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Originally published August 19, 2009 at 3:33 PM | Page modified August 20, 2009 at 1:13 PM

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Primary voters vet leaders for Seattle Public Schools

Seattle voters are antsy about upcoming changes in Seattle Public Schools, one reason why incumbent School Board member Mary Bass heads into the general election barely holding her own against challenger Kay Smith-Blum.

THE need for effective leadership guiding Seattle Public Schools through downsizing and new attendance boundaries was an emerging theme from primary-election results.

Voters are antsy about upcoming changes, one reason why incumbent School Board member Mary Bass heads into the general election barely holding her own against challenger Kay Smith-Blum.

Voters in the Central Area aren't excited about Bass anymore. They shouldn't be. She had eight years to effect change and didn't.

James Kelly of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle gave up on Bass and endorsed Smith-Blum, a retailer with considerable experience raising money for schools. Bass received her lowest rating so far from the Municipal League of King County — an "adequate," down from "good" four years ago and "very good" eight years ago. Smith-Blum got their highest rating.

Bass has gotten considerable mileage out of being the School Board's voice of dissent. Supporters liken her "no" votes to a poke in the eye to an often highhanded administration. They miss the reality that Bass is a contrarian lacking thoughtfulness. Anyone can say "I disagree" but one qualification for a board member ought to be following that statement with a succinct explanation of the problem and a better solution.

Voters looking for accessibility have looked to Bass, who long ago stood out from the other board members with regular meetings for District 5 families. But let's not confuse public visibility with effectiveness. Other, more-productive board members now balance blogs and community gatherings with wise policy approaches.

Smith-Blum is the better candidate, offering fresh energy and ideas, including more public-private partnerships that broaden involvement in our schools. She must begin to build on her fine ideas by offering more specifics about how they would translate into substantive policy changes.

In Seattle's South End, Wilson Chin and Betty Patu head to the general election. The Seattle Times editorial board likes Chin, an inexhaustible school volunteer and scientist at the University of Washington. He got a big boost from the endorsement of someone District 7 voters know and trust, former board president and outgoing member Cheryl Chow.

Patu is a longtime district employee who must learn to view the district as a large entity and not the one department where she worked. Chin must balance his strong civic résumé with deeper knowledge of the district and urban schools.

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