South Seattle Gems: Lisa Cooper

Lisa Cooper
Lisa Cooper

Gems is a column devoted to spotlighting the various denizens who contribute to the rich mosaic that is the South Seattle area.

Who: Lisa Cooper

Best Known Around South Seattle As: “That” lady who never met a volunteer opportunity she didn’t like

Special Trait: Inexhaustible charm she disseminates freely throughout South Seattle

Motto: “Yes!!!” (To whatever wide eyed idea you just presented her with that will improve the southend)


What do you like most about South Seattle?

The people.  The ‘struggle’.  You know in horticulture, the sweetest fruits are from plants that have endured some stress in order to survive. When the roots have to look harder for water and nutrients in the soil, they produce more sugar.  I think that process is alive and well in the varied and vibrant communities of South Seattle.  People from all walks of life seem to come together more readily here than elsewhere in the city.  Conversations tend to flow easily- even when not speaking the same mother tongue.  Everyone is wanting the same thing essentially which are solutions and fixes to the myriad challenges we face.  We may all have different ideas about how to go about bringing  the change that is  needed- but it is precisely these differences in perspective that make our group dynamic so powerful.  Worldly people working together to make it happen, all while embracing our differences and celebrating each other.  Folks from Somalia, South America, South East Asia, Ukraine, Japan, the  Philippines, the USA – making great change together.   Making art and music together.  Crafting policy together.  Teaching children together. Building community together. It is the quintessential Great American Story. Of course, the process is not without its strife- but even that part is essential.  Making our victories all the sweeter.


You live in the much maligned area of Skyway, which some call South Seattle’s red headed step child. What is the most surprising thing about it in comparison to other areas of South Seattle?

Skyway may look funny or scary  or inconsequential on the outside- but true riches are tapped by scratching the surface.  There are some very, very cool people and places here.  Full on creative class.  I am surprised and delighted that you can have roosters here.   I did not realize that they are against the law in King Counties incorporated parts.  There are a few in my neighborhood and it is  a joy to hear them crowing  on sunny mornings.  The little dudes are kind of lazy actually (thankfully) so they tend to crow later in the morning rather than at the crack of dawn.  Either that or they are very well trained.  Unincorporated King County Roosters Rule.  Another pleasant surprise is that we have among the best water standards in the entire nation in Skyway.  Serious shout out to the Skyway Water and Sewer District.  At what other utility around here can you call and actually have a friendly , knowledgeable person answer the phone and take your payment while chatting about the neighborhood?  Its a throwback to easier times.  Where I live we have well water that is so pure I now notice how bottled waters  taste ‘off’.  The views of Lake Washington and Mt Rainier are insane from this perspective.  There is a vantage point a few blocks from me where the panorama of Lake Washington looks like Switzerland.  Mt Rainier looms majestically from points all around the West Hill.  We are so very lucky that this area is  beautiful, relativity untouched and still quite pastoral.  It is an asset to be carefully protected from the run-away train that is the overly dense urban development here in the Puget Sound region.  Biggest surprise of all is that there are no current residents or any recorded history of the Duwamish Tribe up here on the West Hill. They inhabited this land long before we came along  with our maps, boundaries, claims and county lines.  Duwamish villages stood all along Lake Washington, the Black, Cedar and Duwamish rivers. How did they use this land up here on the hill- of which Skyway is centered?  It was Duwamish hunting grounds for goodness sake.  I have a hunch that if one were to follow the origins of Renton Ave South, it would trace back to a trail made and used by the Duwamish People.  Somewhere there is a Duwamish burial ground up in the Earlington neighborhood.  Chief Seattle’s Mother was Lake Washington Duwamish- from what I gather her people lived in a longhouse on the ground that is now the Boeing/Renton Municipal Airfield.  The last Chief of the Duwamish- Henry Moses- grew up on that land.  He attended Renton High School and was their star football player in the 1920s.  How cool and how mind blowing is that?  I feel strongly that we need to invite the Duwamish People back to the area.  They would be a potent force in helping to envision and construct a new way of life here in Skyway, the West Hill and all of South Seattle.

One more surprise and then I will stop.  Surprised that the Renton School District is the largest employer in Skyway.  And that they are so readily engaged in helping make this a stronger community through open thinking, accountability and access.  They are a huge resource.  But we need family businesses here.  That could change things for the better.  A restaurant like the much beloved and recently closed  Silver Fork on Rainier(still mad at Safeway for that land grab) , a coffee house, a bakery, a pizza place, Mom and Pop hardware store, thrift shop.  Right up there by the new library that is being built.  Gathering places for our ready community.


You work at Ebbets, which is a throwback jersey and vintage flannel maker, if you were going to produce throwback jerseys for some South Seattle neighborhoods what would they look like?

This is such a fun question I can hardly stand it.  I am one of the founders and owners of Ebbets Field.  We have been crafting products based on sports history for 26 years now.  Teams most always derived their names from something specific to a town or a region. So having said that…

Columbia City Millers.

Columbia City used to have multiple saw mills.  Once cut and stripped,  logs would shoot down to Lake Washington- to be then transported around the region by boat or by train.  Colors could be Dark Green and Blue.  Logo would be a Doug Fir

Seward Park Owls.

Natch. Did you know that Owls do not poop? They regurgitate everything.  And that coyotes wrongly get a bad wrap about missing cat when owls are usually the true culprit.  You learn all of this on the evening owl walks  in Seward Park.   Colors would be brown and gold like their eyes

Rainier BeachBoyz.

Nod to resident great Jamal Crawford who (I believe) coined the phrase.  There is something truly special and different about the talent coming out of Rainier Beach High School. In basketball they have a drive and a talent and a vibe that is unmatched. And it keeps going on and on and on.  Stress=sweeter fruit could be at play. Colors Royal Blue and Orange.  Mt Rainier is the sleeve patch.

Skyway Transformers

The Coast Salish- of which the Duwamish are a tribe- have stories to explain the origins of everything.  These are called Transformer Stories. This name also acknowledges all of the dedicated residents that are living and working together to transform Skyway into something even better. As lastly- it ties into the giant electrical transformers cutting a swath thought the heart of the area- bringing light and heat and compromised views.  That would be the logo- a giant transformer.  Colors  silver and black

Mt Baker Capitalists.

Sorry- I couldn’t resist.  Mt Baker has the most money of all of these neighborhoods and is known for its mansions and its views. Unimaginative- I know.  Colors: 3 shades of Green.


If you had the power of the goddess Athena what would you bestow upon South Seattle?

Another great question.  Athena. Known as the Goddess of War. She was most adept at strategy.  And was equally adept at peacemaking.  It is said she created the olive tree. That is pretty powerful stuff: creator of food, shelter, fuel..  I would borrow her powers to help devise wise strategy for the future successes of South Seattle.  And to help people see when it is better to extend the proverbial olive branch rather than fight over it or fight with it.  A good listen reveals The Blue Scholars “The Long March” EP as Athena.  I think it is the soundtrack of South Seattle. Masterful in showing the duality of  our situation here. One hand open and the other closed into a fist.  That’s the other thing I would do – get everyone a copy of that album, a quiet room, a great pair of headphones, an easy chair and nothing but time to listen and ponder the message and the musicality of this fine work coming out of our area.  Its about 10 years old now- and just as on point today as when it first came out.  Perhaps more so.


Five years from now what would you want someone to  be able to say about South Seattle and Skyway that can’t currently be said now?

For South Seattle- that it is the most progressive area in Seattle with admirable success rates  in housing, education and job creation programs.  Envied and copied around the nation.

For Skyway-  Vast open space protected from development while our central business district is forwarded as a thriving retail and service sector resulting in multi-lingual  growth,education and job opportunities for our children and adult residents. And seeing the Duwamish people welcomed back to their home turf and in turn helping to forward our progress.


The Artists Have Landed: Artspace Mt.Baker Has a “Grand” Opening

by Curran Knox

Mt Baker Art Lofts
Younger residents play at Artspace Mt. Baker’s “Chalk Walk.”

On October 1st 2014, individuals gathered in droves underneath the Mount Baker Light rail station in a space referred to as the Plaza, for the Artspace Mount Baker Lofts grand opening to the public. The seemingly ordinary space that is typically rushed by commuters, students and families had been transformed into an outdoor amphitheater. Rows and rows of seating visitors and residents faced the honorary stage while many more stood in bunches peering with curiosity. What exactly is Artspace and what does it mean for the neighborhood? “It encompasses everything that we stand for,” Judith Olson from Quantum Real Estate, one of the major funders for the project, expressed.

Artspace works to provide low income artists, their families and arts organizations with affordable and sustainable places to live and work. They do this with the hopes that the artists and arts organizations plant roots within the community, and thus become an inseparable force of revitalization and growth.

The Open House for the new Mt. Baker Lofts project provided visitors with the opportunity to meet the residents and to view the lofts, as well as the organizations that occupy the commercial spaces. It also provided residents with the opportunity to feature their work. Residents overwhelmingly express love for the project and their new residences, ranging in price from $428-1,281 per unit. Some of the residents have grown up in South Seattle while others are new to the area. Robert, a local who lives on the hillside just behind Mt. Baker lofts expressed concern about the whether or not Artspace is supporting the life and community that already exist in the neighborhood. Robert, who has seen many of his tenants move south to Renton because they could no longer afford rent, expressed frustration with revitalizing a neighborhood that cannot support its tenants. Two of his housemates did not make the cut after applying to live in the Mt. Baker Lofts.

Artspace has shown a deliberate investment into building partnerships with community based organizations and artist in the area. James Wong from the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) feels strongly that Artspace truly cares about cultivating the history and cultural identity of the neighborhood, referring to their efforts as “preserving the culture, language, and richness here,” as VFA prepares to launch the first Vietnamese-English bilingual preschool in Seattle out of the commercial space. A capoeira studio and a center that supports artist with disabilities have moved into two of the commercial spaces as well. Tobya Art Gallery, owned and operated by Admassu Guessese, opened to feature African artists. Urban Wilderness Works, an organization that has been in operation for 10 years out of South Seattle has also moved in, sharing a commercial space with Washington Trail Association, operating a gear lending library for leaders working with groups. These are only a few of the organizations that now call Mt Baker lofts home.

While Artspace does receive 10-15 percent of their funding from private funders, public funding makes up 75-80 percent of their funding stream, making Artspace residences quite sustainable. The public funding that each project receives is a combination of resources allocated for transit-oriented or cultural preservation real estate development, as well as Tax Credits reserved for Low Income Housing and also Historic Preservation. Other funders for this project include Impact Capitol, Washington Community Reinvestment Association (WCRA), The Department of Housing Trust Fund, and 4Culture. Representatives from all of the major funders shared some remarks on their willingness and excitement to continue funding the project. Since its inception in 1979, Artspace has opened the doors 36 artist residence projects and 11 more are in development. This does not include the 223 consulting projects that they have carried out. This particular residence is a transit-oriented space with no allocated parking associated with the building.

Artspace started with the intention to address gentrification in neighborhoods around the country. They strategized a way to keep artists in the district, moving from the approach of barriers, to seeing the infinite creative and cultural wealth. As a result, Artspace experiences artists as community builders, creators, and entrepreneurs.

Album Review: Mary Lambert’s “Heart On My Sleeve”

by Mary Hubert


Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

When I settled down to listen to Mary Lambert’s first album, Heart On My Sleeve, I knew her only as the woman featured on “Same Love” by Macklemore. Being a Seattleite hipster, I of course know all of the words to the song, and very much appreciate Lambert’s voice on the track. Therefore, it was with excitement that I clicked the first track, a song called “Secrets”. The first lyric was: “I have bipolar disorder”. Okay, I thought, A bit overly direct, but it could work. The song was upbeat, a bit like the Alanis Morrisette song I always wanted, with a catchy chorus. Although not very insightful, it was honest, and though simplistic, I definitely didn’t hate it.

The next song was more of the same – entitled “So Far Away”, this one reminded me more of Kelly Clarkson than Alanis. It hearkened back to the music I loved when I was 13, depressing lyrics matched to a bouncy melody that any bitter preteen could yell along to. “Ribcage”, her third song, featured both KFlay and Angel Haze and was a pleasant, though slight, departure from Lambert’s previously established pattern. Though the Angel Haze feature was rather unnecessary, the song’s quality matched the lyrics in a far more effective way than the first two on Lambert’s album.

Fourth in line was a slam poem called “Dear One”. This would have been absolutely perfect for the first track – dark, short, and a bit corny, it would have set the mood for the album very nicely. However, as a fourth song, it was just plain too much. The emotion in Lambert’s voice by this time added corniness rather than honesty to the track, and I found myself tuning out what I might have been interested in had it come before three depressing songs.

“Dear One” was followed by the token ballad, “When You Sleep”, which might be described as the desperate girl’s anthem. That being said, when I was in my early teenage years it would have reduced me to tears. Not just quiet tears, either, but those deliciously messy bawling-and-screaming-lyrics-in-your-mom’s-borrowed-minivan tears. Again, a hearkening back to the early 2000s in a way that I didn’t quite hate. However, this song was a bit less innocuous than the other bits of preteen fluff. With lines centered on changing for another so that they will continue to love you, it reminded me of the trend in modern pop culture that taught me and many others everything I know about the wrong way to love someone: to give up yourself so that another will love you enough to stay. This sentiment is prevalent in most music geared toward teenagers, and it makes my hair curl just a bit – if Lambert is so keen on advertising herself as a progressive, queer, women’s right-oriented young lady, then that shit has no business on her album.

The rest of the songs ranged from Avril Lavigne to Fiona Apple and back to Alanis and Kelly, carrying through the 2001 angst sound relatively seamlessly. I found myself nodding along to many of the remaining tracks, and even genuinely liking a few. The title track of the album was among the best of these; with a strong base line and catchy hook, it channeled Sara Bareilles’s vivacity and charm. Others, including another ballad entitled “Wounded Animal”, were not so strong.  Regardless, the rest of the album ended without incident, and each song strung together to form a cohesive piece.

Ultimately, as I compared each track to different early 2000s female songwriters, and reminisced about the good and bad themes from my childhood favorites, I was struck with Lambert’s intelligence. This album seems marketed toward the current generation of young teenagers, which, let’s face it, is where the money is at. Though maybe not the most original writing I’ve ever heard, Lambert certainly isn’t offensive, and if her themes on love are a bit sappy and misguided, at least she isn’t promoting misogynistic views. Would I recommend this album to my music-savvy adult friends? Absolutely not. Might I buy it for my 14 year old cousin? Definitely.

The bottom line: Sounding like a mix of every female singer from 1995-2005, Lambert’s first album is rather immature, both in content and song structure. However, the work as a whole is inoffensive, and I found three or four tracks musically interesting. This CD might not make waves in music history, but would probably be a good Christmas gift for any young teenagers around the house.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

“Let the Youth Prison Crumble to Dust”: An Open Letter to Mike O’Brien

Editor’s Note: This letter was written by the author in response to the pending construction of the King County Children and Family Justice Center building that many in the  south Seattle community have deemed a “youth prison.” The Seattle City Council will be convening at City Hall Monday at 2:00pm to vote on allowing amendments to the City’s current land use codes that will aid in the development of the building. Councilmember O’Brien’s reply follows the letter.

Credit, Wikiphoto


Dear Councilmember O’Brien,

I was at the hearing two weeks ago on the zoning issues regarding the new juvenile justice center.  I supported and campaigned for you in the last city council election, in no small part due to your courageous stand regarding the tunnel. While some thought it was grandstanding, I viewed your position as genuine conviction and imagination.

Have you to considered the similarity of the tunnel and juvenile jail situations?

The tunnel was approved by an electorate who saw a piece of crumbling infrastructure, and decided to upgrade it. You were convicted that the car-centric, carbon-reliant solutions were fundamentally flawed, and you called on us to have greater imagination. You worked to fight the tunnel at every turn, even in settings that were not intended to be referendums on the tunnel (specifically) or fossil fuel-based economics (generally).

Consider now the new youth jail.  If anything this vote is less of an honest reflection of the will of the people than the tunnel was.  A cursory read of the ballot initiative for the jail demonstrates that the language was obfuscating– it was described as a juvenile justice center for social services, and hardly mentioned the fact that is primarily a jail. Regardless of that reality, people saw a crumbling building and were told there was no option but to replace it.

I say let the youth prison crumble to dust and be eradicated from memory.  Rather than replace a jail for children (which you surely know has housed black and brown children in outrageously disproportionate numbers) with a sturdier version of the same monstrosity, please issue a call for us to envision better solutions.  The country of New Zealand, provinces in Canada, schools in Oakland, and municipalities around the world have replaced incarceration-based juvenile justice systems with restoration-based juvenile justice systems, and done so with incredible success.

Big Bertha sits in a money pit, and eventually will enable the release of huge amounts of carbon in the name of convenience.  At least you stood against it.  Can we count on you to make as courageous a stand for the sake of our youth as you did for the sake of our environment?

Thank you,

Rev. John Helmiere

Valley & Mountain Fellowship

5623 Rainier Avenue South

Seattle, WA 98118


Councilmember O’Brien’s Response:

While I am planning to support this land use change King County is requesting, I do not support the disproportionate arrest, sentencing and detention of youth of color.  I have tried to use this land use code change to leverage an opening for concerned communities to get a seat at the table with the County—including many young people of color who will be most impacted by this new facility and who have largely been left out of the conversation to date.

I understand I am letting those same communities down by supporting this land use change, but my support for it is resulting in positive, constructive steps with the County that they were not considering even one month ago. The County is committed to conducting a racial impact analysis and is committing that the findings of that analysis will influence the design and programming that happens at the new facility.

Through this process, I am also committing the City and myself personally to be actively engaged in the racial impact analysis, including looking at specific actions that the City can take to reduce the racial disparities for youth in the criminal justice system.

City of Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien

Sunday Stew: My Daughter’s Eyes

by Monique Franklin

D Eyes

My daughter has the most beautiful eyes

she has the prettiest chocolate brown eyes

I have ever seen

when I see her eyes

I want to eat them all up

and when I eat them all up


those dark chocolate centers

see through to the center of my soul

and just take my love straight from the source

in those eyes

burns fire enough

to burn this whole place down

so the earth may be reseeded

growing the greenest lush ever imagined

in her eyes

in those eyes

there are questions that I am not ready with answers

they question you

they question me

it hurts to see

that her questions are already questioning she

I see pain

in my daughters eyes

in those eyes

is a fierce agent

equipped with intelligence and reason

sonic hearing devices that make we wish I didn’t talk so

loud sometimes

with a memory to argue reality down to the seconds

creativity to trick the truth

she’s definitely got her mother eyes

in her eyes

in those eyes

in my daughters eyes

the prettiest eyes

the fiercest eyes

the wisest eyes

I find joy

and when those sleepy eyes close

safely after another day of living

I find peace in her eyes

laying with my daughter in bed

last night

she started talking to me

in her poets voice

and she said:

“My mom has the most beautiful eyes

she has the prettiest chocolate brown eyes

I want to eat them all up

and when I eat them all up

I have ever seen

when I see her eyes

I say


Seahawks’ Game Day Prediction

by Clint Elsemore

seahawksThe game against Washington involved some blatantly wrong calls, some poor execution, and a lack of turnovers from the defense, but still resulted in a comfortable road win.  The Seahawks also remain mostly healthy, when compared to the attrition throughout the league, our team is in great shape to take advantage of the schedule getting easier, and return to the Clink for some home cooking against Dallas this week.

Dallas is on a 4 game winning streak, and even the first loss of their season at home to the 49ers featured 4 fluky first half turnovers that cover up the fact that they controlled the better part of that ballgame.  Dallas features strong skill players in Dez Bryant and emerging 2nd year wideout Terrace Williams coupled with Jason Witten at TE, but the team is now based around DeMarco Murray and their strong running game.  No team has more rushing attempts than Dallas, and only the Seahawks average more yards per game than the Cowboys.  Their offensive line is young and extremely talented, pass protecting Romo much better this year and clearing huge holes for Murray to run through.

On defense Dallas has forced turnovers at a good clip to help cover up some of their warts.  They don’t stop the run very well, and are prone to also give up the big passing play.  They have rushed the passer well using a collection of little known ends and tackles, and are amongst the league leaders in QB pressures on the year.  Overall they give up considerably more yardage against the pass and the run when compared to the Seahawks unit though, and should have difficulty with the efficient offense the Seahawks possess.

I expect the first quarter to be strength on strength with Dallas trying to establish the run versus the Hawks league leading run defense.  Dallas will have limited success early on, and Murray who also leads the league in fumbles will put a ball on the ground in the first half leading to Seahawk points.  The Hawks will grind out tough yards between the tackles via Marshawn and get at least one big play over the top for a touchdown building a two score halftime lead.  In the second half Dallas will open things up some, but I don’t expect them to abandon the run.  Romo will throw at least one pick, but they will score a couple of times making the final tally closer than the game would indicate.  The Seattle run D stops Murray’s hundred yard game streak limiting him to 80 on the ground.  Russell finishes with another strong game with over 200 yards passing and two scores to go along with two rushing TDs by the backs.

Final game prediction: Seahawks 34 Dallas 20

McCleary: A Major Opportunity For Washington State

by John Stafford

McClearyThe McCleary decision (McCleary vs. State of Washington, 2012) is one of the most momentous events for public policy in modern state history.  It asserts that the state is failing in its paramount duty:  “…to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” (Washington State Constitution, Article IX, section 1).  This decision calls for a major increase in funding for K-12 education – roughly $4.5 billion per biennium by 2018.  The upcoming legislative session will be dominated by negotiations on how to meet this demand.  This article offers seven observations on McCleary.

  1. The McCLeary decision represents a direct indictment of Washington State governance.  High income states tend to spend more per pupil on education – but not Washington State.  We are 44th in the nation in per pupil spending as a percentage of personal income.  The state’s courts have ruled repeatedly that public education is not appropriately funded (e.g., 1977, 1978, 1983, 2007, 2009).  Moreover, citizens have voted for increases in educational funding (e.g., I-728 and I-732 in 2000).  For a variety of reasons, these efforts have not led to sufficient reform.  Thus, despite repeated judicial interventions and citizen initiatives, the state’s educational financing system remains dysfunctional.  Worse, prior to McCLeary, there were no consequential plans afoot from the governor or the Legislature to address this glaring problem.
  2. The McCLeary decision represents an indirect indictment of Washington State’s taxation system.  The biggest factor driving inadequate education funding is a poorly designed tax system.  With no personal income tax, constraints on property tax increases and a corporate tax code filled with exemptions, Washington operates at a severe competitive disadvantage relative to other states.  In my last article (“Washington State’s Broken Tax System,” September 2, 2014), I noted that between 1995 and 2011, Washington fell from 11th to 37th in tax revenue as a percent of personal income.  A broken tax system leads to a broken educational financing system.  Period.
  3. Holding the Legislature in contempt of court is entirely appropriate.  Despite a court order to develop a funding plan by April, 2014, the Legislature did nothing.  Thus, the Supreme Court’s decision to find the Legislature in contempt is appropriate.  I disagree with the former Washington governors who argued against the ruling for two reasons:  their argument was an after-the-fact attempt to defer a contempt finding rather than a before-the-fact effort to change the compliance deadline; and the Court’s directive for the Legislature to develop a funding plan for McCleary prior to the 2015 session was both reasonable and desirable.
  4. There is no easy way to fund McCLeary.  In the upcoming legislative session, there will be large claims for extra funding for K-12 education, higher education and the state transportation budget.  The improving economy will provide some additional revenue, but not nearly enough to meet these demands.  Thus, a tax increase and/or spending cuts will be mandatory.  Citizens (and the Court) should be wary of accounting gimmickry, whereby funds are taken from a non-education account and moved into education in order to comply with McCleary, leaving the raided accounts to be backfilled later.  Many analysts (including retiring Senator Adam Kline) claim that several hundred million dollars of the initial wave of McCleary funding was “achieved” in this manner.
  5. I-1351 should be rejected.  This initiative calls for a reduction in class sizes.  This is an important endeavor, as Washington State has average class sizes that are among the highest in the nation.  However, the initiative should be rejected for fiscal reasons:  the money necessary to finance it is considerable (several billion dollars per biennium); this funding is incremental to McCleary; and no one in the state has any idea how to pay for it.  I-1351 is exactly the right initiative at exactly the wrong time.  The focus should be entirely on McCleary.
  6. McLeary should provide the impetus to overhaul the state’s tax system.  A confluence of factors make this an ideal time to modify Washington State’s tax system:  the current system is broken (as noted above); McCleary requires significant additional funding that the current system is not well-equipped to provide; and the improvement in economic conditions makes tax reform more viable.  A restructuring should include a combination of strategies (e.g., a major repeal of corporate tax breaks, an income tax on higher income earners, a capital gains tax, a reduction in regressive taxes, etc.),  leading to a modest net tax increase.  An inferior approach is the mere tweaking of the existing system – with Democrats working for the closing of several tax loopholes and Republicans calling for “education first, other priorities later” (which is, of course, code for cutting social programs to pay for McCleary).
  7. McCleary represents an opportunity to rethink public education in Washington State.  Anytime an institution (in this case the education system) is infused with a substantial amount of additional funding, an opportunity exists to redesign the system.  The McCleary funding can support significant new investment in early learning; efforts to more tightly integrate early learning, K-12, and higher education (rather than managing them as separate, standalone entities); and other reforms.  McCleary should not just be about educational finance; it should be about education system design.

The Legislature can address the McCleary requirements using one of two philosophical approaches.  The first is a narrow, partisan approach that sees McCleary as a burdensome problem to be begrudgingly solved using incremental adjustments to the existing system.  The second is an expansive approach that sees McCleary as a unique opportunity to simultaneously restructure three major and persistent state problem areas – tax policy, tax level and education system design.  The adoption of this second approach will require powerful leadership and bipartisan support – attributes that thus far have not emerged.  Indeed, all initial indications – the approach to generating the first $1 billion in McCleary funding; the failure of the parties to meet to develop an April, 2014 funding plan; and current rhetorical posturing (the depressing “close some loopholes” versus “education first” debate) – indicate that the narrow approach will be pursued — to the immense detriment of the state.  Rahm Emanuel stated that, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  The McCleary challenge provides a rare opportunity for Washington State to restructure its troublesome tax policy, tax level and education system.  One hopes that this occasion is not squandered.

John Stafford is a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools and a former management consultant in corporate strategy.  He recently completed a run for State Senate in the 37th District.  He is writing a monthly article on public policy for the South Seattle Emerald.

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