City Stands Poised to Become School District's Watchdog--Not, Thankfully, Its Overlord

After all the hand-wringing over Seattle schools in the past few weeks, the district and the city seem to have hit upon a genuinely good idea. According to today's Seattle Times, the city's Ethics and Elections Commission is to assume oversight of investigations into district wrongdoing. What's smart about this move is that it lets the city play a watchdog role without attempting the foolhardy project of of taking over the district, as some radio-show and living-room chatter has been suggesting of late.

After Mayor Mike McGinn proposed doubling the city's school levy, DW too wondered whether he was vying for more control. But why would we put the schools in McGinn's hands? New York City's schools didn't magically transform in the hands of a much more decisive and experienced mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

There's this idea that some colossal bureaucratic ineptitude is responsible for the weaknesses of public schools, when in fact poverty and related societal problems are primary factors. Actually, contrary to the impression much of the city is getting, Seattle schools on the whole are pretty good and in some cases excellent (although not necessarily in poorer neighborhoods, hence the recent debate over the new neighborhood-based assignment plan.)

Which is not to say that the district does not suffer from bureaucratic ineptitude, particularly when it comes to financial management. As Crosscut's Knute Berger pointed out recently, the district has been screwing up and then promising to restore the public trust for years.

Bringing in the city's well-regarded ethics commission tackles this specific problem, at least as far as it concerns deceitful behavior such as was on display in the district's small-business program. The commission would look into complaints by whistle-blowers and other allegations of ethics violations, according to the Times.

The maneuver also, incidentally, provides some nice publicity for Tim Burgess, who helped engineer it as chair of City Council's education committee and is said to have mayoral aspirations.

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