Mike McGinn: Education Mayor?

Is McGinn's levy a play for more money, more control, or both?

Every mayor wants to be the "education mayor," just as every governor wants to be the hero or heroine who will save the public schools. So perhaps it's no surprise, even in this time of government austerity, that Mayor Mike McGinn is seeking to double the amount of city funding for schools in a renewed Families and Education Levy. God knows the schools will need more money when the state, which provides most school funding, gets done with its slash-and-burn budget session. It would also be no surprise if this were a bid to exercise more control over the Seattle School District. McGinn's predecessor certainly had that inclination. Former Mayor Greg Nickels made it no secret that he thought that neither the district's administration nor its board was adequate. At one point, he even hinted that he would like to appoint board members, rather than have them elected. Though he never carried through with that, Nickels did direct the city to take a harder look at the programs it funded. Those that didn't get results would get the ax, the city announced in 2004. During last week's brief with reporters, McGinn indicated that he too thought the district had big problems. "Thirteen percent of African-American students met the state's 10th-grade math standard," he said. "High-school graduation rates are unacceptable." KING-5, reporting on his remarks, suggested that McGinn wanted a "bigger say" in the schools. But both Mark Matassa, the mayor's spokesperson, and Holly Miller, director of the city's Office of Education, says the mayor is not looking for more leverage. "I don't think that's anyone's agenda," says Miller. Matassa adds that many of the programs that the proposed $231 million levy would support relate not to core classes but to supplemental programs, including summer school and preschool education. The mayor has a good relationship with Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and the school board, according to Miller. Still, the education director is pointing to one of the district's signature policy decisions—the new assignment plan that directs students to neighborhood schools—as one reason why increased funding is needed. Miller says the new policy concentrates poverty in South End schools because students in poor neighborhoods now don't have the option of going elsewhere. That's a consequence critics of the plan had long warned about. New levy dollars will consequently target those schools, Miller says. If the council approves the mayor's proposal, the levy request will go before voters in November.

 
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