When The Seattle Times editorial board endorsed Leslie Harris over incumbent Marty McLaren in the 2015 election, it cited the longtime parent advocate’s eye for details, analytical mindset and avowed commitment to increase transparency and improve communication between the school district and its constituencies.
The endorsement came with a caveat: The outspoken Harris would need to demonstrate her ability to work collaboratively, and focus not only on problems but solutions, the editorial board wrote.
Four years later, Harris has shown she can do that. She again is the best qualified candidate to serve Seattle School Board District 6. But again, the board’s endorsement comes with an asterisk.
Should she be reelected, Harris, who has quickly risen to positions of influence on the school board, must step up efforts at transparency.
Harris became the board’s vice president in 2016. She is in her second year as board president. In some ways, she has appeared to embrace the responsibility to communicate with the press and public. For example, she holds office hours at the John Stanford Center and hosts regular community meetings. But she often has been less forthcoming with news reporters seeking information on the public’s behalf. Recently, Harris did not return a Times news reporter’s call for comment about the cost of a new teacher contract. In another instance, she declined to comment to a Times reporter about District 7 representative Betty Patu’s resignation. Tendered just three days after the filing deadline, that resignation left it up to the board, not the voters, to decide who would fill out the last two years of Patu’s term.
In a meeting with editorial board members, Harris said she had been advised to steer well clear of making public comment on bargaining issues. That does not preclude her, as the leader of the elected school board, from commenting generally about the district’s finances. She danced around questions about Patu’s resignation, saying, “Do I wish things had turned out differently? You betcha. But those were director Patu’s choices.”
Her campaign website is heavy on endorsements, but thin on discussion of issues or priorities for a potential second term.
Harris’ challenger, Molly Mitchell, clearly values transparency and meaningful community engagement. As director of student support programs at Seattle Central College, she works to remove educational barriers for students from historically marginalized populations.
But Harris’ experience with the district and proven leadership are valuable commodities, particularly as the district prepares to seat a new board mostly comprised of first-time directors.
Voters should return Harris to office. If they do, Harris must redouble her efforts at transparency and communication, being as proactive as possible about keeping stakeholders informed.