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School board vacancy prompts calls for Chinese, transgender representation

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Community members have called for a vacant school board seat to be filled by a member of the Chinese of tranansgender communities. Candidates Li Mao Lovett and Mia Satya are among those whose names have been put forward. (Examiner file photos)

With Matt Haney preparing to swap his seat on the San Francisco school board for one on the Board of Supervisors, pressure is mounting for Mayor London Breed to appoint a Chinese candidate to take his place.

Haney, who was elected in November to replace Jane Kim as the representative for District 6, will be officially sworn into that position on Tuesday, vacating his seat on the school board two years before the official end of his second term.

Haney has recommended that either a Chinese or transgender candidate replace him, mirroring suggestions made to the mayor by members of the Chinese and LGBT communities and by the San Francisco Unified School District’s educator union, United Educators of San Francisco.

“I encouraged [Breed] to choose somebody who could hit the ground running, who has experience in the schools and with the work of the board — I encouraged her to look for diversity in her choice,” said Haney, who said he provided Breed with his “thoughts and ideas” a month after the election.

“We lack a Chinese member of the board currently. I think it would be important to appoint a Chinese member. They are our biggest student group,” said Haney. “Also, there’s been a lot of conversation — which I support — around looking for a transgender appointee to the board. There’s never been a trans member and we had a number of strong candidates in this last cycle.”

A total of 19 candidates ran for three open seats on the school board in the November election, which were ultimately won by Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez, and Faauuga Moliga. Moliga was also appointed by Breed prior to the election following Hydra Mendoza McDonnell’s departure in September.

Haney’s election as supervisor in November opened a fourth seat on the board, to be filled by Breed. The appointee must run for election in 2019 to maintain the seat.

Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson in the Mayor’s Office, said that Breed “is considering a lot of different individuals” and “candidates qualified for different reasons,” but would not offer specifics on how many candidates have been interviewed.

Some 35 percent of SFUSD’s students identified as Chinese, according to the district’s most recent data.

Ahead of the November election, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club officially endorsed Mia Satya, one of two transgender candidates, along with Collins and Lopez for school board.

“She is an advocate for LGBT youth and specifically for the trans community — for a long time and I think that voice is needed on the school board, especially with relentless attack from the [federal] administration,” said Honey Mahogany, a spokesperson for the club.

Along with Satya, the Club has suggested Li Miao Lovett, a Chinese candidate who also ran in the November race for school board, to Breed as a pick for school board appointee. Both candidates have also been recommended to fill the vacant seat by the Chinese Progressive Association Action Fund.

Lovett, a City College of San Francisco counselor and the mother of a current SFUSD student, is also the top pick of the United Educators of San Francisco, SFSUD’s educator union, which endorsed her alongside Collins and Moliga in November.

“We would like to see Lovett be appointed — we did endorse her,” said UESF President Susan Solomon. “We have a thorough endorsement process — she had all the answers to our questions, and has worked on different programs for the district. She also has a child in the district.”

Satya did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but Lovett confirmed that she was interviewed by Breed’s staff in December.

“I feel strongly about Chinese representation,” said Lovett. “Understanding that our Chinese American student population is the biggest ethnically, is also very diverse in terms of the academic and social needs, which really just transcend race. It has a lot to do with poverty and immigration and all the things that are important that we need to address in this time and age.”

Lovett immigrated to San Francisco as a child and has worked in public education for some two decades.

“It would be wonderful if she appointed me,” said Lovett, but added that Breed is “of course closer to the people she has endorsed.”

That list includes Michelle Parker, a long-time parent advocate and former president of the District Parent Teacher Association.

Parker, who ran in the November school board race, confirmed on Friday that she has also been interviewed by Breed’s staff.

“I would like to be appointed. I put my name in the hat and have been in touch with the mayor and her staff,” said Parker. “I would bring to the board a lot of experience — so many years working hard on the issues to make our schools the better the choice for students and their families. What I bring is a good understanding of policy and how to get things done and a lot of relationships.”

That experience could prove valuable, as the board could potentially have as many as four new commissioners this year.

“I don’t know when was the last time the board had essentially four new people,” said Commissioner Mark Sanchez, adding that “it doesn’t concern me, but when you have that many new people it could be a learning curve.”

Sanchez said that he does not have any preferences regarding an appointee, but believes that Breed would likely choose a candidate she has previously endorsed. That could include former School Board Commissioner Emily Murase, who was disqualified from seeking re-election in November after she missed a campaign filing deadline.

Murase was first elected to the board in 2010, becoming The City’s first Japanese American woman to hold elected office, and was twice re-elected for school board. She did not respond to a request for comment by press time

Another Chinese school board candidate in the November school board race who Breed initially endorsed was Josephine Zhao.

During the race, Zhao faced criticism over transphobic comments she made in 2013. Breed did not publicly rescind her endorsement of Zhao or issue a statement on the matter, but this month told the Bay Area Reporter that she felt Zhao’s comments were “unfortunate” and “hurtful,” and that she personally asked Zhao to drop out of the race.

Zhao did not respond to inquiries on whether or not she has been interviewed for appointment to the school board.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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