School Board Recall Is a Big Win — and a First Step to Fix San Francisco
By Joel P. Engardio
I was proud to stand with beleaguered parents and residents as we supported the recall of San Francisco’s incompetent school board.
It was a landslide. About 75 percent of voters agreed that Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez, and Faauuga Moliga had failed at their jobs. It was especially gratifying that more people voted to recall the school board members than elected them in the first place.
Many in the political establishment said a recall wasn’t possible. They were sympathetic to parents and kids having to endure never-ending Zoom school. But a recall would be too difficult, the experts said.
Fortunately exhausted and exasperated parents like Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj wouldn’t listen to “no.” They found others who were willing to seek a remedy and started the campaign to recall the school board.
It was an honor to work with Autumn and Siva from day one. We made history by gathering enough signatures to put the first local recall on the ballot in nearly 40 years. Then we won the first local recall in more than a century.
Heroes of the recall
Recall founder Autumn Looijen likes to say: “Joel Engardio was the first to believe the recall was possible — and the first to believe that we could do it.”
I appreciate the kudos, but many heroes stepped up to make the recall happen.
Here are just a few examples:
Kit Lam: He’s a dad who collected thousands of recall petition signatures on his own. Then someone stole his petitions.
Bad people tried to silence a movement. But Kit fought back. And the movement became stronger than ever.
Ann Hsu: She’s a mom and a businesswoman who had never been active in local politics until the school board went off the rails.
She started registering new voters from the Chinese/API community. Her volunteer group broke records and all those new voters helped us win.
Tom Colin: He volunteered for my drive-thru signature gathering events. We needed 70,000 petition signatures to get the recall on the ballot and we had to get creative in finding ways for people to safely sign pen on paper in a pandemic.
Lowell High School is in my neighborhood, so I got up at 6am every Sunday to put little orange soccer cones along the street in front of the school to make sure no one parked where our drive-thru would be.
On the first Sunday, Tom stood at the curb with a dozen other volunteers. We had no idea if any cars would show up. Then 500 came! It was a traffic jam.
Tom jumped into action. He ran up and down the street, directing cars with his arms and clipboard. He turned chaos into a perfectly timed ballet dance.
The San Francisco Standard reported on my drive-thrus, noting that the “Lowell High School neighborhood was key to the school board recall’s smashing success.”
Incredibly, 95 percent of the voters in my neighborhood said yes to the recall — the highest percentage in the entire city.
Reasons for recall
I believed in the recall because many families felt abandoned by the school board when it chose to rename schools instead of reopening them. They put Roosevelt Middle School on the renaming list — without knowing or bothering to learn whether it was named for Teddy or FDR.
San Francisco’s school board became a national joke. But families weren’t laughing as kids suffered too long in Zoom school.
Another galvanizing issue centered on academic achievement. The school board eliminated 8th grade Algebra, put advanced placement classes on the chopping block, and ended merit-based admission at the city’s — and one of the nation’s — top-ranked high schools. The stated reason was to improve equity, but it seemed like bright kids were being punished in the process.
The school board had also driven our schools into a financial ditch and faced a potential state takeover. More families kept leaving public schools, and less enrollment meant even less funding. It was a cycle to the bottom that only a recall could stop.
Read my full, point-by-point case for the recall here.
What a city needs to thrive
Good public schools are essential for a city to thrive. A city’s future depends on investing in families and the first step is to have well-run public schools.
Yet San Francisco is not very family friendly. We have one of the lowest percentages of kids in the nation. We have more dogs than kids. Why do families leave San Francisco? Housing costs, public safety concerns — and badly run public schools.
Our children’s well-being and the future of our city is at stake. That’s why we won an epic recall. But we’ve only just begun.
Recalling the school board was the first step. Next, we need to elect new city supervisors. Most of our supervisors stood by an incompetent school board, which became a glaring example of how they do not represent the will of the voters. We deserve better.
The importance of Asian American voters
When the story is written about the historic effort to recall San Francisco’s school board, it must include the Chinese/API parents and grandparents who organized their community to vote for the first time. It’s a political earthquake in the making with no going back.
Ann Hsu formed the Chinese/API Voter Outreach Taskforce. It’s a big name for a group that started small. But the impact will be felt for years to come because of what it unleashed.
It’s puzzling why most of San Francisco’s locally elected Asian American officials opposed the recall.
Nearly 85 percent of the voters in Supervisor Gordon Mar’s district supported the recall. But Mar opposed it. He even donated to the anti-recall effort. And he was one of the city supervisors who put a measure on the upcoming June ballot to make future recalls more difficult.
Every elected official — and everyone who seeks office in San Francisco — will have to answer this question from voters: Did you stand with families and support the school board recall?
Realizing San Francisco’s full potential
Voters will no longer give a pass to the elected officials who refuse to address the critical issues we face. From education, to housing, to public safety — it’s time to fix San Francisco.
The group GrowSF is working on all those issues, and it supported the school board recall from the start.
We won’t be gaslit by a political establishment that tells us all is well when we can see how much is broken. We won’t let opponents put a toxic “Republican-led” label our demand for competent and common sense governance.
In liberal San Francisco, a super majority of voters said yes to the school board recall. They were 62% Democrats, 25% Independents, 7% other, and only 6% Republicans.
Volunteers from all shades of Democratic blue worked together on this historic recall. The powers that be said it couldn’t be done. Yet we pushed forward and prevailed. That’s how miracles happen. We are believers in San Francisco’s full potential.