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Why Does NO ONE want to be on the Seattle School Board?

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.

This is a horrible job. No pay for what is really a full-time job.  The board members do not just set policy, they are expected to act as ward heelers, fixers for every parent that wants something for their kid or their neighborhood. Meantime, the board responds to outside politics, especially racial politics.  In a city with unimaginable wealth, Seattle has NO prestigious high school but does have schools noted for their basketball teams.  Of course, in a city that has become largely free of black folks, at least if that means African Americans, more than one now very white school imports talent from other places.

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A ward heeler is an American urban political operative who works for a political party in a political ward. A ward heeler gets his power by serving the needs of constituents.  The term originated during the period of machine politics around the turn of the 20th century, when powerful political machines in major cities run by political bosses, such as Tammany Hall, used graft and patronage to maintain their power.

Please do not get me wrong.  I believe the board members are often good people. BUT, in this city, most affluent parents send their kids to private schools.  The result is a School District that acts more like an old east coast charity hospital, catering to the needs of poor folk while dependent on the dubious generosity of the upper classes.

I certainly do not want to say that our board is corrupt.  They are not. Typical board members come from interest groups, the PTA, the teachers union, or neighborhood activists.  What is notable, however, is that with no salary, the Seattle School Board Director must either have a working spouse, be retired or have some organization providing support. The image of a citizen-director is false unless you think that no one with a job can serve.  At least when I was growing up Mike Feeney, our ward heeler, was paid by the Democrats!

The other huge influence is the Teacher’s Union.  Leaving aside the question of whether the union has management expertise or an understanding of how a modern curriculum fits into our tech world, the union has money.  They have the ability to help the board make decisions by providing information, albeit biased toward union interests.   In one sad case a huge offer by Amazon to subsidize a computer skill program in the schools was blocked because  Amazon insisted that the SPS provide an annual evaluation of how well the teachers were doing.  In the same manner, the teachers’ contract blocks special pay for skills other than the typical ed school skills of the union membership.  I know of outstanding people, a former US Navy submarine captain, a high-level database manager, an accomplished professional athlete, and others, none of whom were qualified to meet Seattle standards or, if they did get hired after getting a teaching certificate, would get no extra pay reflecting their credentials.  At the risk of offending Seattle’s teachers, back at my own childhood in a mob-run city, this is very familiar.

Still, I KNOW kids can get an education in the SPS.  Despite all. there are great people who choose to teach in Seattle.   IF they have parents willing to fight hard for Bonnie or Satya to get into special programs and willing to fight very hard with a district with no time to think to about such kids.

 


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