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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

San Francisco mayor wants more oversight of fractious school board

In a direct rebuke to the current school board, London Breed, mayor of San Francisco, is asking voters to approve dramatic changes to the way schools in the city are managed.

(CN) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a major school reform package on Monday, aimed at constraining and providing oversight to the city’s dysfunctional school board that has been mired in political infighting, financial difficulties and acrimonious recall campaigns. 

The mayor announced a ballot measure that, if approved by the board of supervisors and voters, would provide significant city oversight of the San Francisco Unified School District and its governing body, giving city officials the ability to withhold millions if board members continue to pursue personal politics to the detriment of children. 

"This pandemic has really impacted our kids, but we have to be honest that we've been struggling to efficiently and effectively provide quality services to young people and their families for years," Breed said in a statement released Monday.  

The Children First initiative will create a Children’s Agency within the city of San Francisco responsible for overseeing how the city’s annual $200 million contributions to youth services is spent by a school district that has been plagued with fiscal issues. 

Breed is also proposing the creation of certain goals the school district must achieve around governance, strategy, fiscal management, community engagement and professional development while mandating annual reports to the mayor’s office. 

“The school board has often focused on the wrong thing at the expense of the big picture,” Breed said. “I know as a result of this people have been frustrated and lost faith.”

The initiative would first have to earn majority support from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before it could be placed on a ballot initiative. Breed said the intended goal is to have voters weigh in June 2022. 

Breed ran for the mayor’s office on a pitch to keep families in San Francisco, as many middle-class parents began to feel priced out of the technology hub with escalating housing costs. Last year, when San Francisco’s schools were closed due to the pandemic, three board members elected in 2018 — Gabriela Lopez, Faauuga Moliga, and Commissioner Alison Collins — primarily talked about renaming 44 schools in the school district. 

The school board lost a legal fight when a local judge granted a motion to stay the renaming of the schools because the district failed to include opposing voices and allow for due process. 

Parent frustration began to mount as their requests to reopen schools for their children were stonewalled while the board got mired in fights over largely symbolic matters.

Collins was removed from the vice presidency at one point during the internal battling and sued other board members for $87 million, claiming anti-Asian discrimination. The case was quickly dismissed from superior court. 

“As a SFUSD parent, I felt abandoned by the school board last year,” said SFUSD parent Chanel Blackwell, who backs the proposal. “I had a problem with the Board focusing on political issues rather than the kids and getting them back into the classroom.”

Three school board members are facing recall over the events that transpired in 2020. Breed has backed the recall, as has Scott Weiner, an influential state senator from San Francisco. 

Moliga criticized Breed’s plan on Monday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

“I have been talking with many people about their concerns regarding the school board on the campaign trail,” Moliga told the Chronicle. “I have not heard anyone say that mayoral control over our public schools is the answer.”

The mayor says the intent of providing oversight is “to govern — not micromanage.”

Centralized oversight of school boards occurs in other cities, including New York City, where the mayor’s office has considerable say over education administration within its jurisdiction. 

Two supervisors have indicated their support for the ballot initiative with small caveats, meaning Breed will have to win the support of five more. 

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Categories / Education, Government, Politics, Regional

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