Charter amendment effort would replace elected school board with appointed body

Critics of the San Francisco Unified School District board on Monday formally launched a drive to replace the elected body...

Critics of the San Francisco Unified School District board on Monday formally launched a drive to replace the elected body with an appointed board.

Members of the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, a political action committee formed last month, said they hoped to place a charter amendment on the June 2022 ballot.

The campaign said the measure was intended to address a “lack of accountability” on the current board, which has drawn intense criticism from parents and city officials over the past year for moving ahead with plans to rename schools and change the admissions process at Lowell High School while making slow progress toward returning students to the classroom.

“I’m seriously concerned about the Board of Education and its focus on the wrong priorities,” said Jennifer Kuhr Butterfoss, campaign co-chair.

The group cited The City’s high “opt-out” rate, referring to the large number of school age kids attending private schools, and persistent achievement gap as evidence that the current system is not working.

“My kids’ friends and neighbors and classmates are leaving in droves,” Butterfoss said. “Our children’s and our families’ futures are literally at stake.”

Campaign co-chair Patrick Wolf said San Francisco had an appointed board for 70 years, until 1971, that was replaced with an elected board in response to efforts to desegregate schools. He argued that other large urban systems that have adopted appointed boards have seen improvements in academic performance and a narrowing of the achievement gap.

“Let’s make the most of this chance to put right what we got wrong 50 years ago,” Wolf said.

Wolf and Butterfoss said the language of the charter amendment is still being written and it has not yet been determined how the board members would be appointed, whether that be by the mayor or the Board of Supervisors or some combination of the two.

The charter amendment is not the only challenge faced by the current school board. City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against the district last month over its lack of progress toward reopening, and another group of parents have announced a recall effort against three board members.

Any recall or charter amendment is likely to face opposition from groups including the teachers union, which often has a strong say in who wins election to the board, and many progressives.

United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon has noted that there have been efforts in Chicago to return the mayor-appointed school board to an independently elected board.

“Public education needs to have its own voice and not be The City taking over,” Solomon told The Examiner last month.

In addition, the district has recently made more progress on reopening plans, announcing an April 12 date for some of the youngest students to begin returning to in-person classrooms.

This is a developing story and may be updated with additional comment and background.

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