Mayor Breed speaks out on school board recall: ‘Who suffered the most? Our children.’

The mayor now has the power to fill three empty school board seats

After three school board members were voted out by a landslide in Tuesday’s special election, the ball is now in Mayor London Breed’s court to appoint their replacements.

“I’ve made appointments before for this city on a number of bodies including the school board. But this is probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in terms of appointments because of the significance of what this means,” Breed said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Board of Education President Gabriela López and members Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga were recalled by 75%, 79% and 72% of voters, respectively. Turnout for the special election was notably low, with only about 26% of eligible voters participating. In comparison, about 74% of voters participated in the November 2018 school board member election.

The Department of Elections will finish counting the votes over the coming week. Once the votes are certified, the Board of Supervisors will vote to approve the election results. That process is expected to take about a month.

“It’s not about politics or having a progressive, moderate or liberal idea. It’s about, ‘My kid used to be a kid that was social and fun and is now quiet and sad and doesn’t smile.’ And you as a parent feel like there is nothing you can do about that,” Breed said when pressed on the low turnout in the election and demographics of voters. “Who suffered the most? Our children.”

Breed supported the recall prior the election. Despite downplaying the politics behind it, Breed has much to gain from the outcome. She will ultimately select who fills the soon-to-be-vacant spots.

“We are going to be looking for well-rounded school board members who are focused on the schools, the children and success, who are focused on wanting to hear from different perspectives whether they are in agreement with those perspectives or not,” the mayor said.

Breed has not stated whom she might appoint but said families she has spoken to want to see someone who is focused on fixing the school district’s $125 million budget deficit, hiring a new superintendent, enrollment declines and other structural challenges.

Moliga, who attempted to distance himself from his fellow board members in the lead-up to the election, was originally appointed by Breed. On Wednesday, the mayor defended her decision.

“Faauuga had a lot of skills in working with communities on the southeast sector of The City and many people advocated for him as a voice for them,” said Breed. “I’m going to be thinking about those communities in the decision I make.”

The recall effort began during the 2020-21 school year when students in San Francisco were in distance learning due to the pandemic. Two parents started the campaign, which quickly gained favor as schools around the state and country began welcoming students back to campus while schools in The City remained closed. San Francisco’s Board of Education instead focused on renaming 44 schools and changing the admissions process to the district’s elite merit-based campus, Lowell High School.

But the recall also gained momentum from outsiders after being put in the national spotlight as debates over critical race theory and social justice issues in schools became a political lightning rod. Almost half of the $1.9 million raised to support the recall came from supporters without ties to San Francisco public schools. It also received support from billionaires like hedge-fund manager William Oberndorf and venture capitalist Arthur Rock.

Breed stood by voters’ decisions.

“The fact is, a lot of different kinds of people have been involved in the push for this recall from all walks of life. To attribute it to one group of people is not fair,” Breed said. “I met with a lot of parents, but there are a lot of parents out there who can’t be advocates for their kids. I can’t help but think if this pandemic happened when I was a kid ,when my grandmother was raising me.”

sjohnson@sfexaminer.com

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