The Seattle School Board Needs You

by Erin Okuno

Educating children is a community responsibility. Our schools are entrusted to educate students and uphold our city’s values. In Seattle, our elected school board directors are elected to be the voice of the public in our educational system.

This coming fall three of seven school board seats will be on the ballot. It is important for residents in the city to be involved in the election, including in running for office and learning and voting for candidates whom you believe will best represent our students and values. As a community, we need to think about our schools and who they are educating and not educating, Seattle currently has the fifth worse racial achievement gap in the nation.

It is important for us to ask hard questions of current board members and those running for office about their racial equity vision for the school district and how they govern for racial equity.

This year the following school board seats will be up for re-election:

  • District IV, currently held by Director Sue Peters—Belltown, South Lake Union, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard. Finishing first term.
  • District V, currently held by Director Stephan Blanford—International District, Downtown, Capitol and First Hill, Central District, Madrona. Finishing first term.
  • District VII, currently held by Director Betty Patu—SE Seattle. Finishing second term.

Directors are elected to serve four-year terms. Once in office directors are expected to govern in the best interest of all students not just those in their districts. We have not checked with nor heard if the incumbents are planning on running again.

A vibrant and democratic society relies upon people stepping up to say they will run for office. Even if a candidate doesn’t win, their presence in the race changes the conversation by putting forth new ideas and priorities to consider. This is part of how we ensure our public education system is sharing our community’s values.

When listening to candidates, take note on how they talk about race. Are candidates talking about race and racial justice, or are they speaking fakequity (fake-equity): all talk and no concrete plans around closing opportunity and achievement gaps. Directors should be able to focus on governance and policy, especially as it applies to racial equity. As voters, taxpayers, and concerned residents we have the responsibility of vetting candidates and asking questions about what we value. We need to continually ask our elected board members and candidates hard questions about what does race and racial equity mean to them and how they plan to guide the school district in closing opportunity and achievement gaps. 

In the coming years, there are several important issues facing our Seattle School Board including:

  • Closing the opportunity and achievement gaps between white students and students of color.
  • Capacity and space challenges in some parts of the city and the ripple effect for south Seattle schools.
  • Potential defunding and privatization of public education from the Trump Administration.
  • Budget shortfall and continue to work with the State Legislature to fully fund public education.
  • City of Seattle’s Families and Education Levy and Seattle Preschool Program will be up for renewal and a public vote.

Directors are expected to be present at school board meetings which happen twice a month on Wednesday evenings, as well as committee meetings about two or three times a week. During board meetings, directors hear from the public during public testimony, debate, and vote on policies.

Important Dates

The deadline to file is 19 May.

Primary election is 1 August voted only by people living in the district of the candidate, the top two candidates move to a citywide election on 7 November.

Erin Okuno is the Executive Director of Southeast Seattle Education Coalition and is a Seattle Public Schools parent. 

Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to javacolleen/ via Flickr

4 thoughts on “The Seattle School Board Needs You”

    1. We get $50 per meeting day (2 meetings on one day is still just $50), capped at $4,800 per year. You can get reimbursement for mileage, and conferences are covered in terms of fee, travel and food. The time commitment is what you make it – for me more than 20 hours per month, and mentally it takes up much of my waking day. But the work is so important, challenging and rewarding. You have 4 main tasks: make policy, supervise the superintendent, approve the budget and act as a liason between the community and the district.

  1. 1) Director Blanford has said he is not running. Not sure about Peters or Patu but it is likely that both will.

    2) Rep Reuven Carlyle has been a champion for paying Board members in our three biggest districts in the state – Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma – a salary because of the huge responsibility and large budgets involved. He has never gotten any traction fro the Legislature. As a result, despite the work, Seattle directors only get about $4600 a year (and that likely barely covers gas costs).

    As for the time, there’s generally two board meetings a month (about 3-4 hours long), committee assignments (once a month, a three-hour meeting), school visits a couple of times a month, community meetings for constituents at least once a month for a couple of hours, plus prep time for all those meetings and meeting with other elected officials. It’s at least 20+ hours a month but most directors put in much more time.

    3) There are real issues to be considered and addressed but directors are responsible for all students within the district.