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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Define Dysfunctional

posted by on November 1 at 13:02 PM

The buzz on the Seattle School Board is that they’re “dysfunctional.”

That’s a pseudo fancy way of saying nothing more than this: Some parents were upset about school closures.

School closures are certainly wrenching. But the whole “dysfunctional” thing is nothing more than euphemism jargon for the fact that people are uncomfortable with board members like Darlene Flynn. Flynn is willing to ruffle feathers to get stuff done. And she has gotten stuff done—like shoring up the budget and getting Raj Manhas to move on.

At a recent candidate forum, C.R. Douglas asked Darlene Flynn and her challenger, Sherry Carr, to address the whole “dysfunctional” issue.

Go the 35:39 mark and watch Carr not say much except to repeat her campaign theme that the board is dysfunctional and to say the school closure process was handled poorly—that is, the community wasn’t in the loop.

While there is certainly an argument to be made that the closures were sloppy, I’m not sure it means the school board is “dysfunctional.” More important, this is a disingenuous answer from Carr, who was on the PTSA committee that studied school closures and vetted the plan and told the Stranger Election Control Board that it was a thorough process.

Flynn knocks the question out of the park. She says dysfunctional means “not functioning” and then goes on to list the accomplishments of the board like closing the $30 million budget gap, turning around academic scores, and hiring a new super.

More to the point, Flynn says this: “Four years ago we had a dysfunctional school board. And they got along. And we had a deficit, and we couldn’t attract a qualified superintendent, and academics were in disarray.”

RSS icon Comments


A school board member suing the district?

Yeah, that's really "functional," Josh.

Stick to Darcy, short guy.

Posted by Yeah, right | November 1, 2007 1:22 PM

I've always found Darlene Flynn to be combative and not very interested in what other people have to say. I've sat in City Council meetings when she was with the Dept of Neighborhoods and listened to her mock citizen comments. And her response to the Capitol Hill neighborhood concerns about police behaviour after the WTO riots was disgraceful. Maybe she's highly "functional" but I won't be voting for her.

Posted by dr. .thompkins | November 1, 2007 1:37 PM

Yeah Right @1,

Sherry Carr isn't running against Sally Soriano. Her "dysfunctional" hit is aimed at Flynn. So, by your reasoning, Carr is being even more disingenuous.

Posted by Josh Feit | November 1, 2007 1:40 PM

This is why I voted all the school board incumbents out this year.


Posted by Will in Seattle | November 1, 2007 1:49 PM

I voted the School Board out four years ago to fix the budget gap they had so irresponsibly missed. They fixed it. Is there a part of that people don’t understand?

Oh. So they actually debate the issues in public. East Coast style! People bitch and moan there’s no debate in Seattle. Then the second there is, they go ape about everything being “dysfunctional.”

Grow up. It’s a big city.

Posted by BB | November 1, 2007 2:24 PM

Josh do you have a child in one of the Seattle School District schools?

Posted by Barbara B | November 1, 2007 2:24 PM

I think he is a child in the SSD.


Posted by Will in Seattle | November 1, 2007 2:50 PM


No, I do not.

Are you suggesting that I shouldn't be able to vote in a school board race?

Should I be prohibited from voting on school levies? Or on HJR 4204?

Or are you suggesting that there's no way for me to gauge if the board is "dysfunctional?"

I follow the issues. Our editorial board met with all the candidates, both in the primary and in the general. Feel free to ask Sherry Carr if she thought those meetings were up-to-speed and engaging?

And the Stranger ed board makes recommendations because we take the school board seriously and believe all voters should—whether they have kids in Seattle Schools or not.

Posted by Josh Feit | November 1, 2007 3:05 PM

You've got this pretty well scrambled, Josh.

The select committee that Sherry Carr was part of (aka CACIEE) had NOTHING to do with PTSA - it was appointed by then superintendent Manhas, and recommended that while school closures were necessary, they should ONLY be done in the context of a comprehensive strategy, not as a stand-alone tactic.

The school board subsequently decided to close schools as a stand-alone tactic - and Sherry had NOTHING to do with that process, much less vetted it - and I highly doubt she said it was thorough.

Three separate and distinct things: PTSA, CACIEE, closure committee.

And again (for about the 10th time here on Slog), school board directors have almost nothing to do with budgets (the superintendent's staff puts it together and the board votes yay or nay - no line item veto).

If you want to just say "vote for Darlene because I like her and I say so", please do that - but don't try to justify it by slamming Sherry or accusing her of things she didn't say or do.

Posted by come on, josh | November 1, 2007 4:32 PM


Whether Carr served on CACIEE as a PTSA member or not, doesn't change this fact: In two different ed board meetings with the Stranger, she stood by the closure process and took some credit for vetting it as well.

But you see here on the tape, she segues from bad mouthing the closures into her campaign theme of "dysfunctional."

Meanwhile, our board didn't endorse Flynn because "I like her."

As we explained in our endorsement—Flynn has played a strong role in turning the board around, and we'd like to see her continue to anchor the reform.

Some board members need to go, but we don't think a talent like Flynn should be hit with a blind "throw the bums out" vote.

Posted by Josh Feit | November 1, 2007 4:53 PM

I don't have to watch the tape, Josh - I was there.

And if you had been, or followed along in the last four years, you'd know why this board has been considered dysfunctional (and it isn't just school closures) - and you'd also know that it wasn't Darlene who turned the board and district around (if anything, they turned around in spite of her.)

Thanks for the turnaround go to Brita Butler Wall, Michael DeBell, and Cheryl Chow in concert with superintendent Raj Manhas and staff.

It would be good to call them for some off-the-record background, if you haven't.

Darlene is a talent, to be sure - just better suited to the City than the school board.

Posted by come on, josh | November 1, 2007 5:22 PM


Your vague critique of Darlene Flynn isn't compelling.

More important, what's missing from your comments is this: A reason to vote for Sherry Carr. This was also missing from Carr's two presentations in front of our endorsement board.

I've talked to people off-the-record about both candidates. Accordingly, we endorsed Flynn

Posted by Josh Feit | November 1, 2007 5:33 PM


I have children in Seattle Public Schools. One of them has graduated and one is a senior. I have been active in school district issues for almost 20 years. And, all I can say is -- you have lost your mind.

I love a good debate as long as it has some intellectual integrity. However, I find you lacking in both -- intellect and integrity.

If anyone were to rationally compare their two sets of credentials, it is clear that Flynn is the more qualified of the two. Sherry is nice and so is Darlene. However, Darlene can be tough when she needs to -- and I am glad she is tough on behalf of our children. Who else can hold school district staff accountable if not school board members?

As far as fixing the district's problems, Michael DeBell and Cheryl Chow weren't sitting on the board during the first two years of fixing the budget mess. If memory serves, Raj Manhas was the Chief Operations Officer when the $35 mil was overspent and the capital budget suffered from continuous overruns. And, while Brita was on the board, Darlene was sitting on the budget committee. Additionally, board members can veto line items. All they have to do is line up the votes.

Finally, Sherry did sit on the CACIEE committee appointed by Raj Manhas and made program recommendations that amounted to multi-million dollar expenditures that exceeded accessible revenues with no plan to pay for them. You call that fiscal responsibility?

If you were being intellectually honest, you would give credit where credit is due. And, if you just don't like Darlene, just say it. You haven't made a substantive case for replacing Flynn. Holding staff accountable is why I am voting for her. At least I will know what is going on in the district.

Posted by Board Watcher | November 1, 2007 8:07 PM

Define dysfunctional?

Probably you should - you used the word yourself about this school board (including Darlene Flynn) when you said about Steve Sundquist '...we're confident he'll use his no-nonsense biz background to help get this dysfunctional board on track"?

Posted by ho hum | November 1, 2007 8:08 PM

Do you chew gum and type at the same time?

Your first line was...

"The buzz on the school board is that they're dysfunctional."

Then you knocked that line down.

Well, dummie. If a member of the school board is suing, that's a sign of dysfunction by the board...unless one plaintiff isn't enough. Or you feel a single member has to file more than one law suit. Geez, you are truly a dope!

You like Flynn. Well, lah-dee-dah. Just don't swallow her line that the group is functioning well together. (See above.)

Josh, you are the classic combination of lethal ingredients in journalism, arrogance and laziness.

Posted by Yeah, right | November 1, 2007 9:13 PM

The only examples of board 'dysfunction' are Sally and Mary giving depositions for a citizen lawsuit.

What exactly has Darlene done to contribute to the alleged 'dysfunction'. Will someone give specific examples of Darlene's actions? When has publically exercising your right to disagree (philosophically or on policy)in a democracy become 'dysfunction'?

The previous board sang 'kum ba yah' as they rubberstamped the district administration budgets into a $35 mil deficit. How did that serve our children?

When I was in public school, we learned that in a DEMOCRACY, it is preferrable to have diverse opinions and world views in our legislative bodies to make sure that we were all represented. Are we really ready to sacrifice that ideal on the alter of being nice?

Posted by Board Watcher | November 2, 2007 8:06 AM

My objections to Darlene Flynn have nothing to do with whether I "like" her or not. And I don't have any problem with public officials making tough, unpopular decisions. Anyone involved in public life knows how that goes down. I've seen Darlene Flynn in action. I think she lacks respect for the people she represents and lacks respect for the system she works in. I encourage you all to vote. I know who I won't be voting for.

Posted by dr. thompkins | November 2, 2007 9:46 AM

@17 - agreed and well-said.

@13 and 16 - the lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Posted by bored watcher | November 2, 2007 1:22 PM

After reading all of the blogs, I just can't help feeling that those who have posted have a PERSONAL axe to grind.

You're right, if this is how you feel about Darlene then you shouldn't vote for her. If THIS is the paramount issue -- whether some adults got their feelings hurt because someone held them accountable for high performance standards -- then you shouldn't vote for her.

However, I happen to think that this campaign is about the kids. The achievement gap is a moral crisis and suffers from lack of political will to do more than talk about it. I think that it is important to have someone on the board who is willing to hold the professionals charged with fixing this problem to the highest standard, ensure fair distribution of the public's resources, require high quality and effective instruction and to tell the truth about the condition of our school system -- no matter whose oxen is gored.

Darlene has the courage to stand up for "doing what works". I will be voting for her on Nov 6th.

Posted by Angela Toussaint | November 2, 2007 6:54 PM

dr thompkins @ 2 and 17 knows whereof s/he speaks.

If you've ever watched Darlene Flynn at a campaign forum, board work session, or other public meeting - and watched her roll her eyes, smirk, laugh out loud at others' statements, turn her back to fellow candidates and board members, pontificate at length about "teachable moments", get up and leaving when she doesn't like what she's hearing, dress down people in public (which board watcher euphemistically calls "tough" and "holding people accountable") - you'd know it's not varying degrees of "nice" we're talking about here.

And I've not ever been the recipient - so, @19, it's not personal.

I don't know - is what Darlene does "East Coast style" politics and we're just too squeamish in Seattle to take it?

When you add her stuff to the various idiosyncracies of other board members (e.g., crying in public meetings) and the way they work (?) together, you're not sure it's not some bizarre kind of theater - not a gathering for elected governance.

Doesn't really matter whether you call them (and it isn't just Darlene as Josh the writer infers) dysfunctional, unprofessional, or just painful to watch - it gets in the way of the work that matters and I just don't want it anymore.

Posted by let's get real | November 3, 2007 7:30 AM

Let's get real is right on. Darlene is bright and tough but she is non-responsive to parents (although one reporter told me that Darlene always answers her phone calls, go figure). Darlene could have helped guide school closures by giving the committee input (she didn't)and this was a committee and a process that the entire Board created and voted on.

To see Darlene alternately cry and be rude to staff - in public - is to know she should not be a public official. You can certainly say you are unhappy with staff, explain why but to sneer at them is wrong. And why is she crying? There's no crying in baseball and there's no crying up at the Board dais.

Sherry is a quiet person and not taken to pontificating (and Darlene is great at that - ever been to a Board meeting where she drones on and on with no apparent point).

Keep Sally and vote Darlene out.

Posted by westello | November 3, 2007 9:23 AM

3 entries found.

dysfunctiondys-minimal brain dysfunction

Main Entry: dys·func·tion
Variant(s): also dis·func·tion \(ˌ)dis-ˈfəŋ(k)-shən\
Function: noun
Date: circa 1916
1 : impaired or abnormal functioning
2 : abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group
— dys·func·tion·al \-shnəl, -shə-nəl\ adjective

Posted by libby larson | November 5, 2007 8:47 AM

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