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San Francisco ousts three school board members in historic recall election

San Francisco now has three open seats on its scandal-ridden school board, and it looks like candidates for its vacant State Assembly seat are headed for a runoff.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — San Francisco voters ejected three members of the San Francisco school board in the city’s first successful local recall election.

The effort to recall President Gabriela Lopez and commissioners Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga was largely driven by simmering parental anger over the board’s foot-dragging on reopening schools while private schools and public schools in neighboring counties resumed in-person instruction.

As San Francisco schoolchildren were consigned to remote learning, the board focused on changing the names of 44 schools and scrapping merit-based admissions at the academically rigorous Lowell High School over accusations of systemic racism, though Asian students comprise 49.9% of the student population.

Opponents, however, pointed to an influx of donations from wealthy venture capitalists and charter school advocates in decrying the recall as a political power-grab.

As of this week, pro-recall committees had raised nearly $2 million in a combination of small-money donations and large contributions from billionaires like Arthur Rock, PayPal founding executive David Sacks, the California Association of Realtors, and SF Forward, a political action committee run by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

The recall was also backed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who will appoint the ousted members’ successors.

“As a proud graduate of San Francisco's public schools, it pains me to hear of families who are leaving the district because they have lost confidence in the leadership of this board, or who wish they could but cannot financially afford private school,” Breed said in a statement announcing her support.

Breed appointed Moliga, a former social worker, to fill a vacancy on the board in October 2018. A few weeks later, he ran for election and won, along with López and Collins. They are the only board members eligible for recall. The other four were elected in 2020 and have not held their positions long enough.

Early election returns showed mail- in voters favored recalling Collins by 79.06%, Lopez by 75.49% and Moliga by 72.7% — numbers that did not change considerably even with all precincts reporting.

“The voters of this city have delivered a clear message that the school board must focus on the essentials of delivering a well-run school system above all else. San Francisco is a city that believes in the value of big ideas, but those ideas must be built on the foundation of a government that does the essentials well. I want to recognize all the parents who tirelessly organized and advocated in the last year. Elections can be difficult, but these parents were fighting for what matters most — their children. The days ahead for our public schools will not be easy," Breed said in a statement late Tuesday.

Whomever Breed chooses to fill their seats will inherit a $125 million budget deficit and the matter of finding a replacement for Superintendent Vincent Matthews, who will be retiring in June.

Moliga conceded the election in a Twitter post late Tuesday that thanked his supporters. "It has truly been an honor," he wrote.

Voter turnout hovered around 26%, according to the San Francisco Department of Elections.

"This is the first successful recall in San Francisco history. It is a victory for San Francisco’s kids, and for the most boring revolution ever: a revolution for good governance and bipartisanship," said Autumn Looijen, who along with her partner Siva Raj lead the signature campaign to get the recall on the ballot.

Results for the race to fill an Assembly seat left vacant when David Chiu left to become city attorney were not as clear-cut. Since neither secured more than 50% of the vote, front runners Matt Haney, who is currently on the Board of Supervisors, and former supervisor David Campos, are heading for a runoff in April.

With nearly 100% of the vote, incumbent Joaquín Torres was the clear winner for city assessor-recorder, a job that involves accessing home values for collecting property taxes, which comprised $3.7 billion in revenue for the city in 2021–22.

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