Recall elections generally seem like a poor way to run a political system. The wasteful $276 million recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom, rejected by nearly 62% of California voters after months of pointless drama, proved as much.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and the upcoming recall election against three members of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education may fall under this category. Last Monday, the San Francisco Board of Elections announced that three school board members — Gabriela López, Faauuga Moliga and Alison Collins — will face a recall election on Feb. 15.
The San Francisco Examiner Editorial Board has not yet taken an official position on the recall. Our formal endorsement will come after we meet with the candidates, speak to parents and weigh the facts. But it doesn’t take a lengthy investigation to conclude that some of these SFUSD school board members worked very hard to get themselves targeted by a determined recall effort.
They dithered as parent frustration boiled over due to SFUSD’s lack of a plan to get students back into school despite The City’s relatively low COVID-19 infection rates. Instead of focusing on the basic nuts and bolts of the job, they engaged in cringeworthy performative activism, infamously wasting time and energy on a shambolic and ill-informed effort to strip the names of leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein from our (empty) local schools.
“What I cannot understand is why the school board is advancing a plan of all these schools renamed by April when there isn’t a plan to have our kids back in the classroom by then,” said Mayor London Breed in January.
The board finally abandoned its misguided name-erasure crusade in April. By then, it had become a national laughingstock thanks to comments like this one from an interview López did with Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker: “I think Lincoln gets more praise than the … how can I say this? Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t think that … Lincoln is not someone that I typically tend to admire or see as a hero, because of these specific instances where he has contributed to the pain of the decimation of people — that’s not something that I want to ignore.”
The school board also drew criticism for, among other things, hastily firing the district’s chief academic officer and for voting to end merit-based admissions at Lowell High School without due process.
As the school board tilted at woke windmills, the district they ostensibly lead was teetering toward fiscal disaster. SFUSD now faces a projected budget deficit of at least $116 million, raising the possibility of a state takeover that would render the board even more useless than it has already made itself. Making matters worse: Enrollment has declined by 3,499 students over the past two years, which will cost the district approximately $35 million in state education funding.
“I don’t know what the San Francisco public school board is doing,” Wai Yip Tung, the parent of two children in the district, told the San Francisco Chronicle in February. “I’ve lost trust in them. Are children the priority? I just don’t feel it’s a priority to them.”
Adding to SFUSD’s financial distress: Board Member Alison Collins. In April, she filed an outrageous $87 million lawsuit against SFUSD and her fellow board members, forcing the district to spend $125,000 to fight off her dubious claims. Collins sued after the board took a vote of no confidence and removed her as vice president. Her much-deserved demotion came after her critics surfaced old tweets in which she repeated harmful and hurtful stereotypes about Asian Americans.
Collins’ absurd lawsuit “demanded an injunction to restore her title and committee positions, and it sought $3 million each in punitive damages from her fellow board members, and $12 million in general damages from the district and from each of the five other board members as well. $87 million! Because they took her vice president title away!” wrote Jay Barmann of SFist.
A district judge tossed out the lawsuit in August, saying it had no merit. By then, nearly every elected official in San Francisco — Mayor Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener and nearly every member of the Board of Supervisors — had already called on Collins to resign. Unfortunately, Collins is not the type to take a hint.
Public frustration and anger, assisted by donations of $49,500 apiece from Silicon Valley business figures like Arthur Rock and David Sacks, have now succeeded in putting the recall on the ballot. Recall supporters say they gathered 81,300 signatures to recall López, 81,100 signatures to recall Collins, and 77,000 signatures to recall Moliga. If voters choose to recall the board members, Mayor Breed will choose their replacements. She would presumably pick leaders who want to save the ailing school district rather than engage in radical stunt politics.
Regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, this recall election will cost taxpayers up to $8 million. Perhaps the main question now is whether The City’s voters will get their money’s worth.