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First it was the US House, then the Board of Supervisors. Now the SF school board can’t elect a leader, either

Jenny Lam, San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education president | Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Echoing last week’s contentious vote for speaker of the House and Monday’s lengthy challenge to elect a president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city’s school board reached an impasse on Tuesday and failed to pick a president. 

A 4-3 split was not enough to meet the required five-vote threshold, which means the board will have to try again later this month. Vice President Kevine Boggess voted for himself along with commissioners Mark Sanchez, Alida Fisher and Matt Alexander. President Jenny Lam voted for herself, as did Lisa Weissman-Ward, Lainie Motamedi and the two student delegates whose votes are nonbinding. 

“What makes our board special is we have seven individuals that have very distinct backgrounds and perspectives,” Boggess said before the vote. “We’re able to bring those things together to put students first. I think no matter what happens with the leadership shift on the board, if we do have one or not, the commitment to the direction we have started isn’t going to shift.”

It was an unusually divisive vote for president, which typically garners minimal public discussion and public comment. But on Tuesday, candidates pitched themselves, and several people turned out to predominantly speak in favor of retaining Lam as president or criticize her for not regularly putting the payroll crisis on the board agenda. 

“This body has been through tumultuous, difficult times,” said Lam, an SFUSD parent and former mayoral advisor. “I’ve done the work, delivered for our district and community, and I’m ready to continue. As an Asian American woman over the years, I’ve been asked to step back time and time again.”

A vote for president and vice president is customary each January. As was the norm in the past, the president is replaced by the vice president after one year and a new vice president is chosen. 

Politics, however, threw off that cycle for the past two years. The board removed Alison Collins as vice president three months into her tenure after past controversial tweets resurfaced in March 2021. Faauuga Moliga replaced her shortly thereafter.

The board then kept Gabriela López as president in January 2022 amid general instability, but in a failed bid to replace her, Moliga lost the vice presidential role, and Lam took his place. A month later, voters recalled Collins, López and Moliga.

Lam filled the resulting presidential vacancy, and the board voted in Boggess as vice president in March 2022

School board member Kevine Boggess poses for a portrait at SFUSD's district headquarters. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

After the recall, she arranged governance training sessions for the board to recalibrate around student outcomes and eventually set new academic goals for them shaped by town halls to widespread praise.

San Francisco Parent Coalition, a group that formed in the pandemic to end pandemic school closures, led the campaign to keep Lam as president. It urged stability and pointed to the past expectations for López, as well as Lam’s truncated presidential term.

“Over the past year, the board has started to pull itself back from what some would call significant destruction and chaos,” said Yvette Edwards, an SFUSD parent and part of the San Francisco Parent Coalition board. “It was a mess, and in many ways, it still is as we’re seeing tonight. Jenny has consistently listened to parents, families, educators. She’s been respectful no matter the difference of opinion. Do the right thing, not politics.” 

Speaking in support of Boggess, however, were also people who praised him for proactively listening and responding to stakeholders.

“He has been the one to reach out to parent groups and parent advocates and had a pulse on what we’re doing,” said Michelle Jacques-Menegaz, a former Parent Advisory Council member to the board and current coordinator. “I support him and believe him and trust him in this role. I look forward to having some change; it’s part of our democratic process.”

And it’s a process that will be tested again in a couple weeks. The next meeting is on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 6:30 p.m. at 555 Franklin St.