As mail-in ballots for the Feb. 15 school board recall begin trickling in this week, campaigning on both sides of the effort is heating up.
On Wednesday, Board of Education Commissioner Faauuga Moliga met with Autumn Looijen, one of the leaders of the recall, to debate the election at Manny’s. The next day, Board President Gabriela López and Commissioner Alison Collins participated in a Zoom rally hosted by San Francisco Berniecrats.
We’ve put together a summary of some of the information and perspectives discussed at each meeting. Alternatively, you can watch the full Wednesday debate on YouTube and the full Thursday rally on the SF Berniecrats Facebook page.
Wednesday at Manny’s
In a nod to the intense feelings on both sides of the debate, host Manny Yekutiel called for the audience to refrain from participation throughout; no boos or cheers for anyone. The debate remained civil from beginning to end.
Moliga made it clear that he was not there to represent his colleagues on the board. Rather, he was there to fight against being recalled himself.
“I’m not here to defend the school board,” said Moliga. “They can come here themselves. There are six of them. You know where to find them.”
“I’m here to talk about — with all due respect, Manny — my performance on this school board, during a time that is being questioned.”
Moliga, a clinical social worker by trade, outlined some of his achievements since joining the school board in 2018. He highlighted his resolution to cut transportation costs with a view to saving $25 million by 2025, and his resolution to increase Medi-Cal funding for the school district to $5.5 million.
Moliga underscored his Pacific Islander roots and said that his motivation to join the school board came from a desire to “close the opportunity gap for Pacific Islanders, Black students, Latinx immigrant families who are struggling.”
To that end, he said, the board’s work had been succeeding — graduation rates increased last year, particularly among African American and special education students.
On the subject of long school closures, however, he aimed to set himself apart from his colleagues.
“I’ve been saying ‘open up schools’ from the beginning,” said Moliga. “Safely, together with our beloved mayor, with our board of supervisors, with the community. I’ve been aggressive and assertive about that from the get-go.”
In closing, Moliga said that if he survives the recall, he would be willing to work with the recall’s leaders in the future: “I’d be more than happy to sit down with Autumn and Siva to really understand and hear more about the things that are near and dear to their hearts.”
For pro-recall leader Looijen, the transportation savings and Medi-Cal funding Moliga secured during his time on the board were positive, but insufficient.
“We are facing a $125 million dollar structural budget deficit,” said Looijen. “That means a deficit in recurring costs, like salaries and building maintenance.”
Looijen said that while the aforementioned savings were great, “you still have $115 million dollars more to cut every single year.”
The long closure of schools during the pandemic, and the resultant loss of learning, was another critical issue for Looijen. She said that her children, who are schooled in Los Altos, had more in-person teaching than children in San Francisco.
“Teachers who had health concerns could teach remotely, and the teachers who were younger and healthier could teach in person,” said Looijen. “And that kind of got the best of both worlds. I would have loved to see something similar in San Francisco.”
Instead, she said, “they didn’t go back to school until long after they’d been fully vaccinated.”
San Francisco teachers became eligible for vaccination in late February, 2021, although the rollout was initially slower than hoped. Schools in San Francisco began to reopen in April, 2021, with all schools back to in-person learning by mid-August.
The third main issue Looijen pointed to as a reason for the recall was the selection of a new superintendent, whom the board will appoint this year.
“I want to make sure that person is good and competent and can run our district well,” said Looijen. “We’re facing a lot of cuts, and so we want someone who can be efficient and thoughtful in the way that the district is run going forward.”
Thursday at the SF Berniecrats’ rally
The volunteers and activists at Thursday night’s Zoom rally were aiming to prevent the recall of all three board members.
Several speakers saw the election as part of a pattern in which progressive politicians are being recalled across the country. Brandee Marckmann, a parent and the chair of SF Berniecrats, pointed out the major increase in school board recalls last year, and noted that conservative strategist Steve Bannon identified school boards as a way to “save the nation” last May.
“The entire country is watching,” said Marckmann. “Should the recall succeed, then next day it will be the lead story on right-wing media. It will galvanize school-board recall efforts all over the US.”
Collins used the platform to outline some of her accomplishments on the board, such as the resolution to ensure school children had access to music programs. She defended the admissions changes at Lowell High School as a means of fighting segregation and racial bias, and argued that the recall campaign was politically and racially motivated.
Collins’ $87 million lawsuit against the San Francisco Unified School District and five of her Board of Education colleagues (quashed in August) was not discussed.
López similarly discussed some of her achievements on the board. These included providing tech tutorials to help with distance learning and cooperating with the Latino Task Force. Like Collins, she sees the recall as politically motivated.
“This recall is an opportunity to take back the progress we have made as actual educators on the board,” said López, “and once again minimize the ability for workers, immigrant families and young people to participate.”
Supervisor Dean Preston and former Supervisor and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano both appeared at the rally — the latter in a pre-recorded statement — to voice their opposition to the recall. The meeting closed with discussion of next steps: making signs, leaflet drops and phone banking are all on the agenda, along with an appeal for donations.
The debates and rallies we saw this week are likely to be the start of an increasingly intense campaign, now that mail-in voting has begun. As Feb. 15 approaches, we can expect to hear much more from both campaigns.