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Four New Faces Likely On Seattle School Board; Lone Incumbent Running Trails Badly

Kyle Stokes
Leslie Harris, right, speaks during a forum for Seattle school board candidates. As Harris spoke, a candidate for another seat — Jill Geary, left — looked on. Geary was leading opponent Lauren McGuire, center, in early results.";s:3

Four years ago, Marty McLaren took on a well-funded Seattle School Board incumbent and won on a promise to question the district establishment.

Now, early results of Tuesday’s vote show she herself is in danger of losing to an insurgent challenger, Leslie Harris, who says McLaren has become too much a part of that establishment.

Leading by nearly 50 percentage points and more than 36,000 votes, Harris appears poised to be one of four new faces on the seven-member board charged with overseeing Seattle Public Schools.

Three incumbents; Sherry Carr, Sharon Peaslee and Harium Martin-Morris; did not run for re-election this year. Hoping to replace them, six candidates for those seats stood for a city-wide vote:

  • Special education attorney Jill Geary leads former Seattle Council PTSA president Lauren McGuire by a 59-40 percent margin. About 14,300 votes separate Geary and McGuire after the first count. Geary raised more than $71,200 for her campaign. But even McGuire's campaign contribution total of $46,500 was higher than all of the candidates for the three other seats combined.
  • Engineer Rick Burke opened up a comfortable lead over Laura Obara Gramer, an occupational therapist and advocate for deaf children. Burke captured 78 percent of the vote and led by more than 43,000 votes.
  • Scott Pinkham, a University of Washington instructor and advisor, picked up 65 percent of the vote. Pinkham's challenger — software engineer and special education advocate Michael Christopherson — garnered 33 percent of the vote and trailed by more than 23,700 votes. 
Credit Kyle Stokes / KPLU
Incumbent Seattle school board member Marty McLaren, right, speaks during a candidate forum as challenger Leslie Harris, left, looks on.

Harris — the only candidate to take on a sitting board member — ran as a change agent. She said the board had not been responsive enough to parent's concerns.

A retired teacher, McLaren positioned herself as a moderate consensus-builder, saying she felt Seattle Public Schools superintendent Larry Nyland is the district’s best leader in 20 years and that the district needed stability, not change.

But before the vote, McLaren acknowledged a teachers strike and recent staffing controversy had amplified frustrations with district leadership, which weakened her politically.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.
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