New Seattle (Wash.) School Board Could Bring Significant Change to District

Courtney Williams's picture
Friday, December 9, 2011

The Seattle School Board that met for the first time Wednesday may not look much different from the previous one, but it's likely to pursue an agenda that could significantly change how the city's schools are run.

The arrival of two new faces โ€” Sharon Peaslee and Marty McLaren โ€” promises to change not only the priorities of the seven-member board but also its dynamics, introducing a component that has been missing from board decisions over the last two years: drama.

"I think there will be a lot of close votes," Peaslee said. "For all the School Board watchers out there, I think they'll be in for a lot of entertainment โ€” some nail-biters and some surprises."

The two newcomers beat Peter Maier and former board president Steve Sundquist by running campaigns focused on increasing community input in decision-making and combating national education-reform solutions. But though they will find some common ground with other members of the board, particularly Betty Patu, they may have a hard time getting a majority to enact many of their campaign proposals.

In fact, board observers say, the major difference between this board and the last is the absence of a like-minded majority of members that could almost always be counted on to vote the same way. The board's new makeup will require more persuasion and consensus-building, they say.

"The balance of power has shifted," said Melissa Westbrook, a former Seattle Council PTSA president who writes for the Save Seattle Schools blog. "It's now balanced."

Jonathan Knapp, vice president of the Seattle teachers union, predicted debates will be broader.

Based on public speeches, Peaslee and McLaren (and Patu) are likely to disagree with the two incumbents who won re-election last month, Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris.

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