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School board recall organizers aim for role in selecting replacement candidates

With a special election for the recall of three San Francisco school board members set for February 2022, the organizers of the recall effort are gearing up to help shape the look of a potential new school board.

Siva Raj and Autumn Looijen told Here/Say that they plan to create a “screening process” of candidates for Mayor London Breed to consider, should San Francisco voters choose to recall Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga—the three board members on the ballot in February. By law, the mayor would appoint their interim replacements.

Opponents of the recall have said this gives the mayor undue control over the school board, which has traditionally been viewed as a stepping stone to the Board of Supervisors. Critics also argue it’s a waste of time and money, given that a general election is scheduled for November 2022. Of the seven school board members, Mayor Breed already appointed two of them: Faauuga Moliga and Jenny Lam.

Exactly how Raj and Looijen’s proposed community vetting process will work is still being determined, but the organizers described an interface where candidates might upload bios or videos to answer questions from the public. Raj and Looijen also floated the idea of a straw poll to show popular opinion ahead of the mayor’s appointments.

“In our ideal situation, we could find six or 12 candidates to offer to the mayor and say, ‘Hey, we think all of these people would do a good job. Would you consider them?’” said Looijen.

Political consultant Jim Ross cautioned that discussion of who will replace the school board members at this stage is “premature.”

“I still don’t know if the average voter understands why the school board members should or shouldn't be recalled,” added Ross.

Nevertheless, Raj and Looijen are also hopeful that they can find candidates who will win the general election come November 2022, so the mayor’s not “putting people in place for nine months, and then having them disappear,” said Looijen. “It would be nice to have some continuity with good people on the board who can build our schools up going forward.”

No one has officially thrown their name into the ring as of yet.

The district is facing a $116 million deficit for the 2023 fiscal year, falling enrollment and a vacancy in the superintendent’s office: Dr. Vincent Matthews, who has served as superintendent since 2017, is departing at the end of the school year.

The recall effort was fueled largely by dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reopening schools and anger over the board’s focus on social justice issues amid the pandemic.

Raj and Looijen told Here/Say that they reached out to Mayor Breed on Sunday and have a meeting scheduled with her this week. A spokesperson for the mayor confirmed the meeting, adding that Breed is “having conversations with a number of parents and community members to hear their thoughts on the future of the school district and the best way to move forward.”

“We generally want to understand the mayor’s perspective on this and then try to see if we can find some common ground as we always do,” said Raj.

Breed hasn’t yet spoken publicly about her position on the recall election. However, the mayor did call for commissioner Alison Collins’ resignation after her anti-Asian tweets from 2016 resurfaced in March.

On Monday, school board president Gabriela Lopez released a statement condemning the recall, adding that it is “taking money that could have gone to crucial resources we are fighting for daily.”

The recall election—the first on a San Francisco ballot since the effort to unseat then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1983—is expected to be about $8 million. The city, rather than the school district, will likely pick up the tab.

Cassondra Curiel, president of the city’s teachers union, said in a statement on Monday that she opposes the recall because “students and communities deserve a democratically elected school board, not one that serves at the pleasure of whoever is the mayor.”

In a way, that puts her on the same page as Raj and Looijen, who hope to involve the community in selecting the next possible school board members. 

“We need candidates who are nonpartisan. It doesn't matter what political tribe they come from,” said Raj.

“We're trying to reach out to people across the entire political spectrum and say: ‘Send us your good candidates,’” added Looijen.

Sophie Bearman can be reached at