Left to right: Autumn Looijen, Faauuga Moliga, and Manny Yekutiel. Photo Will Jarrett.

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

Faauuga Moliga

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.

He also discussed his work on mental health, including boosting support for the Our Healing in Our Hands campaign, which promotes mental health services for youth of color.

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.”

Autumn Looijen

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.

Find out more about the funding behind the recall

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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13 Comments

  1. Bringing Steve Bannon into the discussion and the dangers of the pursuits of ideologically motivated school boards – ironically, that’s exactly what this recall is about. We’re not hearing from the sharpest tools in the shed exactly.

  2. Will and Joe,

    Great coverage.

    I attended the panel at Manny’s and he and Eskenazi are by far the best moderators in town with Joe being the best.

    In my opinion.

    I was disturbed as much as I’m able these days at what I read as Looijin’s nervously gleeful raw and even sadistic joy at Moliga’s misery.

    That’s so prevalent in the body language of these Recall apostles.

    To this old Hippie the world is a swirling fishbowl full of Demons and Angels that never ends.

    I have chosen to label Boudin and Moliga and Jacobo as Angels in this Jackson-Pollock like splattered political battleground.

    Their detractors I see as somehow erotically nervous jackals busy at the soft parts of their prey.

    There’s an image to ponder as we all drag our torn bodies through these last 8 hours awaiting the only battle that really matters at 5pm this afternoon …

    Niners vs Packers!

    h.

  3. It’s all hand wringing. Closing the barn door after the cows have gone. All three recalls will be successful. By more than 70%. More significantly, the reliable City political career path that starts with the school board will be dismantled.

  4. One aspect of this debate is the inability to address the actual issues calmly, including what should be an obvious issue: Once the three are removed (assuming they are), what makes anyone think the mayor’s appointments will be any better? Does anyone know who they would be? We see Steve Bannon dragged in here, as if a racially motivated national campaign is at the root of this recall campaign. This is a tactic used by democrats recently to cop out of their accountability for inept performance: Just holler “Trump”, and that settles the discussion. It’s this board, all of them, who tried to apply race history censorship at Washington High School, and deprived low income good students of a merit based education at Lowell. THAT is the Trump agenda!

    1. Oakland,

      Loved your comments.

      Retired Reform School Teacher.

      I’m not against any of these people on the ballot and I’m walking 5 miles a day with a ‘No on Yes’ sign for Boudin …

      I’m against the Recall Process itself.

      It has been hijacked by billionaires.

      Let’s do our recall at General Elections.

      They initiated a Recall Chelsea campaign the day Boudin was sworn in for God’s Sakes!

      Talk about distractions for the best mind to occupy the DA’s office Ever, that one.

      His cases against money bail will erase a thousand years of British jurisprudence and his cases against sentence enhancements for essentially being black and brown will save billions of dollars and thousands of years of suffering.

      Go Niners!

      h.

  5. It’s refreshing to see so many people see through the board’s supporters’ distraction tactics. “It’s Republicans!” “It’s FOX News!” “It’s anti-maskers and techies!” But when folks truly examine the issues at hand – the board’s performance, the $125M deficit, an inability to reduce the achievement gap among Black & Brown students, as well as the board members’ atrocious behavior (Collins especially) – things really clear up. SFUSD needs help. And these distraction tactics are akin to a denial of the problems, let alone the board’s role in creating it exacerbating so many of them. As an SFUSD parent, my fingers are crossed for this recall.

  6. “our beloved mayor” v. “schooled in Los Altos” ???

    If Moliga loves London Breed so much, why doesn’t he just resign and return the appointment?

    Los Altos has a median income of 101,879 while SF’s median income 52,677. Where might the income of Autumn Looijen’s family fall?

  7. This Board has put all their focus on pet projects that focus on a very narrow “progressive” agenda (renaming schools during a pandemic among the most absurd), while ignoring the basic needs of SF students.

    And if Allison Collins is so committed to eliminating achievement-based schools such as Lowell, why did she not apply her progressive philosophy to SOTA, where her children go to school? Wouldn’t you think that wealthy San Franciscans (like Collins and her multi-millionaire real estate developer husband) have all the advantages to send their kids to private music or art lessons in order to qualify for entrance to SOTA? Come on now.

  8. Faauuga Moliga always comes across as both ethical and detail-oriented. I’m definitely voting to keep him.

    As for the other two, I’m inclined to wait until November and then vote Collins out, and possibly Lopez, too, depending on who runs against her. But I’m a NO on this recall: I have nothing against our mayor, but I see no possible benefit to handing the school board over to her to appoint whoever she likes.

  9. Campers,

    The way this ends is that the Mayor appoints real estate people suggested by Mary Jung and they allow Dick Blum to sell SFUSD real estate as he did last time this happened.

    Turned over a hundred million thru CB Richard Ellis.

    Did 6 billion in real estate … U.S. Postal property.

    Made 360 mil commission on that one.

    You got anything worth anything?

    Leave it at home when you go to Recall rallies.

    Go Niners!

    h.

  10. Campers,

    I noted on another thread that this could be a land grab to sell SFUSD property for the commission and to build more market rate housing.

    The Recall succeeds lets’s say.

    Then, Breed appoints replacements recommended by the Mary Jung crowd and they’re RE people and they vote to let Dick Blum sell a few hundred million of their property to cover the deficit which they created just for this purpose.

    Far fetched?

    Few years back Blum sold a hundred million of SFUSD’s property and six billion of US Post Office’s land.

    h.

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