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'Time for an intervention:' Seattle School Board member resigns, cites 'dysfunctional culture

caption: Eden Mack
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Eden Mack
Courtesy Seattle Public Schools

Saying "Enough is Enough. It is time for an intervention," Eden Mack has resigned from her position on the Seattle School Board.

Mack cites a range of issues facing Seattle Public Schools in her resignation letter submitted this week, such as "chronic underfunding." She said that she “can no longer participate” in a school system that “is not serving the students and families of Seattle.”

She further argues that the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction should intervene and help solve ongoing problems plaguing the state's largest school district.

Mack is a first-term board director who represented District IV, which includes Queen Anne, Magnolia, and parts of Ballard. She is the former legislative chair for Seattle Council PTSA and co-founder of Washington's Paramount Duty, an organization that advocates for the provision of "ample" funding of K-12 education as mandated by the state Constitution.

She has previously said that she ran for office in 2017 hoping that she could help improve the state of Seattle Schools. But in her resignation letter, Mack said budgetary problems due to a lack of state funding have kept class sizes large in the state's largest district, and led to insufficient special education services, maintenance problems, and too few counselors and nurses.

“I wish my colleagues well, but I’ve come to the realization that we as a school board are going to continue to wrestle with these endemic challenges until we have a real intervention and support from the state," Mack told KUOW in an interview.

She said the resource shortage is particularly problematic as the district plans to bring students back to buildings — overcrowded classes will need to be cut in half in order to make social distancing possible, she said, meaning that school capacity will be drastically reduced even as many schools rely on portables to house students.

Mack said a lack of funding has also interfered with efforts to prevent staff abuse of students; mistreatment KUOW has revealed in a yearlong investigative series.

"The impacts of the system being so chronically underfunded, I think, make it really difficult for anybody that's trying to do good work to do that work," Mack said.

Even “after multiple audits and recommendations and attempts to change policy and practices, there continue to be scandals and lawsuits and students are being harmed,” Mack said in her resignation letter.

Superintendent Denise Juneau said last month that she will resign at the end of her contract in June. But Mack said it will take more than a new superintendent to change what she said ails the district.

"The problems that we have, they're not gonna be fixed just by hiring somebody that we think is a superstar," Mack said, noting the problems have existed for years, with turnover at the superintendent level on down.

Instead, she called on the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to thoroughly audit the district’s financial, governance and management structures and assess what Seattle Schools needs to fully serve and protect students.

One improvement, she said, could be making school board seats full-time, paid positions with support staff, as is the case with Seattle City Council.

Mack's term is up in December, and school board policy indicates that her successor will be appointed by the remaining members of the board.

Board members were not immediately available for comment following her resignation announcement: they were meeting to discuss how the district can fill a projected $48 million budget shortfall.

Mack's full statement on her resignation

SEATTLE – Dear School Board Colleagues, Superintendent Juneau and staff,

It is with great sadness that I tender my resignation as School Board Director for District Four.

I’ve given my life to advocating on behalf of public education for the past 8 years, starting when my oldest entered first grade in Seattle Public Schools. However, I can no longer participate in the ongoing systemic dysfunction that is not serving the students and families of Seattle. As one of seven volunteer board members, I have come to accept that I do not have the power to change it by remaining in my seat. When I ran for school board, I had hopes that I could help improve things and I’ve always tried to really listen and operate with grace and respect. We’ve made some progress with a few issues but I have ultimately come to realize that the incremental change and Band-Aids are wholly insufficient. No one person is to blame, and so many of us have tried so hard to effect positive change and do right by Seattle’s kids.

For decades we have had a revolving door of Superintendents, staff, and school board directors, each hoping, like me, that we could make a positive difference for students in Seattle. Despite all of our best efforts, we have systemic failings in keeping students safe while in our care, overcrowded classes and a structural budget deficit. Our volunteer school board, though well meaning with shared values, we are simply not equipped to oversee an underfunded $1 billion budget and hire/manage a Superintendent to do this impossible job.

The chronic underfunding for decades has been deeply damaging. No one person is responsible for this mess, but we have a dysfunctional culture that even after multiple audits and recommendations and attempts to change policy and practices, there continue to be scandals and lawsuits and students are being harmed. I don’t believe another change in Superintendents will fix it, nor will the next election. I can’t stress this emphatically enough. We need an intervention.

I don’t know exactly the mechanism, but I believe it is time for the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to intervene. Seattle Schools, as the largest district in the State, is exponentially impacted by the year to year revenue swings from changes in enrollment and the State funding shortfalls for things like class size, employee health insurance, special education services, and funding for capital facilities. The massive gap between the true cost of providing basic education in an urban school district and what the State provides is not imaginary. We need a full audit of the governance, management, and financial structure, and then the resources and political will from the State to implement needed changes and close the funding gap. We should also look seriously again at making school board positions full time paid with required trainings and adequate staff to support the work.

The failed initiatives and the rotating staff and superintendents are emblematic of a broken system, not personalities. And now, sacrificing countless hours away from my own school age kids to continue to try to patch a broken system has become untenable for me. I can’t in good conscience take another vote on a budget that does not even provide for a full time nurses in every school, mental health supports, curriculum and materials that are needed, or provides reasonable class sizes. Nor can I sit through another meeting where we talk about implementing changes to protect students from harm but the administrative and policy changes that are needed are pushed off. We need to step back and reflect on the necessary reforms. And, after taking time to reengage with my family, I'll look for future opportunities to help solve these systemic failings.

Enough is Enough. It is time for an intervention. Seattle’s kids deserve a safe and empowering public education, and I can no longer enable the broken system that can’t provide it.

For these reasons, I am tendering my resignation.

Best Regards,

Eden Mack

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