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Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Group forms PAC to elect 3 to School Board

Seattle Times staff reporter

Donors behind Strong Seattle Schools


A political-action committee has formed to raise money for three candidates for the Seattle School Board. Among its contributors:

Sue Donaldson, executive director, Washington Appleseed Foundation and former Seattle City Council president: $200

Gary Gannaway, chairman of the Alliance of Education, and his wife, Krystal: $500

William H. Gates Sr., co-chairman, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: $250

Nicolas Hanauer, investor and League of Education Voters president: $5,000

Christopher Larson, Microsoft executive and part owner of the Seattle Mariners, and his wife, Julia Calhoun: $5,000

Peter Maier, president of 2004 Seattle Schools First levy campaign: $250

Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties: $1,000

Donald Nielsen, former Seattle School Board member and chairman, TeachFirst: $1,000

John Nesholm, executive, LMN Architects: $3,000

Mary Jean Ryan, director of Seattle city Office of Policy and Management: $250

Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, former Seattle School Board member: $100

Michael Slade, investor: $5,000

Suquamish Indian Tribe: $1,000

Source: Public Disclosure Commission, Seattle Times research

A well-heeled group of Seattle education boosters is backing a slate for the Seattle School Board with a $45,000 direct-mail campaign.

The group's political-action committee, Strong Seattle Schools, hopes to elect Michael DeBell, Jane Fellner and Linda Thompson-Black on Nov. 8. The PAC was established right before the September primary and has raised more than $56,000, according to its treasurer, Philip Lloyd.

The PAC's supporters — 72 so far — are a who's who of business executives and agenda-setters. They include William Gates Sr., co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gary Gannaway, chairman of the board of the Alliance for Education, the school district's main fundraising partner; and Mary Jean Ryan, a top adviser to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Both Fellner and Thompson-Black face opponents with widespread name recognition: Fellner, a longtime parent leader, is challenging incumbent Mary Bass for the District 5 seat representing the Central Area and parts of Capitol Hill. Thompson-Black, a dropout-prevention specialist, is in a tight District 7 race with Cheryl Chow, a former school principal and City Council member. (DeBell, a former Ballard High School PTSA president, has a strong lead over college student Astrid Gielen for the District 4 seat representing Ballard, Queen Anne and Magnolia.) All the candidates run citywide in the general election.

Former Seattle School Board member Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, who was traveling out of the country, is listed on state records as the campaign manager for Strong Seattle Schools. Thompson-Black said that Schaad-Lamphere serves on the steering committee for her School Board campaign.

Two of Washington's top political donors — investment partners Nicolas Hanauer and Michael Slade — gave $5,000 each to the PAC, its largest single donations. Hanauer is president of the League of Education Voters, which led an unsuccessful voter initiative last year to raise the state sales tax by a penny to fund public education. Bass opposed the measure.

Asked why he was supporting DeBell, Fellner and Thompson-Black, Hanauer said, "Because we think they're better than the ones they're running against."

In-kind contributions

DeBell, Fellner and Thompson-Black each say they weren't involved with the PAC's fundraising or mailing, didn't author any of the pamphlets and weren't asked for their permission.

But a letter dated Oct. 17 from Strong Seattle Schools to the three candidates notified them they should each report to the state Public Disclosure Commission a $15,000 in-kind contribution from the PAC. Starting Oct. 18, no candidate could accept more than $5,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from any one source, under state rules.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the Public Disclosure Commission, which enforces campaign-finance rules, said that the way the PAC has reported the money to the state means "there's some kind of collaboration" between the PAC and the candidates' campaigns.

If the PAC were truly independent, the candidates wouldn't need to report the contributions as in-kind donations, Anderson said.

Lloyd said the PAC and at least two candidates were using the same consultants for some campaign work. In addition to the first $45,000 direct-mail campaign, Lloyd said, the PAC will send out a second mailer and donate $5,000 in cash to Thompson-Black's campaign.

"I was a little bit surprised," DeBell said of the letter he received from the PAC. "We're not a slate in any political sense. That is, we have not conferred or adopted any [common] position. So I was a little concerned about public perception."

Nine of the PAC's donors are board directors for the Alliance for Education, which administers private grants to Seattle Public Schools. They include Hanauer; former School Board member Don Nielsen; Anne Farrell, board president of the Seattle Public Library Foundation; Peter Maier, chairman of the Schools First! levy campaign in 2004; and John Warner, a retired Boeing executive who is co-chairman of an advisory committee expected to recommend ways for Seattle Public Schools to fix its chronic budget deficits.

PAC donations to candidates and campaigns are common. But the establishment of a PAC to elect a slate to the Seattle School Board hasn't happened in recent memory. It has occurred in Los Angeles and other cities where strong mayors have sought to assert more influence over the schools.

Chow's supporters

Chow, for her part, has some big-name supporters as well, including Gov. Christine Gregoire; Lisa Bond, former president of the Seattle Council PTSA; and more than a dozen Seattle school principals.

She said she's staying focused on her message — being the only educator running for the board. She said she's raised $50,000 from more than 400 donors throughout the city.

One of Chow's supporters, Suzanne Hittman, a Seattle School Board member from 1975 to 1981, said the promotion of a School Board slate was "very new to Seattle."

"It's politicizing the School Board races," she said. "What it means to me is those three people have come to some agreement that they are going to work together on the board. What does that mean for representation for their district?"

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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