Four of seven seats on the Seattle School Board will be up for grabs this November, and nearly all of the 14 people interested in filling them are newcomers.
By the Friday afternoon, King County Elections online filing deadline, Board President Leslie Harris was the only incumbent with a registered campaign. Two others are challenging her for the West Seattle seat.
The lack of incumbents will spell another period of musical chairs for the district’s decision-makers. Five different superintendents, including Denise Juneau, have led the district since 2011. Each leader prompts new vacancies at the top levels of the district.
Whoever wins the support of voters will bear the responsibility of financial and policy oversight of the state’s largest school-district, with an annual budget of about $1 billion. The newcomers will join board whose senior-most members may have, depending on the election results, a term or less under their belts.
Betty Patu, who has represented South Seattle schools for almost a decade, announced her resignation during Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, saying it “was time for someone new to come in” to her spot. Her last day will be June 26, more than two years before the end of her term in November 2021.
Had she announced her departure just three days prior, voters would have been able to elect her replacement, who will serve out the remainder of Patu’s term. Instead, per King County election rules, there will be no public vote: The board will take applications from the public and determine who will hold the seat.
Beyond the fact that she felt like it was time, Patu did not provide more detail about why she was leaving in the middle of her term. Patu said she decided to step down a few weeks ago. Had she been aware of the deadline, she said, she would have spoken up sooner.
Board President Harris said Patu told her about her decision in early April. When asked if she tried to tell Patu about the deadline, she declined to comment, adding that she did not have notice about the date Patu planned to announce.
“It’s Betty’s decision,” said Harris. “I’m not going to comment on that. I have enormous respect for Betty.”
Board Vice President Rick Burke also declined to answer the question.
More information on the appointment process, including the applications, will be on the district website in about a week, Harris said. The eligibility rules are the same as running for an elected seat. Applications will be open for about three weeks, and Harris expects there will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the candidates.
“Whether it’s through election or appointment, community voice is going to be the main driver” of the decision, said Burke.
Patu said she cherishes her time on the board, which gave her the opportunity to push back on the mistreatment of students of color in district. A longtime community leader and educator, Patu moved to Seattle from American Samoa as a child. Patu mentioned on Wednesday that she had one person in mind she wanted to recruit to apply, but did not share her name.
The board may have to appoint another member in the fall if Zachary DeWolf, who represents the Central District, wins a City Council seat in November. He is challenging incumbent Kshama Sawant.
The remaining incumbents — Jill Geary, Scott Pinkham and Burke — have all declined to run again. Pinkham and Burke both cited the large workload as a challenge to their full-time jobs. Geary is relocating with her family to the U.K. for her husband’s work.
School board work is time-consuming, demanding heightened attention and a flexible schedule during critical times such as teacher contract negotiations or superintendent searches. Members receive up to $4,800 in compensation per year for meetings. The district can reimburse them for expenses related to their role, including travel to conferences. They are expected to attend regular meetings, convene often with their constituents and hold district staff accountable.
Here is the list of who is running, according to the King County Elections website. Candidates have until Monday to withdraw their registration.
- District 1 (incumbent Scott Pinkham): North Seattle — Broadview, North Beach, Olympic Hills neighborhoods
- Liza Rankin
- Eric Blumhagen
- Sanaz Saadat
- Michael Christophersen
- Darcie Kline
- District 2 (incumbent Rick Burke): Northwest Seattle — Green Lake, Greenwood and Fremont neighborhoods
- Lisa Rivera Smith
Rebecca Wilson(withdrawn) Melissa Westbrook(withdrawn)
- District 3 (incumbent Jill Geary): Northeast Seattle — Sand Point, View Ridge and Bryant neighborhoods
- Benjamin Leis
- Chandra Hampson
- Rebeca Muniz
- District 6: West Seattle and South Park
- Molly E. Mitchell
- Leslie S. Harris (incumbent)
- Crystal S. Liston