Tense moments punctuated a forum hosted by the Uptown Alliance on Tuesday night featuring five of the six candidates for Seattle School Board.
The event drew approximately two dozen people to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with a focus on school issues facing Queen Anne and Uptown.
While all three positions are subject to a citywide vote next month, the questions took on particular relevance for Eden Mack and Herbert Camet, who advanced from the August primary to represent District 4, which stretches from Ballard to Belltown.
Mack, a longtime PTA activist and founding president of Washington’s Paramount Duty, has three children in Seattle Public Schools. She said it’s critical to have board members that can work effectively with each other at a time when there’s “far too much divisiveness,” in the community.
“I’m running because I believe that our schools need effective and qualified board directors with a commitment to education,” she said.
Camet has spent more than four decades as an educator in 11 countries, a figure that led him to claim he had more education experience than the other five candidates combined.
“Believe you me,” he said, “education is my passion. That’s why I’m in this election.”
Among the topics addressed Tuesday were the possibility of a new high school on the Seattle Center campus, particularly the Memorial Stadium site.
Camet said he “absolutely” supports a new school, and Mack said there’s likely a need, but mentioned that the city needs to engage with the district on cooperative urban planning to help determine area demographics.
“How quickly is a question mark that needs more analysis,” she said.
In general, Mack noted that the capacity crisis is what brought her into advocacy in the first place.
“We’ve got emergency stopgap measures because the growth has happened much faster than expected, and we’re behind the eight ball,” she said.
Also expressing support for a new high school in the area were both candidates running for the District 5 position; Capitol Hill Community Council President and All Home program manager Zachary Pullin DeWolf, and Omar Vasquez, an attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine and member of now-ex Mayor Ed Murray’s Education Summit Advisory Group.
Vasquez said he thinks, “there’s a lot of promise,” to the idea, and that action is needed to relieve capacity issues at Ballard and Garfield High School. DeWolf said he was “particularly excited,” by the potential to place a school in the area as a unique opportunity to address capacity concerns, but did note that the district would lose revenue generated by the Memorial Stadium parking lot during construction, leaving a shortfall that would need to be accounted for.
The lone incumbent in the three races on the ballot, Betty Patu in District 7, said the district is still looking for the best option to move forward, but a school on the stadium site — with a new stadium atop it — is an interesting idea. Patu’s opponent, Chelsea Byers, was unable to attend the forum due to a personal matter, and in her stead, her husband was unable to answer in specifics on the issue.
The need for a downtown elementary school was also a topic of discussion, with Mack emphasizing the need for a facilities master plan, and Camet saying the district must show the necessity of a new school with a feasibility study. Vasquez — who earlier in the forum had mentioned the “biggest miss” for capacity planning in some time with only 200 new students this year compared to an estimated 1,200 — said the district will have to study the projections to see if its necessary. DeWolf touted his experience working on policies on the city, county, and state-level — with nearly a decade in public service — and said he can bring the ties he’s forged to the position.
“I’m going to bring the relationships, I’m going to bring those connections,” he said. DeWolf also noted his standing as a “pre-parent,” and said it’s important that board have a voice from someone who doesn’t yet have children, but will in the future.
Some of the most cutting comments of the night also came from the District 5 candidates, surrounding their qualifications for the position.
Vasquez, who spent six years as a high school teacher in Arizona, claimed he is the only candidate in the race with a teaching background, and said his opponent has, “no significant education experience.” DeWolf, however, noted his time as a wellness program facilitator for Native youth, and as a braille teacher while in the Peace Corps in Belize.
The two also clashed over charter schools. DeWolf said he’s the only candidate in the race that is 100 percent in favor of public schools, and pointed to Vasquez’s time on Washington State’s Summit charter school board.
Vasquez said he’s passionate about education and working with students, and that he’s best suited to handle the challenges the district faces.
“It’s going to require somebody with actual experience,” he said, “and in this race I am the experienced candidate.”
Meanwhile, on multiple occasions, Camet attacked both Mack and DeWolf as candidates that would use a School Board position as a “stepping stone,” to higher office.
“I’m not a politician like some of these other candidates are,” he said.
His heated closing remarks drew a rebuke from much of the audience, as he wagged his finger at the pair and claimed that the duo were taking donations from political groups in a nonpartisan race.
Ballots for the general election will be mailed next week, and must be postmarked by Election Day (Nov. 7) or returned to a drop box by 8 p.m. that night.