Betty Patu is resigning from the Seattle School Board. We're just asking for a legitimate, transparent process... (that results in appointing a champion for equity)

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.

24 May 2019

Dear School Board President Harris:

District 7 families and the community-based organizations serving them are highly motivated to provide input into the process of replacing Director Patu. We hope you can provide assurances there will be an open and transparent process in appointing a new school board director to fill the vacancy. We look forward to participating in the process.

We would like to suggest the following actions take place to ensure there is a fair and transparent process:

Publicly share and widely communicate a timeline for the appointment process, especially in outreach efforts connected to Southeast Seattle and in ethnic media.

The qualifications and criteria used to select the new school board director will be publicly published in a timely manner.

At least one public forum be held to interview candidates. Residents from District 7, educators working in schools in District 7, and non-profit and community partners operating in District 7 should have priority in asking questions and giving input for the board to consider. If written input is allowed, input from District 7’s residents, educators, and nonprofit partners should be weighted and given higher consideration than the public at large. This is to recognize that the person filling the seat will represent District 7.

A proactive engagement process with Black, Indigenous, People of Color living in District 7 to ensure they are able to participate in the process.

Interpretation and translated materials will be made available during the selection process.

Live streams and video recordings of the forums are made publicly available.

We would appreciate hearing back from you on how we can work with you to ensure these steps are taken. Please contact Erin Okuno, Executive Director, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, erin@allfivesinfive.org or 425-243-7079 to coordinate next steps. We thank Director Betty Patu for her extensive years of service to our community and schools.

Sincerely,

Melanie Arena
Vice President, Kimball PTSA

Susan Balbas
Executive Director, Na’ah Illahee Fund

David Beard
Policy & Advocacy Director, School’s Out Washington

Nimco Bulale
SESEC Board Member & Education Program Manager, OneAmerica

Phyllis Campano
President, Seattle Education Association

Gregory Davis
Managing Strategist, Rainier Beach Action Coalition

Janice Deguchi
Chair, Asian Pacific Directors Coalition & Executive Director, Community for Youth

Regina Elmi
Executive Director, Somali Parent Education Board

Carolyn Feng
President, Beacon Hill PTA

Sandy Gunder
SESEC Board Member

Matt Halvorson
Rise Up For Students & District 7 Parent

James Hong
Executive Director, Vietnamese Friendship Association

Michael Itti
Executive Director, Chinese Information Service Center (CISC)

Brianna Jackson
Executive Director, Launch

Lexi Keeler
SESEC Board Chair & District 7 Parent

Peggy Kwok
Youth Development Program Supervisor, Chinese Information Service Center (CISC)

O’Hara Jiménez
PTA co-President, Graham Hill Elementary

Lee Lambert
Executive Director, City Year

Julie Marl
Executive Director, ZENO Math

Munira Mohamed
Executive Director, East African Community Services

Behnosh Najafi
Co-President, Friends of Hawthorne Elementary

Dieu Nguyen
PTSA President, Asa Mercer International

Roxana Norouzi
Deputy Director, OneAmerica

Mark Okazaki
Executive Director, Neighborhood House

Erin Okuno
Executive Director, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition

Estela Ortega
Executive Director, El Centro de la Raza

Mira Posner
South Shore, PTSA co-president

Ryan Quigtar
SESEC Board Member & Executive Director, Renton Innovation Zone Partnership

Shira Rosen
Interim Executive Director, Communities in Schools-Seattle

Heidi Schillinger
Founder & Principal, Equity Matters

Rich Stolz
Executive Director, OneAmerica

Katharine Strange
Secretary, Van Asselt Elementary PTA & member, Integrated Schools Seattle

Emily Tomita
SESEC Board Member & Youth Program Manager, Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA)

Mia Tuan
Dean, College of Education — University of Washington

Vivian van Gelder
Families and Communities for Equity in Schools (FACES)

Julia Warth
Director of Policy and Research, League of Education Voters

Elizabeth Whitford
CEO, School’s Out Washington

Laura Wright
Co-Executive Director, WA-BLOC
Photo by Matt Halvorson

Photo by Matt Halvorson

A quick thought about the Seattle School Board

This is the year, if there ever was one, to really change Seattle Public Schools. In addition to the four seats up for election this fall, two additional school board members in Seattle (Betty Patu and Zachary DeWolf) have announced their desire to resign this year and vacate their seats early.

The school board only has seven members to begin with. By the end of this year, we could essentially have a completely new school board. I've written more about this that I'll share tomorrow, but I just want to plant the seed for now.

Our school board has been a dysfunctional roadblock to change for too long. Imagine six new champions for equity filling these school board seats. Think of what's suddenly possible!

This is a rare opportunity. Let's make the most of it.

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If our outcomes are ever going to change, then our decision-making processes have to change. Otherwise, we will continue to end up in the same places again and again and again.

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