San Francisco School Board recall election will take place in February

In August, the group that has been gathering signatures for a recall of three members of the San Francisco School Board announced they had secured enough signatures to get the recall on the ballot. Specifically, they needed 51,325 signatures for each member they wished to recall and they had gathered roughly 80,000 for each, meaning they had a fairly large buffer in case some of the signatures were challenged.

In early September those signatures were submitted to the state and yesterday we learned that all three recall petitions were qualified to be on the ballot. The recall election is scheduled for February 15.

Politico frames the SF recall as one example of many attempted recalls within the state and around the country.

“Recall fever is alive and well in San Francisco and voters are all in for this,” said Democratic strategist Katie Merrill, who supported the effort but did not have a formal role. “They were mad, they were frustrated at the school board that shirked its responsibility during the pandemic — which is trying to get to get kids back at school.”

Joshua Spivak, one of the nation’s foremost recall experts, said Monday that the San Francisco movement reflects how school board members in particular have been targeted by recall ire across the country this year, in some areas due to Covid-19 policies and others because of fears that schools are teaching “critical race theory.”

In 2021, there have been some 200 individual attempts — the lion’s share unsuccessful — to recall local school board members in California, Spivak said. And that makes the San Francisco Board of Education recall perhaps the largest and most consequential of any such effort in the country right now, he said.

The United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) teacher’s union opposes the recall and is arguing that it’s anti-democratic to allow people to vote to recall these three members of the board. How is voting anti-democratic, you ask? Because if the three are recalled, their replacements would be selected by the mayor.

According to the UESF, “educators and parents oppose the recall calling it a distraction that takes away valuable resources from our students and classrooms.”

“The central issue here is not the individual commissioners themselves. This is about the voice of our parents and our communities. The recall undermines the voices of parents and voters about who should represent them on the Board of Education. It makes the mayor the sole decision-maker about who should sit on the board. Parents and voters want a school board that answers to them, not unelected appointees that answer to City Hall,” said UESF President Cassondra Curiel.

The union is making two arguments here, one of which is missing important context and the other of which is incoherent. First they claim that the recall is a distraction and too expensive. You know what else was an expensive distraction? How about the effort to rename schools during a pandemic based on faulty research. How many months did the board spend on that? Then there was the effort to cover up the mural at a local high school. That was also a waste of time and resources. And that’s not to mention Alison Collins massive lawsuit against the board. If she’d had her way, that lawsuit would have cost the district ten times what this recall election will cost. Finally, there’s the fact that the district is broke and is in danger of being taken over by state regulators because of overspending with no plan to balance the budget in sight. In short, the idea that this board was focused and in control of its resources until the recall came along is laughable.

As for the voices of parents and voters, those are the ones who just gathered the signatures necessary to put this recall on the ballot. A poll from May showed the board was 61 points underwater with voters, and that was before word that the state might take over because they can’t balance their budget. Voters are going to have their say in February about all of this and the board members will answer to them. Replacement board members will be appointed by the mayor but will be very well aware of why those seats were open. So the idea that the replacement board members will somehow decide they aren’t answerable to the voters who just vaporized their predecessors is incoherent. On the contrary, if the recall fails then the message is that board members can do whatever they want, whether voters like it or not, without consequences. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

One of the three board members facing recall doesn’t seem to have been chastened at all by the experience:

López and Collins did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Moliga said the recall had little to do about his positions on education.

“The attempt to recall me is motivated by politics, not education policy,” he said. “This election process will bring those motives to light, and I am looking forward to that discussion.”

In fact, this isn’t being motivated by the normal right/left political divide. There aren’t enough Republicans in San Francisco to matter. As Heather Knight reported last month, most of the people pushing the recall are on the left.

Already, supporters of the internationally ridiculed school board have bashed the recall for supposedly being fueled by Republicans, conservatives and dark money, but is it?

Unlike with Tuesday’s recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, the answer is no. Everyday San Franciscans with real concerns about the school board — and who believe the city’s kids deserve better — launched the effort and worked tirelessly to gather signatures.

“Do I look like a Republican? Hello!” said one of the men in a yellow T-shirt — plus a rainbow beard, top hat, silver pants and platform boots. “I’m Gaybraham Lincoln. Queens for the recall!”

Honest (and Fabulous) Abe was David Thompson, who pulled his 10-year-old son out of the district after months of the boy’s outbursts and despondency over Zoom school — while the school board mostly ignored families’ concerns and instead focused on distractions like renaming 44 closed schools, including Lincoln High.

So good luck trying to frame Gaybraham Lincoln as crazy right-winger. It’s not going to work this time but that won’t stop the school board and the union from trying.