The two Seattle School Board races for seats representing mostly North Seattle are hotly contested by newcomers.
In District 1, director Scott Pinkham isn’t seeking reelection. Either Liza Rankin, an artist, or Eric Blumhagen, a naval architect, will replace him.
District 3 director Jill Geary is moving to London with her family and also won’t seek another term. Independent consultant Chandra Hampson and Rebeca Muñiz, a former education policy researcher, are vying for Geary’s seat. District 3 covers northeast of downtown, including the University District, but every Seattle voter gets a say in each board race in the Nov. 5 general election, regardless of geography.
Although they would all be new to the board, each has extensive experience in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). Most have volunteered. Some participated on advisory committees, researched district policies or served on parent-teacher boards. In some cases, their networks overlap: Rankin and Hampson both have support from Seattle’s teachers union, for instance, and worked together on the Seattle Council PTSA, the citywide parent-teacher-student association.
Both races have also attracted lots of cash, relatively speaking, bringing in about $96,000 in aggregate. As of Oct. 23, Hampson raised the most of any candidate running for a School Board seat this election cycle — and Blumhagen spent the most.
Also on the ballot: Lisa Rivera Smith, a parent running unopposed to replace Rick Burke in District 2, and School Board President Leslie Harris, who is locked in a race against challenger Molly Mitchell, a program director at Seattle Central College.
What’s at stake in districts 1 and 3?
District 1: The artist and the boat designer
By day, Blumhagen, who is 43 years old and lives in Loyal Heights, designs commercial boats and uses data analysis to help captains operate safely. He’s used similar skills to mine school district data and advocate for his two children and others in Seattle schools.
In 2016, he served on a team of advocates and sleep researchers who convinced officials to move school bell times for middle and high school students. In 2008, as the district moved to shutter several schools, he probed enrollment data and predicted the district would need those schools within a few years. He was right.
He wants a seat on the board because he says he’s witnessed recent snafus that might have been avoided, such as last year’s school-bus crisis. “If we’re not dealing with issues like transportation and food service, then people aren’t going to trust us to work on the big issues,” he said.
To this end, he says he intends to widen the scope of the superintendent’s performance evaluation to include more operational concerns.
Blumhagen’s supporters say he shows up when a problem needs fixing, even if it’s outside his neighborhood. When district officials cut ties with the Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA) this year, “Eric got involved, he did public records requests, he did follow-up, and research,” said Sarah Sense-Wilson, UNEA’s executive director.
Rankin, who is 40 and lives in Meadowbrook-Lake City, has a similar reputation for action. When teachers were on strike in 2015, she brought coffee and cookies to picket lines and was active on a social media group dedicated to the cause. She has since built deep relationships with educators and parents.
Rankin is a Seattle native and an artist and has two sons in elementary school. “I have skin in the game,” she said. “I have more of a sense of urgency probably because I have younger kids, but also because I have relationships outside of my school community.”
On one of the district’s thorniest topics, gifted education, she said she supports moving such programs to neighborhood schools. She wouldn’t support ending the district’s highly capable cohort program entirely, she added. She also has a passion for special education, which grew when her sons attended an inclusive early education program.
Her supporters say she’d bring sensible judgment to budgeting or other big decisions.
“She can be a bridge between all parties — and she can analyze the data,” said Kate Eads, a friend and teacher-librarian at Northgate Elementary School, who has worked with Rankin to improve equity among the district’s libraries and served on the Seattle Education Association union’s bargaining committee.
Rankin was just a few points ahead in the August primary election, with 41 percent of the vote; Blumhagen captured just over 38 percent. As of Oct. 23, Rankin’s fundraising campaign had raised almost $24,000. Blumhagen had brought in just over $27,000.
District 3: Experience versus “youthful optimism”
Hampson and Muñiz both say they intend to fight for social justice in schools, strengthen dual language programs and improve transparency within the district.
But they’re offering different styles of action — Hampson touts her experience, while Muñiz says she will bring a fresh perspective.
Hampson, who is 49 and resides in Windermere, is a community and economic development consultant and was the front-runner in the August primary, when she won about 57 percent of votes. Muñiz, an education policy researcher, received 24 percent.
One of Hampson’s biggest strengths, her supporters say, is her extensive SPS experience. She served on committees dedicated to family engagement and the district’s strategic plan and was the first Native American to serve as president of the Seattle Council PTSA. Hampson also brings almost 20 years of experience in finance and community development, skills she says would be useful for district budgeting.
Muñiz, a 27-year-old Roosevelt resident, said she would bring a “youthful optimism.” She earned a master’s degree in education policy and leadership from the University of Washington, and at the time, she conducted research on Seattle schools’ racial equity programs. She has since worked as a program coordinator for UW’s department of psychiatry and behavioral health sciences. She is now running her campaign full-time.
Muñiz said she is the “product of all the programs Seattle Public Schools is trying to advocate for.”
“I have a really unique perspective coming from a Latinx community, coming from an LGBTQ community, an immigrant community,” she said.
She takes a firm stance against charter schools. Hampson does too. Hampson made one caveat, though, and said that in some native communities, charter schools are the only option. She said she doesn’t fault these communities for supporting such schools, she said. None of Washington’s nine charter schools exist on reservation land, but several schools enroll Native American students, according to the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
Hampson’s campaign raised more than $29,000 as of Oct. 23; Muñiz had raised almost $15,600.