by Erin Okuno
Southeast Seattle, District 7, is currently without a school board director. In June 2019, Director Betty Patu announced she would be stepping down from her board seat July 2019. Patu had 2 years and 4 months left in her term. This left the remaining six school board directors to fill the seat through an appointment process. Last night, August 21, the board narrowed the field to three candidates: Brandon Hersey, Emijah Smith, and Julie Van Arcken.
Thus far the process has not prioritized the voices of District 7 in more than a token way. After the vacancy was announced, 38 people representing 35 organizations signed a letter to the school board with very specific requests about the process. Some of the request have been filled and we thank the school board and school district for working to make those happen.
Other requests have been done in a haphazard way or have not happened at all, such as prioritizing District 7, filling the seat within 30 days, and publishing information and timelines in a timely manner. School board President Leslie Harris stated in a board work session that the board has 90 days to make the appointment, according to state law. The school board is taking 77 days from the start of the vacancy to making the appointment. They knew about Patu’s departure 6 weeks before she officially vacated her seat.
This is the first time in recent history the Seattle School Board has had to make an appointment to fill a board seat. We understand the desire to get the process right and to take time to ensure community participation, and we must balance that with a timely appointment to ensure the Southeast region has representation on the board. Taking 77 days, especially while also knowing the board had 6 weeks prior to the vacancy, does not inspire confidence in the appointment process.
The timeline most likely won’t change at this point. As a community we want to know how the school board will ensure and prioritize representation from the Southeast in decisions they are currently making and how community voice is being prioritized in their search process. Thus far the board hasn’t prioritized or disaggregated District 7 feedback, nor have they prioritized Africans and African Americans voices even though the Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan specifically calls out African Americans and those farthest from educational justice. Disaggregating feedback, using a targeted universalism approach of seeking input, and prioritizing Africans and African Americans and others farthest from educational justice is an important way to bring the strategic plan alive in this process.
The next phase of the appointment process needs to hold to the standards of transparency, inclusion, and prioritizing District 7 residents. This includes:
- Providing more notice of meetings and online recordings and sharing of board work session meetings.
- Disaggregating input and data and prioritizing data input from District 7, especially African Americans and other Blacks, Indigenous, People of Color furthest from educational justice.
- At the Sept. 11 public meeting, the questions asked should come from District 7 residents, especially African Americans and People of Color farthest from educational justice as a way to ‘live’ the Seattle Public Schools Strategic plan. If time allows or carving out a smaller time allotment should questions from the broader public be asked. SESEC has shared information on how the Board can easily make this shift.
77 days is too long to go without representation, 84 days if you count the week between the appointment and when the new school board director starts. Important decisions, such as the budget, have been made without Southeast Seattle students being adequately represented. I recognize the timeline probably won’t change at this point, the silver lining is the pool of candidates is great. Our ask now is for a transparent, fair, and community centered process that prioritizes Southeast Seattle.