As The Stranger's new parenting editor, Goldy is following up later this morning with his take of what went down at the debates last night, as I am both childless and mostly opinionless when it comes to school district politics. But for now, here's the bare bones recap of what occurred.
After a series of Seattle Public School scandals involving everything from shuttered schools to mismanaged funds and fired superintendents, the big question at last night's Seattle School Board debate before a crowd of over 200 concerned parents and teachers at Town Hall was: Do challengers Sharon Peaslee (running for North Seattle's District 1 position), Kate Martin (Greenlake's District 2), Michelle Buetow (Downtown's District 3), and Marty McLaren (West Seattle's District 6) have that special blend of competence and crazy (they fucking work for free) to make our school district, with its 48,000 school kids, second to none?
Host Dave Ross first led all of the challengers and incumbents Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris through a battery of questions, like: Should Teach for America students, armed with five-and-a-half weeks of training, be allowed to teach in Seattle's schools? The four challengers answered no. The incumbents, yes.
Peaslee, Martin, Buetow, and McLaren also believe that individual schools in the district should have the power to craft their own curriculum, while the incumbents do not.
But the head-to-head debates that were the most convincing (after each, the 200-strong audience got to vote by text for a winner). The elusive mix of intelligent craziness shined the brightest in the race for District 2: Carr vs. Martin. When Carr denied that it was "passing the buck" to fire superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson after a parade of scandals, "I apologized," she said, "I work a full time job."
Martin hit back: "Goodloe-Johnson came from a puppy mill of superintendents that cranks them out with five weeks of training," Martin said to applause from the crowd. "I know some of these people didn’t hire her but they should’ve been on the lookout. She brought criminals with her. At her performance review [with the school board], she failed to meet her 20 stated goals. But instead of showing her the door, they gave her a contract and a raise."
After which, Martin won with 62 percent of the audience vote.
In the race for District 1, nebbish* incumbent Maier won 52 percent of the audience vote by explaining, among other things, the work he's done (and will continue to do) to raise funds for Seattle's schools.
"One reason the levy lid increased in Seattle was because I personally worked on that," Maier said. "We need an income tax, we need tax reform, but until we get there we need to build relationships with the legislature and build the budget cap. It’s also important that we live within our means. In two years, we’ve reduced our central district staff by one-third, putting us in line with other school districts throughout Puget Sound."
In comparison, Peaslee's response, "I will structure a campaign, led by the school board, to propose solutions to increase funds to the state coffers," fell short.
Watching District 3 challenger Buetow debate Martin-Morris was like watching a menopausal beauty queen argue with a yawn. In the end, the yawn won 53 percent of the public vote.
And finally, McLaren, who was debating herself (incumbent Steve Sundquist canceled due to a family emergency), won big applause by declaring that, "There is no reason whatsoever to have teach for America recruits in Seattle schools... This is an idea funded by wealthy people outside the city with an agenda that has nothing to do with the students of Seattle." McLaren also hearts math and thinks closing the achievement gap takes a "comprehensive approach with wraparound services." Sounds logical, if a bit vague.
In the end, McLaren's race wasn't voted on because some members in the audience argued that, "It wouldn't be fair." Because as in public schools and in life, text voting should always be fair.
*Goldy calls it as he sees it.