Betty Patu, our longtime school board director in Southeast Seattle, will resign her position at the end of the month, but the timing of her announcement has cast doubt on the integrity of the entire process.
Patu announced her resignation at the May 15 school board meeting, which wouldn’t be remarkable except that if the announcement had come three days earlier, her replacement would have been elected by voters.
As it is, the school board will take applications from the public, and the board will have the final say in appointing Patu’s replacement.
Betty Patu has been our school board director in District 7 — my home district — for 10 years now. She is known as a champion for students by some, and understood by others to have overseen the perpetuation of the status quo in a district that desperately needed deeper and more pointed advocacy.
In the end, she’s a bit of both, as is true with most things. And if it’s time for her to move on, then our community is ready for a breath of fresh air.
Regardless, her record is not particularly the issue here. Her 10 years on the board gave her plenty of time to become familiar with the system. She defeated a qualified candidate in Chelsea Byers in the 2017 election, but now resigns more than two years ahead of schedule, three days after a critical deadline, because… it’s “time for someone new to come in.” That’s been her only explanation.
We elected the current school board to do its job, but we did not elect them intending that they choose their successors as well.
On the one hand, it’s important to me to know whether I was intentionally kept out of the voting process, or if it was because of the continued incompetence of the board itself. Perhaps another possibility exists that I'm not considering. But on the other hand, the outcome is the same. It’s bad for our community, bad for our students, and murky at best as to what’s really happening and why.
I’ve asked Director Harris and Director Burke to shed some light on the subject, especially since they specifically declined to comment on questions about whether or not they knew about or discussed the deadline with Patu. We’ll see. Regardless, this is another disappointing, oddly suspicious turn of events on a Seattle School Board that has not exactly earned our trust.
What we need, as always, is a true champion for equity. Someone who knows what’s at stake and takes on the job of school board director without political ambition.
Local hero Erin Okuno, executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), has been spearheading an effort to advocate for a transparent and inclusive process to replace Patu — and for insurance that the board’s decision reflects the expressed needs and interests of the District 7 community.
Okuno drafted and sent this letter to Director Harris last month, along with the signatures of a variety of community leaders. I’ll keep digging and discussing. Let me know if you see something I’ve missed.