Betty Patu, a longtime educator and community leader, announced she would step down from the Seattle School Board on May 15 — three days after a King County election deadline that would have triggered an election to find her replacement.

Instead, because Patu missed that deadline, the board members will have the rare opportunity to choose their new colleague by majority vote. They kicked off the process to do that on Friday, after weeks of delay.

Patu, first elected in 2009, is the board’s most seasoned member, and will leave her seat representing South Seattle schools in the middle of her third term July 1. The last time the board got to pick its own member — without a public election — was in 1995.

The district posted the timeline and application materials to its website Friday evening, about three weeks behind the schedule originally announced by School Board president Leslie Harris. In late May, the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, or SESEC, sent an email asking the board for more information and public input on the process. Representatives from several organizations, including the teacher’s union, signed on to the message.

“Nobody is more frustrated than I am,” Harris said over the phone on Monday. “It’s slower than I like, but I think the process will be a good one and transparent one,” said Harris, who had originally hoped the board could avoid a vacant seat over the summer.

The delay was in part because the board and district wanted to ensure the public would have access to translated and paper materials to vet the candidates, she said.


Their appointee will represent students attending the city’s most racially diverse schools, and an area the district has neglected for building renovations and resources. The appointment will last through 2021, when they will have to run for election to keep the seat.

“We’d love to see a candidate that has deep roots and is from the community, and has a strong understanding of leadership governance for racial equity,” said Erin Okuno, executive director for SESEC. “I’m going to be listening for their track record” and reputation, she added. 

The board is taking applications — and public input on the questions that board members should pose to the candidates — until June 28. The applicants will be announced July 5, and each will have a website listing their résumés, letters of interest and answers to a questionnaire.

Then the timeline gets fuzzier.

At some point in late July or early August, the board will hold a forum at the Rainier Beach High School library, which will also be livestreamed and include translation services for Spanish, Somali, Chinese and Vietnamese speakers, as well as American Sign Language.

Board members will vote for their candidate of choice at public meeting in August, the date of which has not been set. The winner will be sworn in at the board meeting Aug. 28.

The rules for eligibility mirror those for candidates running for public office in King County. The applicants must live in the area of the district defined as District 7.

To find the application and submit your questions to the candidates, visit