Categories: Elections

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.

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

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