Controversial Proposed Charter School in South Seattle Bypasses Zoning Hurdle

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

Depending on whom you talk to, the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA) high school, South Seattle’s first proposed charter high school, is either a long-overdue alternative to South End schools that fail to adequately prepare kids for college, or a financial and pedagogical assault on three public high schools that have managed to improve their test scores and graduation rates despite chronic underfunding and decades of neglect.

To Sue Peters, formerly of the Seattle School Board, the RVLA and the organization set to run the 58,000-square-foot high school, California-based Green Dot Schools, are trying to “undermine” neighborhood schools “by draining public resources and students from them.” (Charter schools are privately operated but publicly funded, so every dollar spent on charter schools comes out of funding for Seattle Public Schools.)

For the past year, Peters says, the school board “has heard compelling, eloquent testimony for Rainier Beach Students imploring the district to invest in their school. … Building another school one and a half miles from [Rainier] Beach would direct potential resources away from the school and undermine these efforts.”

But to incoming RVLA principal Arneidra Lloyd, a former public school administrator who attended Franklin High School, the school offers another alternative for parents who want their kids prepared for college but don’t test or track into the public schools’ AP or international baccalaureate (IB) programs, which can’t accommodate every student. (AP classes are high-level classes that can be used for college credit; the IB program is an intense two-year college prep program.)

“I feel like students should have the right to choose where they go to school, just like we have the right to choose what we put in our mouths, where we live, and who we marry,” Lloyd says. “The right to school is just as important as all those other rights.”

The proposal that is inspiring this kind of rhetoric is just one component of a planned development at MLK Way S and S Othello Street, right across from the Othello light rail station, called the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center (SEOC), which aims to reduce economic displacement through a combination of on-site jobs, housing, childcare, and education. But it’s by far the most controversial element of the plan.

Last month, the Seattle school board adopted a resolution opposing Green Dot’s efforts to get a zoning variance from the city of Seattle that would allow it to begin construction later this year on a three-story school—one story higher than the zoning rules for the property allow. “I have difficulties with charter schools when they want the money but not the rules that go with the money,” school board member Leslie Harris said.

On Wednesday, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections spokesman Bryan Stevens confirmed to the Emerald that Green Dot just told the city they have “decided to modify their design so that they no longer need a design departure,” and will stay within a smaller two-story footprint—preventing what could have been a drawn-out battle over Green Dot’s right to seek exemptions from zoning rules and eliminating an important talking point for charter opponents

If Green Dot had decided to pursue a three-story high school, it might well have prevailed. (SDCI said this week that the company had the right to at least request the height increase.) Last year, after a process that school board members say excluded school district representatives, SDCI signed off on a request for a three-story Green Dot middle school on Rainier Ave S., just three blocks from Aki Kurose Middle School.

Green Dot doesn’t have much of a record in the Puget Sound region; in addition to the new Green Dot Middle School in South Seattle, Green Dot operates one middle school in Tacoma and just took over a second charter middle school in Kent. Most of their 28 schools are in Tennessee or California, where charter schools were authorized in 2003 and 1992, respectively. (In contrast, Washington State voters just approved charters in 2012, and the initiative is still under legal challenge).

But the company’s plans to expand into the Seattle area raise questions that have been debated for decades on the national stage: Should privately run charter schools have to play by the same rules as traditional public schools, such as hiring a union workforce? (Green Dot’s Seattle-area schools are not unionized). Does allowing some kids to decamp from traditional public schools to charters doom the kids who are left behind to an inferior education? And should the public subsidize schools run by private companies and nonprofits at a time when the state is struggling to find adequate funding for basic public education?

Peters, the former school board member, argues the new school “will almost certainly negatively impact the existing neighboring schools by draining resources and students from them,” and that kids at charter schools often perform worse than those at traditional neighborhood schools. But national studies of charter schools’ impact on neighborhood schools have been inconclusive, and some research does indicate that urban charter schools can benefit black and Latinx kids living in poverty, in particular, even if the jury is outon whether charter schools, which vary widely (and are regulated differently) from region to region, do a better job of educating kids overall.

Walter Chen, a former Aki Kurose assistant principal who is now principal at Green Dot’s Rainier Valley Leadership Academy middle school, says that because Green Dot’s schools are hyperfocused on college prep, they provide a service that other public schools, even those with good IB programs, just can’t offer. “I really think of Green Dot as a social justice organization—we’re founded on the idea that every child, no matter what neighborhood they live in, deserves access to a high-quality school and a pathway to college,” Chen says.

Homesight director Tony To, whose housing-development nonprofit is spearheading the development of the SEOC, acknowledges Green Dot was “controversial,” but says he thinks the school serves an important purpose. “The program that they’re doing, which is a school-wide college prep program, is one that doesn’t exist in the Seattle school district, and it’s a major concern of students that can’t track into a college prep program,” To says. “And the community supported us on that.”

Green Dot classes are highly structured. Students and teachers learn specific gestures to indicate that they agree or disagree or that someone is doing well. Every student gets a mentor, who will—ideally—stay with that student from middle school to high school and even after graduation. The curriculum includes visits to college campuses, building a resume, and actually applying to schools—every student has to apply to multiple colleges at the end of senior year, even if they don’t end up pursuing higher education. “It’s a college-going culture,” Lloyd says. According to Chen, more than 90 percent of Green Dot’s graduating students in California and Tennessee are admitted to college—and 95 percent of their students “graduate, period.”

Peters, Harris, and other charter school opponents counter that Green Dot’s schools aren’t the only schools that boast a high graduation rate—Rainier Beach, Cleveland, and Franklin all have four-year graduation rates (89.4 percent, 83.3 percent, and 81.7 percent, respectively) that are higher than the district average (77.5 percent), despite having higher student-teacher ratios, more kids who are low-income or in special education classes and, with the exception of Cleveland, higher percentages of attendees with limited English proficiency. And Peters points out that at the one Green Dot school for which records are available, student test scores lag far behind the statewide average—at Destiny Middle School in Tacoma, just over one in four students passed the state’s basic language arts test, and fewer than one in five passed the math exam. Statewide, nearly half of all 7th grade students passed both tests. (After publication, a consultant for Green Dot contacted me to say that those stats require context, and provided a fact sheet and statement from the Washington Charter Schools Association. “Many Destiny students enter significantly behind grade level, and have significant learning needs,” the fact sheet says. “While Destiny students enter far behind, they are catching up.”)

Charter schools have been a contentious issue in Seattle for many years. At least twice since voters passed an initiative allowing charters in 2012, the Seattle School board has adopted resolutions opposing charter schools, and public-school activists pack school board meetings to express their opposition to the schools’ expansion in Seattle. Melissa Westbrook, a schools activist who runs a very active blog about the Seattle school system, says she accepts that charters are “legal. But my main point is that they have to do things legally.” In other words: Green Dot’s zoning issue may be resolved, but their opposition isn’t going anywhere.

Does “Our Best” Leave Black Girls Behind?

This piece originally ran in Seattle Magazine

In 2012, only 57 percent of African-American boys graduated from high school in Washington state, compared to 73 percent of their white counterparts.

The achievement gap for young black men goes far beyond their graduation rates. Nationally, African-American boys are twice as likely to drop out of high school as white boys, and are three times as likely to be suspended. In Seattle, African-American boys are nearly three times as likely as white boys to be referred to special education, and these students in general fall far behind their white counterparts on nearly every standard measure of success—from third-grade reading scores to seventh-grade math proficiency to graduation rates. In 2015, 56 percent of white Seattle Public Schools graduates ended up going to a four-year college; just 30 percent of black students did the same. This achievement gap has lifelong ramifications; nearly 70 percent of young black men who drop out of school will end up in prison, and one in three black boys will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

“If you look at discipline data or graduation data or just regular third-grade test data, you’ll see just a huge discrepancy in the gaps between black males and their counterparts,” says Dwane Chappelle, director of Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning.

The achievement gap between black and white boys has been documented for decades, but the emphasis on programs targeted at improving the outcomes for black boys is a more recent phenomenon. Last year, after the City of Seattle’s first Education Summit, Mayor Ed Murray convened a 32-member advisory committee to come up with recommendations to close the gap. This year, to help accomplish this audacious goal, Murray organized a Youth Opportunity Cabinet, which includes African-American city department heads, such as Chappelle and Brian Surratt, director of the Office of Economic Development, and announced a new initiative focused on improving young black male achievement, called Our Best. (“If they are given resources that others take for granted, our young black men are our best,” Surratt says.)

The city has allocated $300,000 for the first year of the program (with few details on exactly how the money will be spent), which is modeled after former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, but aimed at boys and youth between the ages of 14 and 24. A good portion of that money will support a one-year pilot project, which began in July, to double the number of black male mentors, by providing a clearinghouse and technical support for existing programs; the money will also fund a new special adviser to the mayor on young black male achievement.

Mentors, Surratt says, can give black boys the kind of positive role models they may be lacking in home or at school, and from experience can provide lessons on how to cope with challenges. “It’s not a cultural deficiency model,” says Surratt, referring to a model that says young black men are broken and need to be fixed. “It’s an asset richness model”—one that takes the assets that already exist in the African-American community and puts them to work guiding young men who may be struggling into responsible adulthood.

Our Best also includes a new mayor’s council on black male achievement, with the goal of increasing the number of black boys who graduate high school; providing young black men between the ages of 14 and 24 more pathways to “meaningful,” well-paid employment; and reducing the percentage of young black men entering the criminal justice system.

While the city’s renewed focus on young black male achievement is both admirable and necessary, some worry that male-focused programs like Our Best leave black girls behind.

Black girls are six times as likely as white girls to get kicked out of school—a racial gap in suspension rates that dwarfs the gap between black and white boys.

Like those of their male counterparts, black girls’ reading and math scores are at or near the bottom level, and four in 10 black girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as the reason. Black girls who drop out may suffer greater economic consequences than black boys, largely because the jobs that are available for female high school dropouts pay significantly less than those available to male dropouts. Black girls are also far more likely to be single parents without other sources of support, which compounds the impact of lower wages. Little wonder, then, that the median net worth of single black women is $100, compared with almost $7,900 for black men and $41,500 for single white women.

Moreover, black girls experience harm at school that the standard “achievement gap” yardstick simply fails to measure, such as sexual violence, suicide, harassment and the consequences of single parenting, says Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the founder and director of the African American Policy Forum and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University.

“There is a whole range of ways that girls are impacted by these environments that people aren’t even talking about because the point of departure is always the boy,” says Crenshaw. Much like health research that for many years only used male subjects, the data available on African-American student achievement is largely centered on outcomes that primarily impact boys, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, creating a feedback loop that leaves girls out. “It’s not just one gender that’s struggling, [but] the conversation up ’til now has assumed that the only students in crisis were boys,” says Crenshaw.

Proponents of Our Best say they’re aware that girls face specific challenges that boys don’t. “We all know that our young ladies need support as well,” Chappelle says. But, he says, “We have to get that infrastructure in place first, and then we will be able to provide the young ladies with support, too.” Supporters of Our Best also insist that by helping young men, the program will benefit young black women as well, by fixing systems that hurt everybody when they’re broken.

“The intent is that if you fix a demographic that is clearly doing statistically the poorest, you are in fact fixing the institutional problems for the other demographics as well,” says City Council member Bruce Harrell, an Our Best proponent. “In fixing a lot of the institutional practices that work to the detriment of young black males, I think young black females and even others will reap the benefits.”

Surratt adds, “Unfortunately, across almost every metric that you can imagine, every social, economic and health indicator, young black men are suffering the most, and so we wanted to tackle this part of the community first.”

Crenshaw, who criticized Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program for excluding girls in a New York Times op-ed piece, is less convinced, calling that theory “trickle-down social justice” that “doesn’t work any better than Reaganomics did.”

Chappelle points to the fact that at least one school in Seattle that implemented the My Brother’s Keeper program, Aki Kurose Middle School, has since added an analogous Our Sister’s Keeper program for girls as evidence that the program will probably expand—eventually.

“Once we get Our Best down as far as young black men are concerned, then I would anticipate we would figure out a way to make sure that we are weaving in the support we need for our young black women, and also other young women of color who have historically been marginalized,” Chappelle says. The question is, how long will it take? And will it be soon enough to help the latest generation of young black girls who are at risk of falling through the cracks?

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Jessyn Farrell

Image result for jessyn farrell

This afternoon, state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46) will formally announce that she is resigning her seat to run for mayor full-time, freeing her to start raising the funds she’ll need to stand out in the 21-person race. Farrell is popular in her North Seattle district but relatively unknown outside it, and she told me last week that if she wants to expand her support base, she’ll need to raise at least $250,000 for television alone. State law prohibits legislators from raising money while the legislature is in session, or for 30 days before session convenes, which has restricted both Farrell and another mayoral candidate, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, from raising money. “I take my duties as a legislator very seriously, but in getting into this race, I want to win and it’s important to put skin in the game and put something on the line,” she said. “I’m willing … to walk away from a job I really love to do what it takes to win this race.”

Prior to running for state house in 2012, Farrell was a senior advisor at Pierce Transit and, before that, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition.

I sat down with Farrell last week at Fuel Coffee in Wallingford.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): If you’re elected, you’ll be the second former state legislator in a row to hold the office. One early criticism of Murray was that he lacked experience as an executive. How do you think your experience in the legislature will translate into the job of running a city with 11,000 employees?

Jessyn Farrell (JF): On the one hand, there are a lot of really good things about being a legislator. I have had the experience of making a lot of decisions that people don’t like, and I think there are a lot of other people in the race who do not have that experience of having to explain sometimes to your base—hello, MVET vote—why I did that and why it’s the right thing to do. [Editor’s note: Farrell, along with other House Democrats, voted for legislation that changes how Sound Transit calculates the motor-vehicle excise tax on newer vehicles, after car owners and Republicans complained that the fees—authorized by the legislature and affirmed by the voters—were too high. The reassessment will cost Sound Transit around $2 billion.] There’s also, though, that art of being willing to listen and have your views on issues impacted by what the community is saying. There has to be a degree of openness, because you’re a  representative of the people and that really matters. That is something you only get through the experience of being an elected official.

ECB: So what about that MVET vote? Why did you vote for a measure that cut funding to Sound Transit, even though the legislature itself approved the valuation before it went to voters?

JF: The politically easy thing to do would have been to just vote no, but my role as a legislator is, I really believe, to be a steward of our tax system. People really have to believe that there’s fundamental integrity in the tax system. So if there’s a valuation system on your car and it’s not really reflective of what you could sell your car for, that’s a problem. If it were your paycheck and I was taking taxes off, like an additional five percent, and you didn’t even actually get paid that, you would have a real problem with that.

ECB: If I voted for it, then I would say, ‘I think I need to look at what I’m voting for more closely next time.’

JF: That’s what makes it tricky. There were a lot of eyes on that 2015 vote and [the MVET valuation schedule] did not come up the way it should have and that really stinks. I really wish that we had just fixed it in negotiations quietly. Nobody would have cared and it would have been the right thing to do, but we didn’t, and if we’re going to ask voters to raise their capital gains, or an income tax, or do a major tax reform, and people don’t trust that the underlying integrity of the system is in place, that is a real problem. I know it stinks, and what I would say is, I don’t take a hit to Sound Transit lightly, and I am totally committed as a mayor to making Sound Transit whole and delivering on those projects. And I definitely have some ideas about how we do that.

ECB: If you’re elected mayor, then you’ll be on the Sound Transit board, and you’ll find yourself in the opposite position as you do as a legislator.

JF: Yes, but what I would say is it’s really a benefit to the city to have as a mayor someone who knows who to work with Olympia. One of the obviously frustrating things about being in Olympia is that so much of what we’re doing is trying to minimize harm to Seattle constantly. The good news is, I’m a pretty good legislator and I know how to talk to Republicans. I think that’s in part why Ed has been effective as a mayor too—he’s been able to quietly work behind the scenes in Olympia and minimize ham and get some good things done, and that’s definitely been a benefit for the city—having his savvy around. He was a very good legislator.

“If there’s a valuation system on your car and it’s not really reflective of what you could sell your car for, that’s a problem.”

ECB: Distinguish yourself for me, as a voter, from the other two pro-transit urbanists in this race, Cary Moon and Mike McGinn.

JF: I would say the big distinction is that I’m the one who has actually delivered on the stuff that we care about—whether it is helping pass Sound Transit 2 when I was at Transportation Choices, or authorizing ST3 [as a legislator]. It was no sure thing that we were going to be able to authorize that legislation, and then doing it in a way that had lots of really interesting, progressive things in it, like that $500 million amendment that I forced through at midnight in the transportation budget. [ECB: Farrell’s amendment, a last-minute response to Republicans’ efforts to hold some of Sound Transit’s taxing authority hostage, dedicated $518 million in tax revenues to future education-related projects in the three-county Sound Transit region].  I think that in a negotiation, you can get to yes when you fundamentally understand what’s in someone’s heart and what’s driving their values on an issue. I’m not scared of being bold and taking risks, but I’ll do them in a way that actually gets the job done. I adore [Moon and McGinn], but think that’s just a key difference.

ECB: There’s been a lot of debate over the payments developers will be required to make under the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program; some social justice advocates say they’re too low to make a dent in displacement, while some urbanists, including the Sightline Institute, say they’re so high they discourage development. What do you think? Would you change anything about MHA, or the mayor’s larger Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)?

 

JF: I am fundamentally supportive of HALA. I deeply believe that Seattle needs to increase its housing stock and housing options across the economic spectrum in a really significant way. I think the zoning changes, though, are only one piece of the affordability puzzle, and I would like to go much beyond that.

HALA is really about private-sector incentives, and that’s a really important piece. We have to have incentives to increase private-sector housing and to push affordability in that area. I would argue, though, that because of the major pressures that Seattle faces from the tech boom—which is a great thing—and international investors and a whole host of bigger global issues, we need to get beyond the traditional debates around zoning. We need to have those debates, but we need to know that those debates alone aren’t going to solve the affordability crisis. I believe that there are a few more really important pieces of the puzzle that we need to put together. One is that that [aforementioned] $500 million amendment is going to start coming to the region in 2020. That’s money that we can bond against, and that’s money that can be used to provide founding for wraparound support for homeless and vulnerable youth. Surely, with $500 million, we can figure out how to house every kid near their school, and that would take a big chunk out of homelessness. And we don’t even have to raise taxes to do it! The money’s already coming.

“I am fundamentally supportive of HALA.  I think the zoning changes, though, are only one piece of the affordability puzzle, and I would like to go much beyond that.”

Second, and I’m really kind of stealing an idea from [House] Speaker [Frank] Chopp here,  we need to inventory all the surplus property in the city—whether it’s WSDOT, Sound Transit, Seattle Public Utilities—all publicly held property, and land bank it as the cornerstone for a major new investment in public housing. That has traditionally been a really important strategy for providing housing stability and economic mobility for people, especially in Seattle. With the city’s property, you would need to have city staff and city technical resources really dialed in and really focused on putting together those deals. And it then becomes an effort around matchmaking, so that you find the nonprofit or private developer resources to do the development.

And then the third piece—and this is my really radical but super-wonky idea—is: Just as we allocate population growth across the region through [the Puget Sound Regional Council’s] 2040 plan, I think we need to set a target of $1 billion in affordable housing and allocate affordability targets across the entire city, so you’re not really letting any neighborhood off the hook. Then you create neighborhood-based plans that use an array of affordability tools, so some neighborhoods are going to focus more on rental vouchers so that people who are living in current housing can stay there; some neighborhoods are going to focus more on [accessory dwelling units]; some neighborhoods are going to have more traditional density. We need a strategic plan for the city that allows us to hold ourselves accountable, and then we can create programs within every single neighborhood.

That, obviously, is not easy. There are neighborhoods that aren’t necessarily going to want it. But here’s what I see: There are people in every single neighborhood who are worried about affordability, whether it is their kids not being able to buy into Seattle, whether they’re worried about property taxes or whether they’ve been in their houses for 40 years and now they’re on a fixed income. Clearly, renters are worried. And I think that you appeal to people from that perspective: Look, we are all in this together. We cannot solve this problem in traditional ways. Our traditional frame in Seattle has been around zoning, and that is a piece of the puzzle, but it cannot be the only piece. We need major public-sector investment, and then we need to really open up all of the different tools. And I think it becomes really micro, property-by-property, arterial-by-arterial planning. Part of that is preserving cultural spaces in neighborhoods and preserving environmental spaces in neighborhoods. Upzoning certainly has a role, and there are places where we need to do it, but there are so many other affordability tools that we can use and that I think neighborhoods would embrace.

“We need to inventory all the publicly held surplus property in the city and land bank it as the cornerstone for a major new investment in public housing.”

ECB: Don’t you think that a lot of people who object to upzoning will also object to other tools that would increase affordable housing in their neighborhoods?

JF: I think that the only way you deal with that is by literally going into the neighborhoods and having dialogues with people. There are loud people who don’t like change. I am not that candidate. Don’t vote for me if you don’t want any change. On the other hand, my own sense of environmentalism comes from a very place-centric notion, which is that the places we live in, we have to steward. And so I get that kind of knee-jerk reaction around being averse to change. Part of that is saying, let’s do some of these things in steps, and I would want to get feedback from neighborhoods about how to do that. There is a diversity of opinions around housing in the city, and the folks who are really nervous about changes are the ones who are really weighing in loudly right now. I just know from my own neighborhood and my own constituents that there is really a diversity of opinion, and people really understand the crisis.

ECB: Do you support the mayor’s current policy on clearing homeless encampments?

JF: I think that they have done some things well, and they have done some things that have been really harmful. On the one hand, the Navigation Team [a group of police officers and outreach workers that removes encampments and offers services to people living there] has been a really important effort. On the other, the sweeps have been really harmful, and we should not be doing that. So the question becomes, how do you allow for people to have access to services, sanitation, and public safety, while recognizing hat we do not have enough shelter beds for all the people who need them? So that’s why we’re talking about encampments. For me, the homelessness conversation has to be embedded in the affordability crisis. Those two things are very related to each other. If you are a mom with kids and living in your car, that is very much because of the affordability crisis in the city.

“There are loud people who don’t like change. I am not that candidate. Don’t vote for me if you don’t want any change.”

ECB: Given that there aren’t enough shelter beds or permanent housing for the whole homeless population, do you support sanctioned encampments?

JF: I do believe in sanctioned encampments. The trick, though, or the core issue is, you have to have services available to people. You have to have public safety, so that those places are safe for women. You have to have mental health services and sanitation available. I really do think you need to do it in places where a lot of those services are. I don’t think unsanctioned encampments in parks and public places are where we want to be going with this. If I were mayor, I would those kinds of things in place before the next rainy season.

The second thing is that there is more experience now with tiny homes. They’re not a permanent solution, but in terms of having a drier place to sleep where you can keep your stuff safe, I think they’re a good investment. There are a lot of unions and other non-governmental entities that really want to step up and provide that kind of housing, and I would think that we would want to do that in a significant way.

And the third is that we need to inventory the shelter space that the city has access to. I don’t support shelters in community centers, in part because those have other uses, but there are other buildings that King County has, that Seattle has, that other entities have, that even the private sector has, that could serve as shelters. We need to do that because the homelessness issue is, in part, because there just aren’t enough shelter beds.

ECB: Have you read the Pathways Home report that the city is using as the basis for its homeless housing plan? What do you think about the focus on rapid rehousing—providing short-term rental vouchers—instead of more service-intensive or long-term solutions?

JF: You have to have a degree of stability. You can’t make those changes in your life if you are having to be out of a place in three months—that’s just not how that works. Even six months isn’t long enough. People really need housing stability as a fundamental piece of mental health and recovery. In the longer term, we need a significant reinvestment in public housing for very low-income people. The feds are not going to do it for us, and the state is not going to do it for us, so we need to get creative really fast about how we do it.

“The way our housing incentives work is that when you put that all the tax credits together, that equals one to two bedrooms. So what if the donor community step in and says and we’re going to fund that third bedroom in these buildings?”

ECB: If you win, you’ll be the first female mayor in 91 years. How will that translate, if at all, into the kind of issues you prioritize and the policies that come out of your office?

JF: I’m 43, so I think having a Gen X mayor might actually have a greater impact than necessarily gender. So for example, I’m in the heart of raising a family right now and I think there are a lot of people across the city, across races, across economic lines, who are very fearful of their ability to stay in the city and fearful of the ability of the public school system to deliver a fair and equitable education to every kid, and that kind of conversation has not entered into typical mayoral politics. I will be talking about a city for families in a really different way than other candidates have and other mayors have, and surely that is because I’m raising a family here.

ECB: The mayor’s office has historically been a bit of a boy’s club, and there are issues specifically related to gender—like pay equity and paid family leave—that previous mayors haven’t really advocated until women brought them to their attention. Is that something you’d change?

JF: There is no doubt that who is in leadership, and their life experiences, impacts their priorities, so I will answer really definitively that having women at the top and having women in leadership positions absolutely matters, and I see that in the legislature all the time, with things as simple as what is the expectation around the work flow. I know the mayor is a 24/7 job. I would absolutely anticipate being able to handle that. But when you are a parent and have to make sure that you’re also prioritizing your kids, you get really strategic about priorities. You cannot do everything, and a city cannot do everything.

There are a whole bunch of questions that start to get asked when you have women in positions of leadership, because women are still traditionally on the front lines of raising a family—and the same goes for having women of color in particular. We need a great deal of diversity around the decision makers. That absolutely matters, and we have to reflect the fabric of the city in that way.

“I think we should have impact fees on developers to support public school infrastructure. Most jurisdictions do that and I don’t think that is something that is at all unreasonable.”

Affordable housing generally tends to be one and two bedrooms, so how do we get that third bedroom? The way our housing incentives work is that when you put that all the tax credits together, that equals one to two bedrooms. So what if the donor community step in and says and we’re going to fund that third bedroom in these buildings?

So yes, because I’m a woman, I’m thinking that way. Because I have kids, I’m thinking that way. And I think that it would make life a lot easier for women with kids if we were asking those questions and delivering services with how to make the city work for families and kids in mind.

ECB: Advocates against youth incarceration have argued that King County should reconsider rebuilding the youth jail in favor of programs that support restorative justice and other alternatives to incarceration. What’s your position on that project, and on youth incarceration in general?

JF: It’s kind of like the old transit/transportation debate—why are we spending our money on old infrastructure that only makes the problem worse? Congestion begets more congestion. I think there is a similarity—why are we spending precious resources on facilities that are meant to jail youth, instead of those supports that keep kids out of jail and out of the criminal justice system?

We need to make investments to make the current jail whatever it needs to be, but then we need to ask, what if we were using that money to build preschools? What if we were using that money to provide high school students with summer opportunities? I think there are really three specific things that we could do that would have an impact. One is summer programming. Middle-class kids, wealthy kids, have access to all sorts of awesome things all summer long that poor kids don’t have access to. They may lose access to transit, and they lose access to a lot of enrichment activities and academic activities. So I think the city should take a really robust role in making sure that kids have those supports all summer long.

The second piece is, I think we should have impact fees on developers to support public school infrastructure. Most jurisdictions do that and I don’t think that is something that is at all unreasonable. Then the third thing is, to the extent that we’re going to be doing another Families and Education Levy, we should use that levy to address some of the serious racial and economic inequities in our system—things like not having school nurses and mental health counselors and other things that kids need in poorer schools.

There are both monetary investments that we need to make, and some really important systematic changes that we need to make around criminal justice. We need to be really reorienting our investments so that we’re focusing on kids and youth in positive ways, and I would also say the city needs to take a stance of listening to communities about what they need, because they know best about how to support their kids.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support!

Morning Crank: Keep Seattle What Now?

 

1. In announcing plans for a 1.75-cent-per-ounce soda tax last week, Mayor Ed Murray emphasized what he considers the nexus between sugary soda consumption (which has disproportionate impacts on low-income and minority communities) and what the tax will fund (programs that attempt to close the education and opportunity gap in those communities). As he did during his State of the City speech in February, Murray placed a particular emphasis on improving outcomes for young black men in Seattle Public Schools, by expanding mentoring programs aimed at keeping black male teenagers in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline. The city’s program, Our Best, is based on an Obama-era program called My Brother’s Keeper that was widely criticized for focusing on male achievement while ignoring the specific, and different, challenges facing young black women. For example, African American Policy Forum director Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw wrote in the New York Times that young black women are more likely than other young women to be victims of sexual violence, become pregnant at a young age, get suspended from school, die violently, and be victims of sex trafficking than other girls. “The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.”

Crenshaw notes that “supporters of My Brother’s Keeper use the analogy of ‘the canary in the coal mine‘ to justify both a narrow focus on individual-level interventions — as opposed to systemic policies to narrow the persistent racial gaps in education, income and wealth — and the exclusion of women and girls. Black boys are the miner’s canary, the argument goes, and so efforts to save them will trickle down to everyone else.”

When I asked Murray last week why he, like Obama, planned to emphasize young black men to the exclusion of young black women, his response was straight out of the Obama playbook. “Lots of the programs I listed—STEM, extracurricular activity programs, and other programs that will be enhanced—those are for young men and young women in our high schools,” Murray said. “They’re not limited to just men.”

Dwane Chappelle, director of the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning, jumped in. “At Aki Kurose Middle School, they are doing My Brother’s Keeper for young black men, but they’re also focusing on young black women and Hispanic women as well, making sure that students are all taken care of. They just use the My Brother’s Keeper framework” for both boys and, Chappelle said. But when I asked Chappelle whether the Aki Kurose program focuses on problems that are specific to girls, like teen pregnancy, he said he didn’t know the specifics.

2. A neighborhood effort to prohibit a four-story, 57-unit apartment building from going in along a commercial stretch of Greenwood, where the zoning has allowed apartments for many years, has passed the point of absurdity and is becoming downright surreal. Neighbors of the development, which is located right next to the frequent Route 5 bus line, argue that its residents will have to have cars because they won’t have access to transit, that by building small apartments, the developers are trying to “force” people to live in “Soviet-Union-like” dwellings, that it is “inhumane and unacceptable” for people to live without air conditioning in Seattle, and that a small garden on the roof would be an invitation for renters to “party” and cause disturbances.

Encouraged by a city planning and development department that subjects small projects like this one to design review, and the passivity of a design review board that failed to challenge or reject any of their complaints (virtually none of them the province of design review), the residents filed a challenge to the building under the State Environmental Policy Act, arguing, among other things, that the apartments will inconvenience neighbors by making it harder for them to park their cars.

livablephinney.org

Last week, the group opposing the building, which calls itself (of course) Livable Phinney, released the list of witnesses they would like to hear from and exhibits they hope to introduce at their first appearance before the city’s hearing examiner. (That hearing examiner, Sue Tanner, recently found in favor of Queen Anne homeowners who argued that allowing people to build mother-in-law apartments would harm the environment by, among other things, making it harder for people to park their cars.) A typical witness list might include five or six witnesses; Livable Phinney’s includes a dozen, plus 47 separate exhibits. The proposed witnesses include a Metro employee who will testify that Metro’s Route 5 is often behind schedule, making it less than “frequent,” an architect who will testify that the new apartments will create shadows on a nearby high-end condominium complex, a resident of that complex, and several nearby neighbors who oppose the project. The hearing, which is expected to last three days, starts on Tuesday.

3. Washington State Wire, which “relaunched” in January after several years as a conservative-leaning blog whose chief writer, Erik Smith, now works for the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus, has given consultant John Wyble a weekly column, where, last week, he tried to explain his client Mike McGinn’s perplexing campaign slogan, “Keep Seattle.” Says Wyble: “It simply means keep Seattle a welcoming place for all.”

Wyble continues: “I understand that this shorthand phrase could be confused with nostalgia. I remember riding in my Dad’s Ford Falcon along Boeing Field in the early 70s when Seattle was a blue-collar scrappy fishing town and SeaFair was the biggest event of the year. While I remember that fondly, this campaign knows that cities evolve and change. But for who?

“This is a campaign about keeping the promise of a great city for every person who lives in it.”

I guess that… clears that up?

Washington State Wire editor DJ Wilson says Wyble will write a total of eight columns for the website. No word yet on whether they plan to give equal time to consultants or spokespeople for the other mayoral campaigns.

4. David Preston and Harley Lever, two of the activists behind the Safe Seattle Facebook group, announced on their Facebook page that they plan to announce their candidacies for unspecified city offices this afternoon. (I’m guessing council Position 8 and mayor.) Anyone who reads my Twitter feed has a pretty good sense of my thoughts on Preston, who has mocked me relentlessly and even filed a frivolous city ethics complaint after I published a public record that showed another activist in an unflattering light, but you can find out even more about him by Googling his name and checking out his web page, which is a pastiche of conspiracy theories, images of city council aides and other private citizens lifted from their Facebook pages and Photoshopped, and overwrought imitations of hard-boiled journalism, minus the journalism.  You can also check out the video of his appearance before a flabbergasted Ethics and Elections Commission, starting around the two-minute mark.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.