Motorcycle racing is a relatively recent
hobby. He commutes to Seattle via the
Bainbridge Island ferry, and for years he had
to watch the motorcycles disembark first.
So one day, about three years ago—after
extensive bargaining with his wife of 25
years—he bought one. When he began to
get too many speeding tickets, a colleague
suggested track racing. There are now
several framed photos of him, leaning
around a turn, on the wall of his office.
Next to these photos you’ll find a fist-sized
indentation in the wall. Ahearne shows how
his own fist nestles perfectly in the hole. It’s his
hole. He made it several years ago. He calls
it “a measured response to an IT difficulty.”
A server went down, several hours’ worth of
emails were lost, and the IT people used by
the firm at the time gave the helpful advice
IT people tend to give: Why not email anyone
who might have emailed you during this time
and ask them if they emailed you? Ahearne’s
first response: “Do you even live in my world?”
His second response was the hole in the wall.
Mostly, though, his office is cluttered with
exhibits left over from the McCleary case.
Mike Blair talks up the “volumes of evidence
Tom and his team had to work with.” He
talks about the “ 30 three-ring binders full of
evidence and expert witness testimony.” It
meant a lot of reading.
IN JANUARY 2007, MCCLEARY AND NEWS
filed their lawsuit, and more than two years
later, in August 2009, the case went to trial.
It lasted until October, and the trial judge
issued his ruling in February 2010.
Early on, to combat the national expert
witnesses the state produced—who argued
that more money didn’t necessarily mean
a better education—Ahearne, somewhat
controversially, decided to rely upon school
superintendents as his experts.
“Sitting superintendents can be a
problem,” says Blair, who retired from his
own position in 2010. “They’re always in this
positive-spin mode. It’s hard to say in front of
the court that we’re failing our kids. If it gets
back to the community ... ‘ Wait a minute,
you’re failing the kids?’”
But it worked. Moments were
serendipitous. One superintendent arrived
disheveled and apologetic because a new
student had shown up that morning, putting
them over the legal limit on teacher-to-
student ratio. He spent the morning doing
triage. Another superintendent reported
that, the day before, a student crossing the
highway had been hit by a car—a student
who had been bused to school until budget
cuts widened the parameters of which
students were bused to school.