A group of San Francisco Unified School District parents, frustrated that schools remain closed for in-person learning, has proposed doing away with elections for Board of Education commissioners and instead moving to an appointment-based system.

The group Better San Francisco Public Schools is campaigning for a charter amendment for the June 2022 ballot to allow city leaders to choose school board commissioners instead of voters.

“We believe this will create better accountability so the Board of Education will be made up of the right people with the right priorities,” said SFUSD parent and Better San Francisco Public Schools chair Patrick Wolff. “The city elected a majority of this board just a few months ago. Clearly something is wrong with how we’re choosing the people who govern our public schools.”

Although district leaders have stressed that reopening schools relies on several factors, including agreeing on health and safety standards with labor unions and making sure schools have proper ventilation systems, parents and city leaders continue to express frustration over the closures, which were implemented a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic first began.

The board faced more criticism in January when it voted to rename 44 schools by April, with Mayor Breed calling for more urgency to reopen schools. To complicate matters, last month, the city filed a lawsuit to further compel the district and school board to prioritize the return of in-person learning.

“I’m seriously concerned about the Board of Education and its focus on the wrong priorities. The members’ lack of prioritization on the issues that matter most is having a disastrous effect on public education for our students and families,” said Better San Francisco Public Schools co-chair Jennifer Kuhr Butterfoss, an SFUSD parent and former SFUSD principal. “My kids’ friends, neighbors and classmates are leaving in droves. The disastrous effect of this current board is going to be felt by generations to come.”

“The city elected a majority of this board just a few months ago. Clearly something is wrong with how we’re choosing the people who govern our public schools.”

Patrick Wolff, Better San Francisco Public Schools

The city first moved to an election-based system for the school board in 1971, spurred by opposition to school desegregation, after having used an appointment-based system for more than 70 years prior to that.

Citing other large U.S. cities that already have an appointment-based system like New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Wolff said it makes the most sense for large, diverse areas where it is more likely that voters just aren’t informed enough to select the most qualified candidates.

“Major urban cities are often really the only ones that tend to gravitate towards this appointment-based system, and it tends to work well for them from what we have seen,” he said.

In the coming months, Better San Francisco Public Schools plans to start meeting with more parents and residents to grow the campaign and launch a petition to place the initiative on the ballot in June 2022.

The group’s announcement comes just days after school district leaders announced some elementary school students across 66 schools will be able to return for in-person learning on April 12, under the first phase of school reopening.

Under the plan, more school sites would then reopen in phases in the weeks thereafter, with a total of 91 school sites slated to reopen by the end of April.

Speaking during a briefing on Monday, SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said, “We know for families this has been a difficult time and we are enthusiastic about the ability to move forward and we continue to do everything as a district to get as many students back into in-person learning as we possibly can, but at the same time we want you to understand the limitations that are there.”