Stand up: Take Control of SF School Board

It is clearly time for action. We've seen the status quo

Former San Francisco School Board vice-president Alison Collins likes to say she’s “an educator.”

I agree. And in the last few months she’s taught us some valuable lessons:

Like, elections matter. Votes are important.

Let’s be honest, the SF School Board is a laughing stock. You could not have handed late night comedians a better roll-your-eyes moment than announcing that you had decided that Abraham Lincoln was not fit to continue to have a public school named after him.

“Who cancels Lincoln?” a New York Post headline asked.

There are the 12-hour board meetings, the free range open-mic public comment and news that Collins had sent out multiple Tweets that were deeply offensive to the Asian community and probably racist.

And then, when the other Board members voted to remove her from her vice-presidency because of the Tweets, Collins sued the Board for $87 million.

All during a pandemic.

With schools closed.

And people around the country have to be wondering: How in the world did these people get these jobs?

It’s simple. We voted for them.

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And let’s be honest, a lot of us didn’t know who all the candidates were (raises hand) at the last election. And we may have just voted for whomever called themselves a “teacher.” Or maybe we just followed the recommendations from the United Democratic Club, which has a history of godfathering candidates to the Board.

And this is what we’ve got.

Rachel Norton, who served three terms on the Board thinks this might be a moment.

“We have to ask what do we want and expect for our School Board?” she says. “We got what we voted for, people who wanted to prove they can be elected to public office in San Francisco.”

In the midst of wide-spread dissatisfaction — there are recall efforts underway for Collins and two of her colleagues — this could be a time for parents, residents and politicians to identify, recruit and support candidates who could turn this around.

Even if the recall fails, Collins is up for re-election in 2022. So are recall targets Board President Gabriela Lopez and Faauuga Moliga, both of whom voted for changing the school names. This board could be changed dramatically.

And that means support with time, energy and money. Also more money.

Unfortunately, school board member has turned into the definition of a thankless job. Norton talks about recruiting professionals, with helpful skills — attorneys, techies and “busy professionals.”

But as she said, it is a tough sell because it is such “a time suck.”

Beginning, of course, with Board meetings that last far into the night. Who has ever attended a 12-hour meeting and said, “That was a good use of my time?” Not to mention that huge chunks are taken up by public commenters, who wax on about the daily outrage.

“Somehow public comment became: If you are mad about something, go to the School Board and yell and scream,” Norton said. “And bring 50 people with you.”

The Board could fix that. Other school boards handle it with ease all over the country.

Also, the pay is basically zero, $500 a month. Norton is suspicious of providing enough a full-time salary, but she agrees it is too low now. The issue, she says, is the $500 is mandated by the City Charter. Remove it and state guideline would nearly triple the monthly stipend. Not huge, but it might attract more candidates.

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But the real call is for people to concentrate their energy on making a change. Find people who see the job as a way to give back to the city, not a springboard to the Board of Supervisors.

Again, now is the time. Outrage has never been higher.

And let’s be clear, it isn’t just Collins, although she’s become a face and symbol of an out-of-touch Board.

The School District just filed defense motions on Collins’ lawsuit, and to the untrained legal eye, it doesn’t look good for her multi-million dollar payday.

The response cites Blair vs. Bethel School District, which was decided by the Ninth Circuit in 2010. It is a strikingly similar case, with Board vice-president Ken Blair suing because the other four members voted him out of the job as VP.

That’s what happened with Collins, and like Blair, she said her first amendment rights were violated.

But the court ruled that Blair had been removed by the same people who put him in the job and the vote was simply part of typical rough and tumble politics. That seems pretty clear.

The unraveling of Collins has been shocking. It turned out the offensive Tweets were only the beginning. Then we found out Collins and her husband Chris may be in violation of building code laws. And that was followed by Heather Knight's well-researched column that interviewed teachers and employees about bullying behavior from Collins.

But it all comes back to the Tweets, which are still breath-takingly inappropriate. It would be hard to imagine reading them in 2016 and then, in 2018, voting for her to win a four-year term on the School Board.

Surely they would have disqualified her. But apparently nobody checked.

That kind of indifference isn’t going to work now. The confusion over school re-opening after COVID, the issues with the teachers and the need to get students back in class are too pressing to ignore.

Now is the time to organize, to form committees and to elect School Board officials in 2022 who are going fix this train wreck and get back on track.

The other day we heard of another family selling their place and leaving the city. They’d finally had it with the lack of direction at San Francisco schools.

People are leaving. This is serious.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@gmail.com. Suggestions and compliments welcome. Criticism not so much. Twitter: @cwnevius