Who’s going to pay for the school board recall?

City’s plan to cover $3.25 million in costs has fallen through

A Board of Supervisors vote earlier this week that appeared to approve a proposal to have The City cover the cost of the February school board recall has actually failed, The Examiner has learned.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 7-4 to front the $3.25 million for the upcoming recall election of three school board members. But it was unclear, even to City Hall insiders, whether a supermajority vote of eight was needed. The Controller’s Office confirmed on Thursday that, indeed, eight votes were needed to pass the measure.

Lengthy debate had preceded the recall funding vote and discussions will continue to unfold as the school board recall approaches on Feb. 15 and supervisors weigh a separate recall reform proposal submitted earlier this week.

The $3.25 million recall funding was initially part of a supplemental budget allowance for the Department of Elections to pay for the slew of special elections before San Francisco voters in 2022, which together would cost a total of $11.9 million. As it stands now, San Francisco Unified School District is still on the hook for the recall election of three school board members under state rules.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, along with Mayor London Breed, who supports recalling all three members up for recall, proposed covering the cost from city coffers. The City is projecting a $108 million surplus over the next two years, its first in two decades, while SFUSD is contending with a $125 million structural deficit overseen by state auditors.

“These costs will be borne by one of two actors: either the school district or The City,” said Mandelman, who backs the recall of school board members Alison Collins and Gabriela López, to The Examiner. “The school district plainly cannot afford it. The City clearly can.”

But that idea ran into resistance from some board members like Board President Shamann Walton, who wanted recall proponents to pay for the election costs. Meanwhile, Supervisor Aaron Peskin simply conveyed that it was not good policy to approve several funding initiatives on separate occasions, instead arguing they should be done together. Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Connie Chan and Myrna Melgar came out against the principle of recalls, but ultimately did not want SFUSD to eat the cost and voted for the $3.25 million authorization.

“Public education in this country is at an existential moment of crisis,” said Ronen, who supports the recall of Collins, at Tuesday’s meeting. “Our school district is in the most dire straits that it has ever been as far as I can tell. This is something we have to pay attention to at a level that we never had had to as a city and county.”

The City’s $8.7 million portion and SFUSD’s $3.25 million portion of special election costs were separated because the school district recall funding was more controversial. Mandelman’s office is pursuing a procedural fix that would require that one of the four supervisors with dissenting votes to cover SFUSD — Dean Preston, Gordon Mar, Walton and Peskin — change their mind.

Supervisors will soon wade further into recall fever. Peskin introduced a charter amendment on Tuesday that would prevent recall efforts from beginning until 12 months after an elected official takes office. The current minimum period to begin a recall is six months.

It would also prevent recalls from taking place within one year of a regularly scheduled election for that official. School board members Faauuga Moliga, López and Collins are facing recall in February and are up for re-election in November.

“By the time this reaches voters, it will be the third election in six months, we’ll have spent tens of millions in public funds on unforeseen elections and voter turnout will be abysmal,” Peskin said in a statement. “We have existing processes for holding elected officials accountable. They’re called term limits and regular elections.”

Peskin’s charter amendment proposed for the June 2022 election would also remove the mayor’s ability to appoint replacements to the Board of Supervisors, the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees and the San Francisco school board when vacancies arise, regardless of recalls. Instead, remaining members of those governing bodies would pick a replacement for their respective vacancies. Supervisors Ronen, Preston, Chan, Walton and Melgar are co-sponsors.

In a move dubbed by critics as an expansion of mayoral control, Breed on Monday announced her own charter amendment that would create a new city agency overseeing all services to children in a bid she said was to reduce bureaucracy. With it would come a requirement for SFUSD to submit an annual report showing it is meeting key goals or face the withholding of some $200 million annually that is supplemented by San Francisco taxpayers for youth services.

Breed and Ronen have also proposed forgiving a $26.6 million loan to SFUSD made in 2019 with conditions to adopt a multiyear plan to stabilize its finances.

“The City doesn’t have control over the school board,” said Breed, expressing frustration with the school board, on Monday. “If we did, we would probably not be in this situation right now with our schools. Now, what I’m saying with that money we’re providing, we’re attaching some accountability to that. This is not about anything other than fixing our broken governance structure.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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