Speed Reads

It's complicated

San Francisco votes to recall 3 school board members

Voters in San Francisco easily recalled three school board members on Tuesday, in the city's first recall election since an unsuccessful attempt to oust the mayor, now-Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in 1983. The successful recall campaign against school board President Gabriela López, Vice President Faauuga Moliga, and Commissioner Alison Collins was fueled by discontent over a number of issues, tied together by a sense the school board was not doing its job.

"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," said Mayor London Breed (D), who supported the recall effort. "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 will pick the three temporary replacements on the seven-member board.

School boards have become a top target of Republicans across the country, but the issues in heavily Democratic San Francisco were different. Yes, "anger at COVID-related school closings is part of it," David Weigel reports in The Washington Post. But there was also "annoyance with a campaign to paint over a Depression-era mural with outdated stereotypes" and another aborted effort to rename 44 schools over the perceived flaws of their namesakes, including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Feinstein.

San Francisco's Asian American community was especially galvanized by the school board's decision to replace merit-based admissions at the elite Lowell High School with a lottery system, which increased the share of Black and Latino students and cut the percentage of Asian American and white students. Collins had also come under fire for years-old tweets about Asian Americans she refused to take down.

Collins, Lopez, and Moliga had defended the board's moves, arguing that they had been elected to prioritize racial equity.  And the heavily outspent opponents of the recall called it a distracting waste of time and money and said a successful effort would only embolden conservatives across the country. 

"I hate to break it to them," former city supervisor and 2003 Green Party mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez told Weigel, "but this is really more about incompetence than it is about how it fits into some ideological battle over school boards or textbooks or things like that."