"I am the dissident," says Mary Bass, the 46-year-old lone-wolf Seattle School Board member who has found herself leading an opposition party of one when it comes to the troubled Seattle School District budget.

Back in June, Bass sensed that the district's numbers didn't add up and voted against the budget that schools superintendent Joseph Olchefske now admits is out of balance by $34 million. And when the accounting fiasco became public in October and the rest of her board colleagues voted to support Olchefske, Bass was again the lone dissenter.

"I can't talk for my colleagues," Bass says, "but I'm an analyst by training and by my academic background."

On a seven-person board whose elected members are paid only $4,800 a year, Bass is the only black member. She represents schools in the Central District--Board District 5. (She was endorsed by the Stranger Election Death Squad in 2001 and is up for re-election in 2005.) By day she's a program analyst in the traffic engineering section of the King County Department of Transportation, which means she earns her main paycheck by dealing with budgets and other money matters. (Appropriately enough, she's on the school board's audit and finance committee.) She has a degree in economics from the UW as well as a masters in public policy. Oh, she's also Garfield H.S. Class of '75.

"It didn't take a whole lot of my budgeting background to understand it wasn't balanced," Bass says of the district budget. "I knew in June that we were out $7 million. My clock's been ticking since [then] for answers and everybody acts like this just happened in October."

On nights at home, she sometimes works out complicated school-board issues by herself using a white board she bought for the purpose. She reads everything thoroughly, she says, "And then I put on the Mary Filters." Well, the Mary Filters don't like what they're seeing these days.

On Olchefske, whose leadership style has been under fire since the budget fiasco became public:

"I wholeheartedly don't support him. He hasn't really assured me that he can make these changes--which are really the most difficult ones--that have to do with his management style. He's got to give me something more than these four bullet points and 'I've got the skills.' Tell me something more exacting." (Bass says she hasn't decided whether to call for Olchefske's resignation yet, but she has begun meeting with him in an effort to better gauge his competency. One of those meetings will go down on November 21.)

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