With the rest of the city closely watching key races for the mayor’s office and the two citywide seats on the city council, who gets elected to the Board of Directors for Seattle Public Schools doesn’t get as much attention. The Seattle School Board also runs its elections in an unusual way. The city is carved up into seven districts — Capitol Hill is in District 5. During the primary election, people vote only for a candidate in their district. When the general election comes in November, the races are thrown open citywide, with everyone in the city voting for a candidate in every race.
For now, we’ll focus on the more immediate decision. The summer is the time for primary elections, and board member Zachary DeWolf opted not to run again after serving one term, so the seat is open.
That leaves three candidates vying for an open District 5 seat. Voters will get to choose one, and the top two finishers will face each other in November to determine the winner. The race is nonpartisan.
And, like in many places around the country, Critical Race Theory is making an appearance. The theory is a roughly 40-year-old concept which until a few months ago was largely relegated to discussions within academia and the legal profession until it became a flashpoint for conservatives around the country, who are really, really against it.
We’re not going to get into it in detail here. If you want to understand the debate, you can Google it. We’ll let you know which candidates have taken a public stance on it. Seattle Schools doesn’t have policies which formally use the term, but the district does have policies which seem informed by some of the ideas it espouses.
Here’s a look at the District 5 candidates.
Dan Harder is in his first school board race. He ran as a Republican against state Sen. Jamie Pedersen in 2018, losing by a 91-9 margin. Harder is a mechanical engineer by trade and lives on Capitol Hill. He opposes Critical Race Theory and wants to excise anything with a whiff of it from Seattle Schools.
He also wants to remove encampments of homeless people from school district property, using private security if necessary, and then billing the city for it. There had been a large encampment in Miller Park, near Meany Middle School, which was cleared a few days before students returned to in-person school last April. Another large encampment still exists at Broadview Thompson K-8 in Bitter Lake, and it’s causing some tension between the school district and the city.
Beyond that, he calls for getting students back to school next fall with necessary Covid precautions, and allowing for continued remote learning in some situations.
Crystal Liston ran for school board in District 6 (West Seattle and South Park) in 2019. In a three-way August primary, she finished third, with 10 percent of the vote. She also ran for school board in Issaquah in 1999 as a 25-year-old where she lost 67-33.
This time around Liston, who now lives on Capitol Hill, is running in Seattle’s District 5. She is a parent of children in Seattle Public Schools. She is also a “professional volunteer,” who says she has volunteered in 20 different Seattle Public Schools. She notes that the school board positions are volunteer, so she’ll have time to devote to the office.
Liston says the district has racial equity problems which should be fixed. She also identifies other issues to be addressed, such as a lack of counselors and social workers, and the district using a “white-controlled curriculum.”
Michelle Sarju has lived in the Central District for 34 years. She works as a manager at King County Public Health, after having also worked as a social worker and midwife. She is a former member of the Garfield High School PTA. She filed to run for the seat in 2017 but then withdrew prior to the primary election. She has had two children who graduated from Seattle Public Schools, and a third who was in the system until an encounter with a racist teacher.
Sarju generally supports the ideas of Critical Race Theory. She was quoted by the South Seattle Emerald speaking at a rally in support of the concept in June. One of her top priorities is closing the racial equity gap she sees in Seattle Schools. Beyond that, she wants to invest in helping schools and students deal with the lingering effects of COVID-19. She’d also like to end standardized testing.
In November, there will be two other school board races to consider. So, while this is a decision for future you, here’s a little bit to get you thinking.
District 4 (Queen Anne, Magnolia and parts of Ballard) has a four-way primary. Incumbent board member Erin Dury (she was appointed to fill a vacant seat and now stands for election for the first time) will face Vivian Song Maritz, Herb Camet, Jr. and Laurie Marie Rivera. Capitol Hill voters will not see any of them on their August ballot, but they will see the top two finishers on the November ballot.
District 7 (Southeast Seattle) has only two candidates, so there will be no primary. In November, Capitol Hill voters, along with the rest of the city, will have a choice between incumbent Brandon Hersey (who was also appointed to fill a vacant seat) and Genesis Williamson.
Wednesday night, the Seattle Council PTSA is sponsoring a candidate forum to help you make your decision:
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE FORUMWednesday, July 21st5 to 7 PMSeattle Council PTSA is proud to host a virtual candidate forum for School Board positions in Districts 4, 5 and 7. This is a great opportunity for candidates to share their platforms and to answer questions from community members across the district. Members of our communities are encouraged to submit their questions prior to the forum by emailing [email protected]Our officers will compile a list and will give candidates an opportunity to answer the same questions. Depending on time, there might be one or two questions specific to each candidate. Zoom link below.Hope to see you there!– Seattle Council PTSASeattle Council PTSA is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.Topic: School Board Candidate ForumTime: Jul 21, 2021 05:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/97290853848…Meeting ID: 972 9085 3848Passcode: 161132
Primary Ballots were mailed out to all voters July 14. If you didn’t receive your ballot go to the King County Elections website. Voter pamphlets were also sent out in the mail. If you haven’t gotten yours, or if you just don’t like paper, there’s one online.
The deadline to return ballots is Aug. 3. Ballots can be dropped in the mail (no postage needed) by that date. Or they may be returned to a ballot drop box. Boxes are located all over the county, including one near Seattle Central Community College, and one near the Garfield Community Center. However, they may be returned to any drop box in the county, so long as they are there by 8 PM on Election Day.
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