When it came time for the quick yes-or-no questions at a recent election forum in West Seattle, two of the candidates in this year’s hottest Seattle School Board race sounded similar.
Were they for charter schools? Sue Peters and Suzanne Dale Estey held up “no” cards. Did they support this year’s teacher-led boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exams? That drew two yeses. They answered no on Teach for America, a program in which recent college graduates become teachers after a few weeks of summer training, and yes for having attended 10 or more School Board meetings.
The biggest differences between the two — the front-runners in a three-person race — lie more in their supporters, their work and school experiences, and their views on the role of the School Board, an area of contention for current board members.
In the primary, Peters and Dale Estey are running for the open seat in District 4, which covers Queen Anne, Magnolia and part of Ballard. The third candidate is Dean McColgan, a former Federal Way City Council member who is running a more low-key campaign.
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Three other candidates are running for a second open seat in District 5, which covers parts of Central Seattle and Capitol Hill.
Incumbent Betty Patu is running unopposed in District 7 in Southeast Seattle.
In each race, the two candidates with the most votes in their district will advance to the general election, when voters citywide will chose the winners. School Board members earn no salaries, although they get a small stipend to cover expenses.
Peters, 48, is a freelance writer and education activist who has established views on issues such as how math should be taught, and the role of private groups — including foundations — in public education. Her supporters include four members of the School Board, and a number of activists such as Jesse Hagopian, one of the teachers who led the MAP boycott.
Peters stresses the board’s role as a representative of the community.
She “can help ordinary parents and teachers reclaim the board,” Hagopian said.
Peters has served on two district task forces and says her activism started when the district proposed closing Lowell Elementary, which her two sons attended. She fought the closure of that school and others, and helped organize other parents to do the same.
She co-founded the Seattle Education 2010 blog, and is working on a parents guide to public-education advocacy. She also is a founding member of Parents Across America, a national advocacy group that opposes much of what’s considered education “reform.”
The problems with Seattle’s current School Board are not as bad as they have been portrayed, Peters said, and she thinks the board must ask questions to properly fulfill its oversight role.
“One person’s micromanagement,” she said, “is another person’s due diligence.”
Dale Estey, 43, stresses that the board needs to operate at “the right altitude,” which she doesn’t think is happening now.
But she also says she thinks the board agrees on 85 to 90 percent of what it does, and needs to focus on that.
Dale Estey’s supporters include King County Executive Dow Constantine, former King County Executive Ron Sims, mayoral candidate and Democratic state Sen. Ed Murray, about a dozen state representatives, five members of the Seattle City Council and four Metropolitan King County Council members.
As of late last week, she had raised about $47,000 to Peters’ $9,800. Dale Estey’s biggest contributors include business leaders such as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and investor Chris Larson.
At the West Seattle forum, Constantine praised her as someone who can get things done.
Dale Estey grew up in Seattle, and, as president of the Inter-High Council as a high-school senior, was the student representative to the School Board.
She has worked for local, state and federal government, including serving as a government-relations manager for Sims when he was King County executive. She also has worked for Washington Mutual, and, before starting her own consulting firm, was Renton’s economic-development director.
She has two young boys, both of whom will be at Blaine K-8 this fall.
McColgan, 56, said he won’t raise any money for his campaign unless he advances to the general election. In addition to having served as a Federal Way council member, he has been a longtime youth sports coach. He just started a new fundraising job at Solid Ground, a nonprofit social-services agency, and before that was director of development at the Museum of Flight.
He supports charter schools, but doesn’t like the MAP tests or the district’s elementary math curriculum. He says he has a big learning curve when it comes to education but understands the role of elected officials.
In District 5, the apparent front-runner is Stephan Blanford, 51, who has worked for a number of youth-development organizations, including the Rotary Boys & Girls Club. But he decided to go back to school to study education, saying he realized that education is the biggest factor in whether young people succeed.
He has a doctorate in education policy from the University of Washington, where he wrote his dissertation on the achievement gap, which he calls “unconscionable.”
He is married to Janet Blanford, an administrator for Seattle Public Schools, and they have a daughter who will be a fifth-grader at Beacon Hill International School this fall.
Blanford is the only candidate in the District 5 race to raise much money to date. Parent Olu Thomas said she has not raised any, and tutor LaCrese Green says her total is $1,300. Blanford has about $22,100 in donations to date.
Green, 70, has worked as a tutor for 15 years. She ran for the board in 2005 and lost. She said the key to improving education is to buy textbooks for each subject, teach that material, then test students on it.
She would like to see the district retain the Indian Heritage Middle College, and reopen the African American Academy because black parents “have a right to their own school if they want it.”
When the late Cheryl Chow, a former member of the School Board and the City Council, was sick with cancer, Green sent her a letter saying she believed Chow could not go to heaven if she didn’t ask forgiveness from God for being gay. Chow’s partner, Sarah Morningstar, made the letter public, saying she did not want a School Board member who didn’t support all families.
Thomas, who declined to give her age, said her priorities include finding alternatives to suspension, and providing rigorous curriculum to all students. She taught for several years in Nigeria before she came to the United States 20 years ago.
She is now unemployed but has worked for Salvation Army and the University Churches Emergency Fund. She also is part of a group that is fighting to keep Seattle Public Schools’ Horace Mann building as a community center.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LShawST