Seattle Races Draw Dollars

By Jeff Archer — November 01, 2005 1 min read

Deep-pocketed donors are giving to a political-action committee that organizers say is aimed at restoring leadership stability to the Seattle public schools in a school board election next week.

The PAC, called Strong Seattle Schools, had by last week raised more than $50,000 to urge residents to cast their ballots for three candidates vying for seats on the seven-member board on Nov. 8.

Among the contributors: John Warner, a former Boeing Co. executive; Seattle Mariners co-owner Christopher Larson; and William H. Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

PACs are not a typical feature of the city’s school board elections, but founders of Strong Seattle Schools contend the effort is needed to give clearer direction to the management of the 47,800-student system.

“The school board in Seattle in the last two years has been less than effective in terms of coming together on a common vision,” said Don Nielsen, who co-chairs the PAC and once served as the president of the Seattle school board. “As a consequence, it has been very difficult for the superintendent and management to create any kind of long-term strategy.”

Seattle’s school board experienced a major shake-up in 2003, when three incumbents lost re-election bids following revelations of financial missteps that led to the resignation of then-Superintendent Joseph Olchefske.

Since then, critics argue, the board has lacked focus. Recently, members failed to reach agreement with Superintendent Raj Manhas on plans to close schools to help address a budget gap. The district also lacks a chief academic officer.

Two of the contests in next week’s election are for open seats. An incumbent is running for re-election in the third. Cheryl Chow, who is running for one of the open seats and whose opponent has the support of the new PAC, said the group’s involvement was troubling.

“I’m sorry to see it so politicized,” said Ms. Chow, a former member of the Seattle City Council. “How can you represent your district and make citywide decisions if you’re beholden to a handful of people who have plopped down a whole lot of money?”

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week