reform, and have the luxury to navigate change over the long term, without facing the whims of the neighborhood electorate.
Lilly's defeatist announcement last week came as no surprise. He's an incumbent who dodged the "throw the bums out" bullet in 2003 (he wasn't up that year) when a reformist slate easily offed a swath of Lilly's then-colleagues. Three incumbents were tossed out in the election (and Schaad-Lamphere chose not to run). It is certain Lilly would have faced the same fate this year after the inevitable barrage of anti-school board rhetoric hit yet again. (This year, a second incumbent, Jan Kumasaka, has also chosen to step aside.) Obviously, the writing was on the wall: Seattle's oh-so-righteous electorate is fed up, and the school board will be held accountable!
Ugh. It might feel cathartic for Seattle voters to get on their high horse every two years, but take note, the current crew of populists (Mary Bass, Darlene Flynn, Sally Soriano, Irene Stewart, and Brita Butler-Wall) are the same crew that have stumbled over the school closure issue this year, passing the buck onto appointed Superintendent Raj Manhas in a gutless ploy that's typical of elected officials paralyzed by the yank of parents. This is a bad spot for a group of people charged with getting stuff done.
"Education reform is a long-term project and the churn at the top is the enemy of reform," Schaad-Lamphere says. "Every two years we have the chance to screw up the district." Here we go again.