SF school board recall could reshape the balance of power at City Hall

Mayor Breed could be the big winner politically

Mayor London Breed has been a vocal critic of the San Francisco school board. Now she has a lot to gain politically should a recall remove some members from office.

It’s a pretty simple equation. If organizers succeed in recalling school board members Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga, Breed will have even more control over the Board of Education than she did before.

As mayor, she would get to choose a replacement for all three of them, including her previous appointee, Moliga. The successors would then serve until the next election, potentially paving their way to higher office and widening the Mayor’s base of political allies.

Historically, Breed hasn’t been quiet about her displeasure with the school board, calling its effort to rename schools “offensive” at a time when children were stuck learning from home.

Driven by similar concerns, the parents behind the recall effort are expected to turn in more than enough signatures Tuesday to bring the question before voters.

If the recall succeeds, some progressives are worried about Breed getting to choose their successors, since the school board is known as a stepping stone to higher office and Breed could seize the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future alliances at City Hall.

The situation has the potential to reshape the balance of power at City Hall in the long run. Currently, the Board of Supervisors is controlled by progressives rather than moderate Democrats.

While San Francisco’s school board is elected, Breed has already had her say in the make-up of the school board. The mayor previously appointed Moliga and another school board member, Jenny Lam, after their predecessors resigned during their terms.

Just take a look at the current roster of the Board of Supervisors for evidence of the school board being a stepping stone. Supervisors Shamann Walton and Matt Haney each served on the school board. And they’re hardly the first to make the jump. Sandra Fewer, Norman Yee and Jane Kim are another few who graduated from the Board of Education to the Board of Supervisors.

Brandee Marckmann, the parent of a fourth grader at an elementary school in the Richmond and co-chair of the San Francisco Berniecrats, a progressive group modeled after the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, criticized the recall for redirecting power from parent voters to Breed.

“She would be able to appoint three other seats, that would give her the opportunity to build a pipeline to the Board of Supervisors,” said Marckmann, speaking to The Examiner in her role as a parent.

Marckmann doesn’t want the school board to be used as a stepping stone by anyone. She said she likes the current board because its members don’t appear to have greater political ambitions and are free to take on challenging issues.

“I just worry that if you get more conservative school board members, they won’t be centering the needs of families who have been marginalized,” she said. “It will be more of what the wealthy families want and that’s not right.”

Recall organizers Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj said they’ve heard similar concerns from progressive groups worried about Breed getting to appoint replacements should the school board members be recalled.

While they don’t have an issue with Breed themselves, the couple has come up with a plan to address the issue.

If the recall is successful, Looijen and Raj want to hold an open process to vet candidates who are interested in replacing Lopez, Collins and Moliga by asking them tough questions in a public forum.

They would then recommend candidates for Breed to appoint who are in invested in schools rather than politics — but could only hope that she listens, given that the choice would be in the hands of the mayor.

“All we can do is influence the process. We can’t obviously force the mayor to pick these people,” Raj said. “And if there are good candidates our process brings up, then it will be very difficult for the mayor to go against the will of the people.”

Looijen said the process could take some of the pressure off Breed if she ends up having to choose new members.

“If she picks the candidates on her own and goes against what the community says, it’s all on her if they fail,” Looijen said. “Whereas if she listens to the community… then she has a lot less responsibility if the school board continues to be broken.”

But not everyone is opposed to the mayor having more control over the school board.

In fact, there’s a new political action committee seeking to put a charter amendment on the June 2022 ballot that would change the mechanism for choosing school board members from elections to an appointment system.

While the exact details have not been ironed out, the Campaign for Better San Francisco Schools proposal could call for appointees being chosen by the mayor, Board of Supervisors or a mixture of both.

The group argues that recent controversies, like school renaming, show the current process just isn’t working. A financial disclosure on its website shows the PAC is being funded largely by a political action committee, called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, that has spent money opposing progressives including District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

The school board recall organizers have until a Tuesday deadline to submit the 51,325 signatures needed for each member bring the question before voters. As of Aug. 30, organizers said they had collected more than 70,000 for each Lopez and Collins and nearly 67,000 for Moliga. The signature counts still need to be verified by the Department of Elections.


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