A ballot measure to have school board members appointed by City Hall, instead of being elected, is in the works — but the political action committee behind the effort might not exactly be “grassroots.”
It would be an understatement to say that the San Francisco Unified School District school board has been under fire for much of the last year. Their decision to rename 44 public schools was thoroughly dragged by the national right wing “news” media, though the now-halted effort was indeed plagued by shoddy historical research. Their ending of merit-based admissions at Lowell High produced significant but arguably racist blowback. Yet the granddaddy of all their current controversies is that SF is suing its own school district alleging that the board is being slow-footed in plans to reopen schools. (Some reopening plans have since been announced.)
Critics of the San Francisco Unified School District board on Monday formally launched a drive to replace the elected body with an appointed board through a charter amendment on the June 2022 ballot. https://t.co/9ZEF7mZe9c— SF Examiner (@sfexaminer) March 9, 2021
The accumulation of all these supposed outrages had produced mutterings of yet more recall efforts, and talk of returning to the old pre-1971 system where the school board was appointed by City Hall. And the latter of those two ideas now has a formally launched effort, as the Examiner reports that a ballot measure to make the school board appointed and not elected has been submitted for the June 2022 primary election.
“I’m seriously concerned about the Board of Education and its focus on the wrong priorities,” Jennifer Kuhr Butterfoss, co-chair of the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, told the Examiner. “My kids’ friends and neighbors and classmates are leaving in droves.”
But it should be noted that this Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools is a political action committee, and they’re clearly already spending on advertising. As seen above, many Google searches on anything SF public school-related will generate an ad from them as your top result. (That website has a few vague words about “We need results-oriented leadership that listens to families,” asks for your contact info, and has little else to say.) The Examiner reported last month that Better San Francisco Public Schools was “launched by the Families for San Francisco PAC,” though Families for San Francisco tells SFist they are not a PAC, but now a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, as seen in a September 3, 2020 filing with the SF Ethics Commission below.
48 Hills reported last October that the former PAC had received donations from the California Apartment Association Issues Committee ($10,000), San Francisco Apartment Association Political Action Committee ($10,000), and California YIMBY Victory Fund ($7,500). But the nonprofi insists that since their restructuring, they have not retained any of those funds.
“SF Parents PAC became a subsidiary of Families for San Francisco on August 17, 2020,” they said on their website last October. “Together we hope to create a brighter future for San Francisco Families. Any previous donations taken by SF Parents Pac prior to August 17, 2020, including SF Police Officers Association, did not reflect the values of Families for San Francisco. We have never taken, nor will we ever take, any money from the Police Officer Association.”
This ballot measure, should it make the ballot and pass, would not “recall” any school board members, it would change how they’re appointed. It does not currently say whether the mayor or the board of supervisors would appoint the school board, a fact sheet from the PAC simply says it “intends to lead a citywide discussion about how to develop a new appointment system for the Board of Education, with the goal of designing a ballot initiative for voters to decide in June, 2022.”
The group may or may not reflect consensus opinions among SF parents. (Opinions on school reopening do vary by race, and less affluent parents of color are not as shouty or in a hurry to fully reopen in-person learning.) One could make a fair argument that the current board has operated as something of a clown car the last 12 months. But it is also important to note that the effort to change the makeup of that board is being driven by a political action committee, funded by sources that are not exclusively SFUSD parents.
NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Families for San Francisco is no longer a PAC, and now a 501(c)(4) nonprofit.