Breaking: San Francisco School-Board Recall Gains Steam as Organizers Surpass Signature Threshold

While California voters may have dispatched with one recall election this week, another effort to recall three members of the San Francisco Board of Education continues to gain steam.

Last week, organizers of the campaign to recall school board members Gabriela López, Alison Collins, and Faauuga Moliga submitted more than 70,000 signatures to the city's elections department. They need 51,325 verified signatures of registered San Francisco voters – 10 percent of the electorate – to force a recall election, likely sometime in early 2022.

"We know we have enough valid signatures in our system, enough and more actually, so we are very confident that will happen," Siva Raj, one of the organizers, told National Review.

Raj said the next step is for the elections department to verify their signatures, starting with a sample audit. His group actually collected over 80,000 signatures for two board members. Before turning them in, they went through them to remove defective signatures and duplicates.

"We were literally rushing through that, but we managed to, as well as we could, validate the signatures, and of course make sure that we're wiping out duplicates, because duplicates cost you, especially when they do the sample," Raj said. "They penalize you for 10 signatures for each duplicate, so we've tried our best to knock them off."

If there is a recall election, it would be the first in San Francisco since a failed 1983 effort to recall then-mayor Dianne Feinstein. Organizers of that effort 38 years ago only needed to collect signatures from 5.5 percent of the electorate, Raj said.

Raj and his partner, Autumn Looijen, spearheaded the recall effort last fall when they grew frustrated that the school board wasn't prioritizing reopening public schools closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than working on a reopening plan, it appeared to Raj and others that the board was focusing its energy on social justice issues: rechristening schools named after such troubling American figures as Abraham Lincoln and Paul Revere, making a highly-selective magnate school more diverse, and deciding if a gay white dad was diverse enough to join a volunteer parent committee made up exclusively of women.

Since then, the district's schools have reopened, but Raj said that shouldn't reduce the urgency to recall the three board members. He sees the reopening issue as a symptom of a deeper malaise. The district also is facing a budget deficit of well over $100 million, a drop in enrollment, and significant learning loss, especially among underprivileged kids, Raj said.

In an email, Moliga, the board's vice president, said he's seen tremendous support in San Francisco and throughout California from people opposing the recall. He said that last week members of the Pacific Islander community in San Francisco wrote an open letter to the recall campaign organizers that was published in the Bay Area Reporter, a free weekly paper for the local LGBT communities. "Together we are going to defeat their effort, because as my community wrote in the Bay Area Reporter, it 'will do harm to the Pacific Islander community specifically, and the larger school community more broadly,'” Moliga wrote.

López, the board president, and Collins did not respond to emails from National Review on Wednesday.

Raj said that about 40 percent of the signatures were collected by a group of nearly 1,000 volunteers who went on weekends to farmers markets, stood outside of grocery stores, and hosted drive-thru events. Some people downloaded a petition from the group's website, gathered signatures, and turned them in electronically. Paid workers gathered the rest.

They did get some pushback. Some San Francisco residents disapprove of the recall process in general. But supporters of the effort appeared to far outnumber opponents, Raj said.

"For every person being angry, there's a thousand people signing, so I'm okay with that ratio," Raj said. "I've never or rarely come across anyone actually supportive of the school board. Even its most diehard supporters acknowledge the school board has done a bad job."

Polling seems to back up the point. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a February poll found 60 percent support for recalling the school board members, which jumped to 69 percent among parents of San Francisco public school students. Another poll in May found a cumulative 71 percent negative rating for the board, compared to a 10 percent positive rating.

"If you picked people randomly from the phone book, they'd be better candidates than the people who are in power," Raj said. "The level of dysfunction and incompetence and self-serving that these candidates have exhibited is just extraordinary."

The failed statewide effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom this week should have no bearing on the school board recall, Raj said. Their effort is non-partisan. "We have support from every end of the spectrum," he said. It's also focused on local issues, and the level of disapproval is high.

Unlike the effort to recall the governor, which asked voters first if they supported removing Newsom from office, and then asked them to vote on a replacement, if the school board recall is successful it will be up to San Francisco mayor London Breed to choose new board members. That has some progressives in the city worried Breed will stack the board with candidates who are more moderate (for San Francisco), allied with Breed, and who could use their new positions as a springboard to the city's board of supervisors, where they could change the balance of power.

"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," Brandee Marckmann, a progressive parent and co-chair of the San Francisco Berniecrats, told the San Francisco Examiner.

Raj said that if the recall is successful they hope to host an open process to find and vet candidates, and put them to a community vote "so the mayor has a pool of candidates to pick from." Breed, however, would not be obliged to choose from their preferred candidates.

Raj said they're confident the recall will ultimately be successful. "We have no doubt that that will happen," he said. The recall group will make a decision about the possibility of recalling the other four board members after the recall of the first three has been decided.

Even if López, Collins, and Moliga were to avoid being recalled, Raj said his group already has been successful in showing them that they can no longer ignore parents.

"I think one of the critical things that has changed is we've given voice to the people on the streets who have been shut out of the decision-making process of the school board," Raj said. "And now the school board has no choice but to listen to us. They have to listen to us, they have to respond to us. And they need to know if they don't do their job and they don't listen to us, they will be fired."

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San Francisco School-Board Recall Gains Steam as Organizers Surpass Signature Threshold

Outraged by the board’s focus on social-justice issues amid school closures, parents launched a massive ... READ MORE

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