One recall down, as many as four more to go in San Francisco.
The recall attempt against Gov. Gavin Newsom ended with a whimper. Now, eyes are turning to the recall fever in The City, where voters could soon determine the fate of three San Francisco school board members and District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Supporters have turned in signatures to recall San Francisco Unified School District President Gabriela López, Vice President Faauuga Moliga and board member Alison Collins. They say they have more than enough signatures to meet the threshold needed to qualify for a special election.
While the Department of Elections is verifying the signatures, The Examiner sat down to talk to Collins.
She’s been a lightning rod for criticism of the school board during the pandemic. Recall supporters, back in February, dug up 2016 tweets that criticized members of the Asian American community for a perceived unwillingness to speak out against anti-Black racism using derogatory language.
Almost the entire San Francisco political apparatus called for her to resign, followed by her board colleagues stripping her of her vice president title and committee assignments. Collins bucked the calls and responded by filing an $87 million lawsuit against the district and members who cast a vote of no confidence. Collins declined to continue pursuing the case after a judge dismissed her claims in August.
Proponents of her recall were motivated by the closure of school campuses during the pandemic, contrasted by controversial efforts to rename schools while lawsuits in response to policy decisions poured in. If the school board recalls are successful, Mayor London Breed would appoint replacements who could run in the 2022 regularly scheduled election.
Collins was the only school board member facing a potential recall willing to talk at length about the effort. Here’s what she had to say:
In the aftermath of the attempt to recall Newsom, what’s the future looking like for you?
We’re here to serve families and there’s a lot of work to do. … It’s important for folks to know what this recall is about. It’s bigger than any one of us. There are things that are unique to San Francisco and some that are connected to national trends. I think it’s one of the hardest times to be in service of public education. Our public schools are worth fighting for. For most people on our board, we are committed to representing the communities that elected us.
For me, right now, it’s about how to work from this crisis moment to crisis management. We’re doing the work. This is an opportunity with the recall. There’s an opportunity to talk about who recalls, how this whole process happened. This is definitely a move toward mayoral control and less local control … for parents who are immigrants who can vote.
Is that a concern? The impact to the pipeline of progressive leaders in San Francisco? The school board is known as a path to higher office. Do you have higher ambitions?
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I don’t have higher ambitions, I think that’s the problem. Gabriela (López) and I are educators, and we’re here to serve. It makes sure more San Franciscans are represented — that doesn’t happen if one person picks every (position). President López and I were both grassroots campaigns and won a large percentage of votes and that’s because people want representation by and for the people. These (recall) folks, they’re not interested in our democracy, in our representation of folks that have been historically unrepresented. That’s definitely happening nationally.
Are you forming an official committee to respond to the recall effort?
We’re discussing how we want to respond. Our first priority is students and families. We’re educators first and we will definitely be responding to this threat. I personally think this isn’t about any one of us, this is about who has a voice. Education has always been a way to mobilize voters. Some of the things people want to talk about are related to some of these culture wars we’re seeing across the country — critical race theory, anti-masking, etc. It’s not really about what happens in schools, it’s about politics and political power. These hot conversations about Lowell (High School) or school names or school reopening are ways to mobilize or engage with voters. There’s a lot of astroturfing and it’s definitely happening in San Francisco. There are folks who are capitalizing on a time when people are struggling. People can be manipulated easily when there’s a lot of change and fear and there’s a lot we’re all processing right now. A lot of these culture wars that have happened are connected to an attack on public education and monetizing it. And also eroding public trust in public education and eroding public trust in teachers’ unions. Whether you agree or disagree is one thing. There’s just flat-out misinformation.
Misinformation about what, specifically?
The idea that teachers’ unions want to keep schools closed. We all want schools to be open and we want them to be safe. We may not agree on how to do that best. Some of these conversations are very divisive and they make people want to shut down. It’s politically motivated.
Has there been any feedback from the recall effort that you’ve taken to make a change in leadership?
If anything, it’s just reaffirmed why it’s so important for people like me and Gabriela (López) and Faauuga (Moliga) to be on the board. We represent constituents that are often erased or talked over. Because of Faauuga being on the board, there are resolutions that specifically address the Samoan and Pacific Islander communities, and that’s never happened before. What’s really sad is this recall is going to cost us, I think $8 million. (The Department of Elections declined to confirm the price but it could reportedly cost $5 million to $7 million.) If people don’t like who’s in office, they could wait a few months and elect other people. That $8 million could be spent on supporting our families. We have deferred maintenance. We’re trying to get extra testing.
What about your $87 million lawsuit?
I chose not to amend my lawsuit. I’m choosing to focus on our schools. My participation on the board is important. It’s not an issue at this point. We are moving forward, it looks like, with a recall. That’s going to take time and energy away. I don’t see why this recall is about not liking stuff — I don’t see proposals. Parents let us know, we got (air purifiers). We spent the money and sent them out. That’s how you create change.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.