NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021

Most voters are undecided for Seattle School Board; Song Maritz, Sarju, Hersey have leads

In addi­tion to choos­ing a new May­or and City Attor­ney and decid­ing who should fill the City Coun­cil’s two-at large posi­tions, Seat­tle vot­ers will have the respon­si­bil­i­ty this autumn of select­ing three indi­vid­u­als to serve on the Board of Direc­tors of Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools, which is a sep­a­rate local gov­ern­ment that nev­er­the­less shares the same bound­aries as the City of Seattle.

Board­mem­bers of Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools are elect­ed from dis­tricts using a two-step process. In the Top Two/elimination round, if there are more than two can­di­dates for a direc­tor posi­tion, the field is win­nowed by just the vot­ers who live in the dis­trict that the field of can­di­dates are from. Then, in the gen­er­al election/runoff round, the two final­ists from each dis­trict com­pete citywide.

Because the can­di­dates for school board are now run­ning city­wide, as opposed to just in their dis­tricts, we were able to include all three races in our gen­er­al elec­tion sur­vey of the Seat­tle elec­torate, which fin­ished field­ing a few days ago. While majori­ties or near majori­ties aren’t sure who they are vot­ing for in each of the three races, there is a clear fron­trun­ner in each contest.

  • For Direc­tor Dis­trict #4, Vivian Song Maritz received 23% sup­port in the sur­vey. She has a ten point lead over Lau­ra Marie Rivera, who received 13% sup­port, with 53% of vot­ers not sure.
  • For Direc­tor Dis­trict #5, Michelle Sar­ju received 36% sup­port in the sur­vey. She has a twen­ty-six point lead over Dan Hard­er, who received 10%, with 49% of vot­ers not sure.
  • For Direc­tor Dis­trict #7, Bran­don Hersey received 37% sup­port in the sur­vey. He has a thir­ty-three point lead over Gen­e­sis Williamson, who received 4% and isn’t active­ly cam­paign­ing. 57% of vot­ers are not sure.

The oth­er four school direc­tor posi­tions are not on the bal­lot this year.

Findings in the Seattle School Board races, October 2021

A visu­al of NPI’s gen­er­al elec­tion poll find­ings for the three Seat­tle School Board races on the Novem­ber 2021 ballot

Our gen­er­al elec­tion poll, which was con­duct­ed for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute by Change Research, has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.1% at the 95% con­fi­dence inter­val. All 617 respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online. The poll was in the field from Tues­day, Octo­ber 12th, 2021 through Fri­day, Octo­ber 15th, 2021.

Fol­low this link if you’re inter­est­ed in a detailed primer on the survey’s method­ol­o­gy along with infor­ma­tion about who took the poll. 

Here are the exact ques­tions that we asked, and the respons­es that we received:

QUESTION: The can­di­dates for Seat­tle School Dis­trict No. 1, Direc­tor Dis­trict No. 4 are list­ed below in the order that they will appear on the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. Who are you vot­ing for?

[See list as it was shown to respon­dents]

INITIAL ANSWERS:

  • Not sure: 73%
  • Vivian Song Maritz: 17%
  • Lau­ra Marie Rivera: 9%

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION ASKED OF UNDECIDED VOTERS ONLY: If you had to choose, who would you vote for?

ANSWERS FROM UNDECIDED VOTERS:

  • [Still] Not sure: 78%
  • Vivian Song Maritz: 7%
  • Lau­ra Marie Rivera: 5%
  • Would not vote: 11%

COMBINED ANSWERS, BOTH QUESTIONS:

  • Not sure: 57%
  • Vivian Song Maritz: 23%
  • Lau­ra Marie Rivera: 13%
  • Would not vote: 8%

QUESTION: The can­di­dates for Seat­tle School Dis­trict No. 1, Direc­tor Dis­trict No. 5 are list­ed below in the order that they will appear on the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. Who are you vot­ing for?

[See list as it was shown to respon­dents]

INITIAL ANSWERS:

  • Not sure: 59%
  • Michelle Sar­ju: 32%
  • Dan Hard­er: 9%

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION ASKED OF UNDECIDED VOTERS ONLY: If you had to choose, who would you vote for?

ANSWERS FROM UNDECIDED VOTERS:

  • [Still] Not sure: 83%
  • Michelle Sar­ju: 7%
  • Dan Hard­er: 2%
  • Would not vote: 8%

COMBINED ANSWERS, BOTH QUESTIONS:

  • Not sure: 49%
  • Michelle Sar­ju: 36%
  • Dan Hard­er: 10%
  • Would not vote: 5%

QUESTION: The can­di­dates for Seat­tle School Dis­trict No. 1, Direc­tor Dis­trict No. 7 are list­ed below in the order that they will appear on the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. Who are you vot­ing for?

[See list as it was shown to respon­dents]

INITIAL ANSWERS:

  • Not sure: 71%
  • Bran­don K. Hersey: 26%
  • Gen­e­sis Williamson: 3%

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION ASKED OF UNDECIDED VOTERS ONLY: If you had to choose, who would you vote for?

ANSWERS FROM UNDECIDED VOTERS:

  • [Still] Not sure: 81%
  • Bran­don K. Hersey: 9%
  • Gen­e­sis Williamson: 1%
  • Would not vote: 9%

COMBINED ANSWERS, BOTH QUESTIONS:

  • Not sure: 53%
  • Bran­don K. Hersey: 37%
  • Gen­e­sis Williamson: 4%
  • Would not vote: 6%

Here’s on a primer on each of the matchups.

District #4 (Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard)

The incum­bent Direc­tor, Erin Dury, lost her cam­paign for reelec­tion back in August. Dury was appoint­ed to take the place of Eden Mack, who resigned sev­er­al months ago. Two of Dury’s chal­lengers are now in the runoff and hop­ing to win a full term: Vivian Song Maritz and Lau­ra Marie Rivera.

Maritz is a child of work­ing-class immi­grants, start­ed school as an Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage stu­dent, and was helped by a pub­lic school teacher to iden­ti­fy and address her hear­ing dis­abil­i­ty. She is the first woman in her fam­i­ly to grad­u­ate from col­lege. She has a degree from Har­vard, works in the finance indus­try and serves on the Superintendent’s Par­ent Advi­so­ry Council.

Rivera has a Master’s in Edu­ca­tion and has worked in edu­ca­tion and the per­form­ing arts for thir­ty years. She is a PTA vol­un­teer and wants more trans­paren­cy about the pol­i­cy and gov­er­nance of the school dis­trict. She also advo­cates for acces­si­bil­i­ty for stu­dents of all abil­i­ties and pri­or­i­tizes Black, Indige­nous and peo­ple of col­or voic­es in school com­mu­ni­ca­tions. She advo­cates for both col­lege prep and career-based edu­ca­tion. She has four chil­dren in school.

District #5 (Capitol Hill, International District, First Hill, Leschi, Madison, Downtown and Central Area)

Michelle Sar­ju came in first in the Top Two elec­tion back in the sum­mer. Her oppo­nent is Dan Hard­er, who has run for a num­ber of oth­er offices and lost. Who­ev­er wins will suc­ceed Zachary DeWolf, who chose not to run again.

Sar­ju is Black and has worked as a social work­er and mid­wife and is cur­rent­ly man­ag­ing a children’s health­care pro­gram for King Coun­ty Pub­lic Health.

Sar­ju has a Mas­ters of Social Work and has trained and worked as a mid­wife. She now works for Pub­lic Health — Seat­tle and King Coun­ty and is focus­ing her cam­paign on edu­ca­tion­al equi­ty. She says that while COVID-19 has pushed stu­dents and fam­i­lies into sur­vival mode, the defi­cien­cies in Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Black stu­dents and oth­er stu­dents of col­or, go back a lot fur­ther. She wants to see the dis­trict invest in anti-racist cur­ricu­lum and employ evi­dence-based ways of mon­i­tor­ing stu­dent suc­cess. She also wants to work to sup­port SEL (Social-Emo­tion­al Sup­port) and men­tal health issues, phas­ing out stan­dard­ized test­ing and elim­i­nate the edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty gap.n.

Hard­er is a mechan­i­cal engi­neer who thinks Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools’ approach to teach­ing anti-racism will offer stu­dents a “gross mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of past dis­crim­i­na­tion and cur­rent dis­par­i­ties,” and will spread lies through­out the pub­lic school sys­tem. He argues the prob­lems in Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools can be traced to bad pol­i­cy as opposed to mass oppres­sion and sys­temic racism.

District #7 (South Seattle, encompassing neighborhoods south of I‑90, not including West Seattle)

Bran­don Hersey is the only can­di­date left in all three races to be seek­ing reelec­tion. He was appoint­ed to the Board about eigh­teen months ago after direc­tor Bet­ty Patu stepped down. At that time, he beat out about fif­teen oth­er can­di­dates for the appoint­ment. But at the con­clu­sion of Fil­ing Week, Hersey end­ed up with just one oppo­nent, who did not launch an active campaign.

Hersey is a res­i­dent of Rainier Beach and an edu­ca­tor in the Fed­er­al Way School Dis­trict. He is the only edu­ca­tor on the school board and says that gives him insights into the impact a school sys­tem can have on a child’s life.

Hersey says COVID-19 has widened Seattle’s “already stag­ger­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty gap” and is call­ing on the dis­trict to do bet­ter for Black and Brown chil­dren and for those from oth­er mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. He has also said that he would like to end the abil­i­ty for indi­vid­ual PTAs to fund staff posi­tions and wants to shift resources with­in the dis­trict as part of address­ing sys­temic inequality.

Gen­e­sis Williamson did not sub­mit a biog­ra­phy or pho­to­graph for inclu­sion the voter’s pam­phlet and, accord­ing to the state Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion, has filed a “dis­con­tin­ued cam­paign” report.

Concluding notes

If all three fron­trun­ners win their races, Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools will have a board con­sist­ing of two African Amer­i­cans, one Asian Amer­i­can, one Mex­i­can Amer­i­can, one Native Amer­i­can, and two White/Caucasian directors.

Hersey would be the only male director.

The dis­trict is cur­rent­ly in the midst of an exec­u­tive lead­er­ship tran­si­tion. The cur­rent board opt­ed against keep­ing Denise Juneau as Super­in­ten­dent, and select­ed Dr. Brent Jones to serve as the inter­im Super­in­ten­dent while it search­es for a per­ma­nent suc­ces­sor. The search is expect­ed to con­clude next spring and a vote on select­ing a new Super­in­ten­dent will be held by the end of the school year.

Who­ev­er wins will be seat­ed on the board by the end of the cur­rent cal­en­dar year.

NPI is not aligned with any of these school board can­di­dates and does not have an endorse­ment for any of these posi­tions, or any involve­ment in an inde­pen­dent expen­di­ture sup­port­ing or oppos­ing anyone.

Vot­ing in the Novem­ber 2021 gen­er­al will end on Novem­ber 2nd. Bal­lots must car­ry a 11/02/2021 post­mark or be in a drop­box by 8 PM to count.

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