Long-running communications issues and the uncertainties students, parents and teachers have experienced during the last school year in Seattle are motivating six candidates to run for a seat on the board that governs Washington’s largest school district.
There are three Seattle Public Schools seats on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election in Districts 4, 5 and 7.
In the last year, Seattle schools have confronted numerous hurdles. The former superintendent left her position because she had a strained relationship with the board, one School Board member resigned, and a citizens group attempted to recall the entire board for failing to adequately plan for a return to classrooms.
Now that school has returned to a full-time, in-person schedule, the district is grappling with a shortage of bus drivers and recently cut 142 routes, leaving parents scrambling to find ways to get their kids to school.
Candidates spoke of the immediate need for improvements in transparency and described changes the district needs to make to fix long-standing transportation and communications issues.
The deadline to drop off ballots is 8 p.m. Nov. 2.
District 4 candidates
Two candidates are running for a seat in District 4: Laura Marie Rivera and Vivian Song Maritz. District 4 includes Queen Anne, Magnolia and Ballard. The incumbent, Erin Dury, lost in the primary election.
Rivera, who has four children in Seattle schools, says she has been an educator for 30 years in the public and private sector, where she’s taught kindergarten, school programs at museums, and art education for adults and children.
“I think the absolute best things to do would reimagine the whole system after this whole year of not having in-person school,” Rivera said.
Rivera is concerned that some students have better access to educational programs than others and if elected she would be committed to closing that gap, she said.
For example, Rivera says she believes students with disabilities have been forgotten by Seattle school officials, and work still needs to be done to ensure they aren’t being left out or harmed.
Rivera says she’s concerned about the national bus driver shortage and how it’s been affecting Seattle school students. The district needs to make the job more “attractive,” she said.
“Very few people are seeking out a low-paid, odd-hours, underappreciated job,” she said. “We need to make it [bus driver salaries] a living wage [to make] sure people are able to … access health care.”
Song Martiz also spoke of the need to tackle the transportation issues, and said bus drivers need to be paid more and have health care and other benefits. Song Maritz says she has more than 15 years of experience in private sector finance and management, and that this experience will allow her to understand the district’s billion-dollar budget better than others.
“I think that I have lived experiences that this board currently needs,” Song Maritz said. “I’m a daughter of immigrants, English is my second language, and I have a hearing disability.”
Song Maritz, who teaches Mandarin and has four children, three of whom attend Seattle schools, said she would “pay special attention” to communities that have been historically overlooked, like students with disabilities and English learners. She also said she would focus on the mental health needs of students and getting counselors and school psychologists in every building.
To run for the District 4 seat, Song Maritz had to move into an apartment in Ballard. Before the election filing deadline, she was living at Capitol Hill, where her family currently resides. She said she spends a “significant amount of time” at her Ballard residence and that after the election, she and her family will figure out their living situation.
“I am deeply committed to District 4 and serving families and students, as well as the broader Seattle schools districts and I really believe I’m the person with lived experiences that the district needs to address the pressing issues around equity,” Song Maritz said.
District 5 candidates
Michelle Sarju and Dan Harder are running for District 5, which includes downtown, Capitol Hill, Chinatown International District, First Hill, Leschi, Madison and the Central District. Zachary DeWolf, who currently holds the seat, did not file for reelection.
Sarju, who works for King County as a maternal and child health project manager, said the pandemic has pushed her to run this year because students of color were the most affected. Prioritizing students’ emotional and mental health is key, Sarju said, as well as having nurses and counselors at every building.
“I want to collaborate with board members, district [officials], and unions to be champions of children,” Sarju said.
Sarju said the district needs to stop “dancing around the problems” of transparency and communication especially regarding the scenarios of school shutting down again. To avoid COVID-19 spikes after the holidays, the district should consider going back to virtual learning until after winter break, she said.
Children under 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine, she said, and people, including children, are still dying from COVID-19. Parents need to be notified of every possible scenario, Sarju added.
Harder, who ran as a Republican for the state Senate in 2018, did not respond to recent requests for an interview. In a July interview, he said he’s campaigning on safety, excellence and equality.
Harder, who said he has worked at Boeing for 23 years, said if elected he would focus on high expectations for students, and make sure the school system fosters equality and quality education for everybody.
He also said he’s choosing to run because he thinks children are wrongly being taught that all social disparity is caused by intentional systemic racism. That kind of thinking divides communities, Harder said.
District 7 candidates
The candidates running for District 7, which encompasses southeast Seattle, are the incumbent Brandon Hersey and Genesis Williamson.
Williamson did not respond to requests for an interview, and did not provide any information for the King County voters’ pamphlet.
Hersey was appointed to the board in September 2019 after former member Betty Patu resigned. He taught second grade for five years in the Federal Way School District and he said he “fell in love with it.” He currently works as a political director for Protect 17, a union representing engineers and other professionals at the city, county and state levels.
Hersey said school boards need to play a “prominent and active role” to provide safety nets for communities because over the pandemic, when schools were shut down, families weren’t able to access the types of resources and programs that schools traditionally provided.
“Education [and public service] is something in my blood and I try to approach that in the lens of equity and what we can do to support the most marginalized student,” Hersey said.
If reelected, Hersey said he would continue to focus on student engagement, specifically getting student board members to participate in meetings and discussions.