Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez. Board of Education member Mark Sanchez.
SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews, right, on March 12, 2020, announcing a 'three-week closure' of San Francisco public schools. At his right are then-Board of Education President Mark Sanchez, and then-Vice President Gabriella López,

In March, San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews abruptly announced his retirement. This month, he abruptly announced his un-retirement. Mission Local reported on April 12 that Matthews’ return was not unconditional; it was predicated on the fractious Board of Education following its own rules and focusing on school reopening. 

These rather intuitive requirements, we reported, were to be entered into Matthews’ contract, and ratified by a board vote. 

That was accurate. 

On Tuesday, the Board of Education will vote to ratify a “Third Amendment” to Matthews’ employment agreement. It not only pledges that the board will follow its own procedural rules and maintain decorum, but mandates that schools be open five days a week before the board introduces resolutions on any other subject. It also encourages board members to discuss matters with staff ahead of meetings so as to be “fully informed” before speaking publicly. Finally, it appears to cede some authority to Matthews — or at least not challenge authority he already held — in hiring and dismissing employees. 

The amendment is printed below in its entirety: 

On Wednesday, March 10, 2021, the Superintendent announced his intention to retire on June 30 of this year. Subsequently, the Board requested that he remain in his position through June 30, 2022, in order to ensure the smooth reopening of schools for in-person learning. 

The Board and Superintendent Matthews have a shared commitment to fully reopen schools for in-person learning for 5 full days per week in the fall of 2021 and have agreed to amend the terms of his employment to include the following terms and commitments, all of which are intended to ensure the District’s primary focus will remain on ensuring that schools fully reopen for in-person learning in the fall:

  • The parties agree that strict adherence to the Board’s Governance Standards, as set forth in Board Rule and Procedure 9005, will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools for in-person learning.
  • The Board agrees to follow Board Rule and Procedure 9322 when seeking to introduce a proposal or resolution.
  • Until students have returned to in-person learning for 5 full days a week, the Board shall refrain from introducing any new resolutions that are not directly related to schools reopening for in-person learning, safety and the budget.
  • Board members will endeavor to raise questions and concerns with staff regarding agenda items in advance of the meeting in order to both ensure that commissioners are fully informed on matters before the Board and to enable meetings to proceed in an orderly fashion.
  • The Board delegates to the Superintendent the authority to hire certificated and classified staff, renew and issue contracts to employees and release employees from employment. The Superintendent shall present employment actions to the Board for ratification on the consent agenda’s personnel report. The Board shall take a roll call vote in open session at a regularly noticed meeting on the employment contracts for deputy superintendent positions and the general counsel.

The Superintendent will not receive additional compensation or benefits as a result of the Third Amendment. 

This contractual language jibes with what School Board president Gabriela López told us last week: “My understanding is, with [Matthews’] asks, it really is, ‘let’s make sure our only work and focus is to fully return to schools.’”

She predicted it would not be a challenge, at this point, to keep the Board of Education focused on school reopening. This focus — as well as decorum, following basic procedural rules, and endeavoring to be informed about subjects before meetings — are now requirements she and her colleagues will vote to impose upon themselves, contractually. 

Board of Education member Alison Collins and her offending tweets. Photo courtesy of sfusd.edu

The Board of Education will also vote on Tuesday to name a new vice president, replacing Alison Collins, whom it stripped of the title on March 25. She remains on the board.

Opponents of altering Lowell High School’s merit-based entry system in March unearthed a series of Collins’ tweets from December, 2016, prior to her election to the Board of Education. In them, Collins decried anti-Black attitudes among the Asian community, and bemoaned specific instances of bullying and racism in her own daughters’ school. 

But Collins — who is currently the only Black woman on the school board, although she was a private citizen at the time of the tweets — went on, deploying sweeping generalizations that Asian Americans felt played into reductive stereotypes and negative tropes. Asian American leaders who contacted her found her to be dismissive and unapologetic; a vast majority of past and present elected leaders and community figures soon called for her resignation. 

By a 5-2 vote on March 25, Collins’ Board of Education colleagues stripped her of her committee assignments and the title of vice president. 

She responded on March 31 by suing the school district and her five colleagues who voted against her, claiming that her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated and demanding at least $87 million in damages.

Her successor as vice president will be one of the five co-defendants in her suit. 

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Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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10 Comments

  1. This is predicated upon the fallacious conservative trope that local school districts could have managed public health trade-offs over the past year in a way that would have led to reopening the schools. No matter how annoying the SFUSD Board has been over the past year, it is not like they or anyone else similarly situated, had the power to do much about reopening schools.

    The thing that is allowing reopening schools is the increasing prevalence of vaccination this spring.

    When play date kids have their own play date children, then when those whose lives were always curated are unable to have maintain control to curate their kids’ lives due to a deadly pandemic, they tend to vent that frustration by raging at the authority that has inhibited curation, be they SFUSD or the DA or the Governor.

    Interestingly enough, 100% affordable 490 South Van Ness has begun receiving residents, finally! Last evening, around 7PM, 3 kids, 2 girls on inlines and a young boy on a tiny bike w/o training wheels spun around the block for an hour or more until they tired themselves out. They were having a great time. None of them were white.

    After covid is over, the play date crowd will return to baseline form, demanding that public policy be developed such that each and every threat to their offspring is eradicated.

    Given that the amount of attention that the SFUSD Board pays to reopening has occasional connection to actually reopening–this will end up as a series of “hurry ups and waits”–we’ll see lots of idle SFUSD commissioners.

    Perhaps that was the goal?

    1. The conditions for SFUSD resemble what you would give a failing employee when you’re about to fire them, but want to give them one last chance. Basically, “you need to start doing your job.”

  2. Vince capitalized on this pandemic to hustle himself an even more cushy contract. He was never going to retire. He was bluffing and it worked.
    Vince has successfully used Collins and Lopez as Red Herrings but he has ultimate responsibility in schools staying closed too long. He never presented a plan until the lawsuit. Vince has played us all.

  3. Damn. How dysfunctional does an organization have to be when following the rules and procedures has to be enshrined in an employment contact? Kudos to Matthew’s for having the BoE focus exclusively on getting schools reopened, which is, after all, what the only focus of an institution supposedly responsible for public education should focus on.

  4. Sounds like this is a ringing endorsement of Maestra y Presidente López’s term as board president.

  5. Until students have returned to in-person learning for 5 full days a week, the Board shall refrain from introducing any new resolutions that are not directly related to schools reopening for in-person learning, safety, and the budget.

    SAY IT LOUD AND PROUD! Shame on those board members who wasted time and resources on anything other than re-opening.

    Replace Alison Collins and re-open schools!!

  6. Why is this guy any less responsible for the school reopening fiasco than the members of the school board. Is he not their boss?

    1. Sir or madam — 

      Matthews’ culpability is discussed within this and the prior article. But, technically, the board is his boss, not the other way around.

      Best,

      JE

  7. Thanks for the article. Pity the whole reopening topic took 4.5 hours to even come up last night. Pity we had to witness Ms. Collins attack Mr. Moliga with unsubstantiated allegations, and then accuse some trip he took last year to Hawaii as a violation of the Brown Act. I guess what I’m saying is: I understand Dr. Matthews’s need to clarify in that amendment.

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