School board leadership is complicated. There’s no doubt about that.
But Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson and board Operations Committee Chair Zachary DeWolf seem bent on making the job infinitely more difficult by stirring up controversy rather than solving problems. The drama over homeless encampments near Broadview-Thompson K-8 school and Edmond S. Meany Middle School is a case in point.
Campers at Bitter Lake Park moved onto school district property next to Broadview-Thompson school last July, according to neighbors who reached out to city and school officials on March 18. They shared photos showing needles and paraphernalia, and tents and belongings within a stone’s throw of the school playground at 13052 Greenwood Ave. N.
The district’s response has been to have families, students and school staff use another school entrance and lock the gate between campers and school grounds. An official district statement “recognizes the magnitude of this issue across the city, and would welcome support from the city to provide outreach, assistance, and shelter/housing alternatives.”
“The district does not have the expertise or experience to facilitate meeting the needs of the (homeless) people who are located near Broadview-Thomson,” SPS Spokesman Tim Robinson wrote in an email on Friday.
That’s a far different tone than Hampson’s March 28 Facebook post to supporters — since taken down — about the encampments, “demanding” that the Seattle mayor, City Council and U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency “IMMEDIATELY begin case management and outreach, with full collaboration from community and schools as a collective embrace of our neighbors.” She further demanded that “sweeps NEVER be performed on school grounds, adjacent or elsewhere in this City.”
Yep, that’s how the mayor found out about Hampson’s concerns. Through social media, not in a solution-seeking phone call or Zoom meetup.
Hampson’s protestations aside, the elementary school encampment is on district property, and therefore the responsibility of the school district, not the city.
Days earlier, DeWolf sent an email to Mayor Jenny Durkan, Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller and some City Council members asking for help with the encampment at Miller Park, which encompassed the play field all the way to the south end of the Meany school building. He wrote, “I want to state very clearly this is not an ask for a sweep!”
In fact, city outreach providers already had been working for months to connect people living at Miller Park to shelter, Durkan’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Formas advised City Council members in a Wednesday email. After extensive effort and ample notice, the remains of the encampment were cleared in anticipation of the first day of in-person school. Meanwhile, the Broadview-Thompson situation remained unresolved.
Perhaps Hampson and DeWolf feel they’re driving change, bulldozing through levels of bureaucracy. They’re actually creating chaos, disempowering the people with direct authority and real insight into the situation, and squandering time and energy rather than focusing on their own important work.
That sort of mission creep and failure to effectively focus on the board’s primary responsibilities is exactly what has led some parents to seek recall of six Seattle School Board members. A judge is expected to rule Monday if there’s sufficient grounds for that effort to proceed.
School boards are responsible for high-level policy direction, not pointing fingers or micromanaging district operations. School supporters should keep that in mind as they recruit qualified candidates or consider their own run for school board in the August primary and November general elections. Filing week for Seattle school board candidates in districts 4, 5 and 7 is May 17-21.