San Francisco's Special Election Delivers 'Clear Message'

3 school board members ousted in city's first recall since 1983
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 16, 2022 8:18 AM CST
San Fran Voters Boot President, 2 Others From School Board
Alison Collins, right, speaks during a meeting in San Francisco on Sept. 26, 2018.   (Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

San Francisco residents recalled three members of the city's school board on Tuesday for what critics called misplaced priorities and putting progressive politics over the needs of children during the pandemic. Voters overwhelmingly approved the recall in a special election, according to tallies by the San Francisco Department of Elections. "The voters of this city have delivered a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else," Mayor London Breed said in a statement, per the AP. The election was the first recall in San Francisco since 1983, when there was a failed attempt to remove then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

The school board has seven members, all Democrats, but only three were eligible to be recalled: school board President Gabriela Lopez, Vice President Faauuga Moliga, and Commissioner Alison Collins. Parents in the politically liberal city launched the recall effort in January 2021 out of frustration over the slow reopening of district schools, while the board pursued the renaming of 44 school sites and the elimination of competitive admissions at the elite Lowell High School. The mayor, one of the most prominent endorsers of the recall, praised the parents, saying they "were fighting for what matters most—their children."

The pressures of the pandemic and distance learning have merged with politics nationwide, making school board races a new front in a culture war as resentments over COVID-19 reach a boiling point. Republicans are increasingly looking to the education fight as a galvanizing issue that could help them sway voters. In San Francisco, one of the nation's most liberal cities, the recall effort split Democrats. Breed, a Democrat, had criticized the school board for being distracted by "political agendas." Collins, Lopez, and Moliga had defended their records, saying they prioritized racial equity because that was what they were elected to do. Opponents called the recall a waste of time and money, as the district faces a number of challenges, including a $125 million budget deficit and the need to replace retiring Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

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Both sides agreed that San Francisco's school board and the city itself became the focus of an embarrassing national spotlight. One of the first issues to grab national attention was the board's January 2021 decision to rename 44 schools they said honored public figures linked to racism, sexism, and other injustices (on the list were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Feinstein). The effort drew swift criticism for historical mistakes, with critics claiming it made a mockery of the country's racial reckoning. After an uproar, the school board scrapped the plan. "San Francisco is a city that believes in the value of big ideas, but those ideas must be built on the foundation of a government that does the essentials well," Breed said in her statement. She'll now appoint board replacements to serve until another election in November.

(Read more school board stories.)

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