Opponents of Seattle ‘Controlled Choice’ Initiative Claim ‘Victory’ After Race Ends Too Close To Call

By William Snider — November 15, 1989 2 min read

The results of a referendum on Seattle’s new “controlled choice” student-assignment plan were too close to call last week, with the final outcome to be decided when absentee ballots are received and counted over the next two weeks.

Passage of the nonbinding initiative would create significant political and financial incentives for the district to abandon its controlled-choice plan, which is in its first year of implementation. (See Education Week, Sept. 27, 1989.)

Late last week, the initiative was trailing by 102 out of the 130,000 votes cast. The final results may not be known until Nov. 22, when the election is scheduled to be certified.

Opponents of the initiative, noting that it had once enjoyed a three-to-one margin of support in opinion polls, said the closeness of the contest represented a victory for their side.

“Any way it goes it’s not a mandate,” said Collin Williams, the dis4trict’s director of desegregation. “It will only tell us that a certain number of people oppose controlled choice, and the same number of people support it.”

The initiative’s supporters said they believe it will prevail when the absentee ballots are counted.

They attributed the narrow margin in votes to the initiative’s prominence in the city’s mayoral race and the fact that the two sides were moving closer together during the campaign.

The initiative’s fate was “inextricably tied to the mayor’s race,” said Katherine Baxter, a parent with two children in the public schools and director of the initiative campaign, which was called Save Our Schools.

“The moderation on the part of the candidates for mayor had more to do with the vote than the initiative’s opponents’ campaign,” she said.

The mayoral contest saw Michael White, who campaigned against the initiative, become the city’s first8black mayor. He defeated Douglas Jewett, a co-author of the initiative, by more than 25,000 votes.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Mr. White and school officials announced that the plan would eliminate the need for mandatory busing of students within four years.

The school board also modified the plan in the week before the election by allowing half-day kindergarten students to attend their neighborhood schools and by agreeing to develop a mechanism to target resources and attention on schools that fail to attract sufficient numbers of students.

Backers of the initiative also altered their stand during the campaign, saying they would be willing to retain some of the plan’s provisions, at least during a transition to a system that would not use race as the basis for pupil assignments.

“The debate changed to how are we going to [end mandatory busing] and when,” Ms. Baxter said.

A main purpose of the plan was to reduce mandatory student busing. School officials said it has reduced the number of students bused for desegregation purposes from 3,000 last year to fewer than 1,000 this year.

Ms. Baxter disputed these figures, saying that there is “a semantic dis4pute over what constitutes a mandatory transfer.”

Opponents of the controlled-choice plan picked up an additional seat on the district’s school board, and now constitute a three-member minority on the seven-member board.

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 1989 edition of Education Week as Opponents of Seattle ‘Controlled Choice’ Initiative Claim ‘Victory’ After Race Ends Too Close To Call