Why Rice wants the Seattle schools job
Former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice confirmed Sunday he wants to run Seattle Public Schools as interim superintendent, but School Board President...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice confirmed Sunday he wants to run Seattle Public Schools as interim superintendent, but School Board President Brita Butler-Wall said the school district doesn't need an interim leader and will proceed with a national search for a superintendent.
Rice had declined comment for several weeks about his interest in the top school job after Mayor Greg Nickels lobbied School Board members earlier this month to hire Rice to replace Superintendent Raj Manhas, who is stepping down in August.
In an interview Sunday, Rice said he was "excited and eager" about serving as superintendent while civic leaders "figured out a way to rally the community around common goals and objectives" for Seattle schools.
Rice said the district is perceived to be in disarray because of Manhas' impending resignation, controversy about proposed school closures and some unruly School Board meetings.
With two school-funding measures, totaling almost $900 million, scheduled for a February vote, Rice said it is important to "restore confidence and set a new tone" in Seattle schools.
While Seattle mayor from 1990 to 1998, Rice was seen as a strong advocate for schools. He convened an education summit that produced the Families and Education Levy, which Seattle voters have been asked to approve every seven years since 1990, raising a total of $255 million.
As interim superintendent, Rice said he'd call for another summit and reconsider the closure plan. He's not sure the proposed savings are "worth the rancor" the plan has prompted among parents and community activists, he said.
Butler-Wall struck a firm tone in rejecting Rice's offer. "We're not looking for an interim superintendent. We have a superintendent for the next 10 months. We've already launched a national search, and Mayor Rice is welcome to apply" for that job, she said.
Despite recent problems and perceptions, Butler-Wall said the school district is in solid financial and academic shape. "So I am very proud of this board and this superintendent," she said.
School Board member Michael DeBell agreed with Butler-Wall but said Rice's offer might be worth reconsidering in six months if the national search isn't going as hoped. "I just feel that with someone of Norm's obvious accomplishments you don't want to shut the door too tight," DeBell said.
Still, DeBell said he thought that efforts by Nickels and Rice to intervene in school matters was becoming counter-productive. "Continuing to be critical and trying to maneuver around our search is, I think, very divisive," DeBell said.
Since his name surfaced as a possible superintendent, Rice said he's been swamped with questions about his interest and calls of support.
Now a visiting practitioner at the University of Washington, Rice said he doesn't need the superintendent's job. He declined to put a specific time frame on how long he would like to serve in an interim role as leader of the public schools.
He tried to dispel concerns that he would usher in a City Hall takeover of schools if hired as superintendent. "I think people know I'm my own person. I'm not a stalking horse" for Nickels, Rice said, adding that the mayor doesn't want to take over the public schools.
Some advisers to Nickels have said Seattle's elected School Board should be replaced with one appointed by the mayor and governor. State Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, has offered to draft legislation allowing that.
Rice said he's not sure that's a good idea. "The verdict is still out," he said, on whether appointed boards in cities such as Boston and Chicago have "achieved their objectives."
He said it's premature to have that debate. "It probably needs to be discussed, but in the short run there are too many other things to worry about."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or email@example.com
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