SURE, the mayor of Seattle and the council do not have direct responsibility for Seattle Public Schools, but the quality and consistency of the schools have a direct impact on the city’s livability.
Voters think so, having approved the four-year Families and Education levy which pays for academic support districtwide seven times. The last time, voters agreed to double their investment from $116 million to $231 million.
The mayoral candidates are paying attention too. Mayor Mike McGinn cites rapid turnover in district administration. Former councilmember Peter Steinbrueck calls the current system of an elected school board a “broken” governance model and would consider appointing board members or paying board members salaries to attract candidates with credentials rather than agendas. Kate Martin would put pressure on the district by refocusing priorities with the Family and Education levy, which she says is applied a mile wide and an inch deep, and Joey Gray would strengthen collaboration between the city and the schools.
Indeed, City Hall is apparently skeptical enough of the district and the board that it has not relinquished tight control of levy money since the first measure was passed in 1990. The city awards competitive grants to schools and education-related nonprofits. It does not simply hand over the dough.
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McGinn has used the levy to broaden access to preschool and bolster academic achievement throughout the K-12 system. He has also targeted the levy toward the district’s low-income schools.
Some candidates acknowledge the Seattle Public Schools model might be a problem. State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle was once so dismayed by the Seattle’s board dysfunction that he considered in 2006 drafting legislation allowing a school board to be replaced with one appointed by the mayor and governor. That’s not his current position. Like many of the candidates, he would use the “city’s investment in education” — the levy — to influence district priorities.
Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell would use the mayor’s office to press for a national review of school boards and their best practices. He would not be opposed to changing state law to have some appointed board members and some elected. The result would be a board with skill sets the district needs.
Mayoral candidates should also refine their visions for parent engagement, early learning and early support for struggling students and ways to support Superintendent José Banda.