Confused about why we’re having a February 15 school board election? Class is in session, as we look at why this recall is happening, whose money is behind it, and what happens if the recall is successful.

The recall mania that’s gripped California was only getting started with September’s massively unsuccessful attempt to recall Gavin Newsom. We now have a recall the SF school board election coming up on February 15, and then a recall Chesa Boudin election on June 7, and once the November 8, 2022 election is over, you can expect to be tripping over more recall petition signature gatherers every time you leave the house.

Recall proponents will tell you that these recalls are happening because “People are fed up!,” but sometimes when the votes actually get counted, we see that 78% of voters were not fed up at all. The existence of a recall election does not necessarily indicate broad discontent with the elected officials in question.

So if you don’t have kids in San Francisco Unified, and you haven’t been following this school board recall drama closely, we’ve got a quick guide to how this recall vote works, who’s behind it, and whether this is a uniquely San Francisco issue, or whether it's an extension of the anti-masker and critical race theory hysteria that’s targeting school boards across the country.  

Image: Flyer via Joe Kukura, SFist

Three Members of the School Board are Up for Recall

There are seven members of the SF school board, and only three of them are up for recall — board president Gabriela López, commissioner Alison Collins, and commissioner Faauuga Moliga. All three recalls are separate votes, so one, two, or all three could be recalled. It only requires a simple majority vote to recall any of the board members.

Why these three, and not the other four? As the Chronicle explains, “Of the seven board members, those three were the only ones who had served long enough in their term — at least a year — to be subject to recall. The four others had not yet served a year on their current term at the time.” So if the recall movement could have tried to recall all seven of them, they probably would have.

What Happens If Any School Board Member Gets Recalled?

Mayor London Breed gets to appoint the replacement of any school board member who gets recalled. She has endorsed recalling all three.

Wait a minute… didn’t London Breed herself appoint Faauuga Moliga in 2018? Yes, though he was reelected by the voters a month later. But if London Breed’s hand-picked appointment is someone who London Breed now wants to see recalled, whose judgment does that reflect upon, London Breed?

Why Is This Recall Happening?

Parent frustration with lengthy COVID-19 school closures seems to be the primary animus motivating school board recalls in San Francisco, and across the country. San Francisco was slower to reopen than many other districts (which may have had some upside), but really, all school districts had lengthy closures, and many are facing blowback over this.

Yet there are a few uniquely San Francisco issues at play here. This school board's effort to rename certain schools drew national criticism. Their stances on a controversial mural at Washington High School and the Lowell High admissions policy have enraged alumni at those high schools. Board member Allison Collins sued her own school district and board colleagues for $87 million, out of rage over being removed from her committee roles and stripped of her VP title, which is not going to win you any popularity contests. (That lawsuit was dismissed and subsequently dropped.) And the district is running a massive deficit while having declining enrollment, though the same is happening at many other districts in California.


Whose Money is Behind the Recall?

As we see above, school board recall supporters have a massively outlandish financial advantage here. A Mission Local analysis notes that recall supporters “have raised 46 times more money than the anti-recall campaign.”


And wouldn’t you know, the majority of the recall campaign coffers comes from a small number of super PACs and center-right billionaires. The top donor is a PAC called Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, which as we have noted in the past, is based in San Rafael. We also see individual donor Arthur Rock, who according to 48 Hills, “is a billionaire venture capitalist who has no children.” Rounding out the top donors are the California Association of Realtors and the California Real Estate Political Action Committee, which are not exactly parent advocacy groups.

Another top donor is David Sacks, a big recall Chesa Boudin guy, who’s also held fundraisers for anti-vaxx, anti-mask Florida governor Ron DeSantis. So yes, there some definite dots to  connect between the recall the SF school board movement and Republican anti-mask and critical race theory hysteria.

Image: School Board Recalls by Year Nationwide, via Ballotpedia

The Nationwide School Board Movement

This SF school board recall coincides with a record number of school board recall campaigns happening across the country. 2021 saw more school board recall attempts than any other year, and 2022 is on pace to shatter that record.

So the recall is happening thanks to a combination of a coordinated nationwide movement to replace school board members, but also fueled locally by moves that were unpopular with certain segments of parents, plus other just outright fuck-ups by this board. And if any of these many, many recall elections are going to succeed, certainly a recall effort with a 46-1 financial advantage in contributions is the most likely to succeed.

Related: Recall SF School Board Movement Sues Over Democratic Party Opposing Recall; Breed Proposes New Board Oversight [SFist]

Images: Joe Kukura, SFist