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November 6, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Change is coming to the Seattle School Board

Stephan Blanford

Stephan Blanford,

Change is coming to the Seattle School Board. Board President Kay Smith-Blum and Boardmember Michael DeBell are leaving. Replacing Smith-Blum is Stephan Blanford, an educational consultant who won election last night over his opponent, LaCrese Green.

School Boardmember Betty Patu was unopposed in her bid to retain her District 7 seat. The third race between Suzanne Dale Estey and Sue Peters was too close to call last night.  Peters was leading Dale Estey by 3 percentage points. The outcome of this race will have a huge impact on Washington state’s largest school district. Dale Estey, like Blanford, has worked both inside schools and for nonprofits working to improve public education. Many people have opinions about education, few have devoted professional and personal time to improving it.

Sue Peters

Sue Peters

Suzanne Dale Este

Suzanne Dale Estey

Wednesday’s school board meeting offers a good example about what is at stake on the board.   The district is in the midst of redrawing attendance boundaries, changing school assignments for some students and deciding the fate of some schools. Dozens of people have signed up to testify before the board, nearly two dozen alone signed up to speak about the takeover of the Horace Mann school building by community organizations advocating for African American students.

The board is expected to vote on whether to enter into two lease agreements that would get the organizations out of Horace Mann. It would not be a moment too soon. The project’s contractor has had a crew standing by to start work on Horace Mann since Sept 18th and estimates $100,000 in cost delays already. But that’s not the worst of it. School officials from the facilities and security departments along with outside contractors went to the Mann building on Monday about 8 a.m. and were surprised by six people who blocked them from moving through the building and threatened them physically. Are these the people Superintendent José Banda wants to enter into a partnership with?  Banda has the right instincts to listen when people demand attention, particularly when it comes to the long-standing problems around academic disproportionality.  But he should not put up with, nor subject his employees, to bullying, threats and intimidation. At this point, talks about a district-Africatown partnership ought to be off until cooler heads prevail. If the group wants to get serious, get rid of the fringe element  horning in on what could be a promising community partnership.

In other education-related news, I’m disappointed that Amendment 66, the $950 million tax hike attached to school finance reform, went down to defeat Tuesday night in Colorado. The Denver Post reported that with almost half of the statewide votes counted, it trailed by a substantial margin, 66 percent to 34 percent. As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote approvingly about the initiative recently:

“It does direct more money proportionally to poor schools and at-risk students. Fingers crossed. Because even if (this) plan turns out to be imperfect, it’s a relatively bold stride in a country too accustomed to baby steps. And those just aren’t good enough when it comes to children, knowledge and the future itself.”

In the end, Colorado voters rejected even baby steps. Too bad because the initiative was not simply a reach into taxpayers’ wallets, it was a grand promise of fully funded schools in exchange for needed reforms. People tend to want the money without change or change without anteing up to pay for it. Do you think this measure would have passed in Washington?

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