More political drama completely unrelated to education at the SF school board, as some out-of-town attorney had lodged a lawsuit to force school board members to be elected by geographic districts, and SFUSD may have no choice but to comply.
The histrionics over the SF Board of Education seem to have calmed after the school board recall wars of 2022. Sure, some segments of town will always gnash their teeth over Lowell High School admissions policies, and certain local politicians are trying to score points over next month’s eighth-grade algebra ballot measure (which the district is already transitioning to anyway). But none of these issues are making national headlines like the school board recall did.
Welp, the school board may be looking at high drama yet again. The Chronicle reported late Tuesday afternoon that a lawsuit was seeking to force SF school board elections to be done by districts rather than citywide, as they are now. The suit demands drawn-district elections, just like we have for the SF Board of Supervisors. But in a particularly maddening point, the lawsuit is brought by a Walnut Creek-based attorney who does not even have any kids attending SFUSD schools — though he's in line for a payday by bringing the suit.
And not long after the Chronicle published their article, SFUSD put out a press release admitting they have little choice except to go along with the demand, to avoid an enormously expensive lawsuit while they struggle with deficits and job cuts.
“The Board of Education has received notice that our current citywide at-large elections may be challenged,” board president Lainie Motamedi said in the press release. “While we believe our elections are in compliance with the intent of the law, we value fair and just elections and do not wish to engage in a costly lawsuit on this matter.”
The lawsuit cites the California Voting Rights Act, which is meant to ensure minority representation in government bodies. But it’s also created a cottage industry for lawyers who do effectively nothing but sue cities they don’t live in, claiming that city’s elections are out of compliance. The attorney in this case, Scott Rafferty of Walnut Creek, runs an organization called Neighborhood Elections Now, which files similar lawsuits across the state of California.
Oh, and according to the Chronicle, because of an incentive built into the law, Rafferty “can collect as much as $40,000 this year just by sending a letter pressuring a city or board to voluntarily adopt district elections.”
But the SF school board, as it stands, is fairly diverse. (The “student delegate” at the bottom right in the above image is not among the board’s seven voting members.) This is not a body that is lacking in minority representation, so it seems that Rafferty, who is white, is suing the district just because he can.
And even the recall crowd is against these district elections, at least at the moment. The above graphic is from a Wednesday morning email blast from the SF Parent Coalition, which was formed to promote the recall of three board members, and notes that citywide school board elections produce more diverse boards than the district-based SF Board of Supervisors elections.
“If the school board were to succumb to this blackmail lawsuit, it would require the board to have one member from seven districts, which would mean no two board members could live in the same part of the city,” the email says. “Having geographic districts could also further politicize the school board, as the seats would be natural springboards for supervisor seats. Altogether, it's hard to see how this helps kids.”
Wait, could we see another recall against the school board members who voted to go along with the lawsuit’s demands, bought by the angry parents behind the last recall? Sigh, this seems a possibility.
So that’s more possible looming drama, but also consider this: According to the SFUSD press release, “pending passage of this resolution, SFUSD will engage a demographer to begin a public hearing process to gather community input regarding potential trustee area boundaries.”
Though it’s not a done deal that the SF school board will decide to comply with the demand, and they’ll discuss the matter further at the February 13 meeting.
Image: Google Street View