San Francisco Schools now have a Unifying Villain

by on February 26, 2024

It takes a lot to have one person unify the many sparring camps in public school advocacy. But Walnut Creek ambulance-chaser, Scott Rafferty, has managed to do just that. He has risen above all others to become the target of everyone’s ire. Rafferty has threatened our nearly bankrupt school district for a non-issue of voting representation, just to line his own pockets.

First, here’s a bit of background on the topic at hand. The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was put in place with the worthwhile intention to minimize “racial dilution” in “at-large” districts. In simple terms, the law helps bring minorities a seat at the voting table when they are essentially a small population. It’s designed to make sure that minority voices aren’t being suppressed in large and voter-rich elections, like for many school district board elections.

As teeth for this law, this CVRA law allowed attorneys to challenge school districts. Rafferty has made a business doing just that- threatening many small school districts that they do not comply with CVRA. Yet the party is coming to an end as the state Supreme Court has essentially agreed with Santa Monica that there is a limit to what can be interpreted as a legal case.

Now Rafferty seeks to bring a case against the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). Here’s the problem: our city’s Board of Education has been the picture of diversity for decades.

John Trasvina, former chair of the voting rights act compliance committee for San Francisco, has it right. He wrote, “…introducing district election of School Board members jeopardizes the voices and votes of Asian American, Latino and African American San Franciscans… Since 2000, Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans have won two-thirds of the at-large San Francisco School Board elections: 36% Asian American; 16% African American and 14% Latino. The California Voting Rights Act objective has been met for many years.”

Kevin Ortiz, co-President of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club urged the school district to push back in a way similar to Santa Monica schools. In public comment last week, he said, “I would urge you all to take your time, really explore other avenues.”

Legal groups are lining up to offer free, or pro bono, work to help fight the pending lawsuit.

Why is Rafferty bringing this suit against SFUSD now, when he knows that it is severely running in the red and is working super hard on its many big problems? It’s because he is afraid that if he doesn’t do it now, someone else may do it and he will not be the one to get rich off of the back of students and educators. He basically said such in a recent San Francisco Chronicle interview.

I’ve got no legal training yet this appears like there’s no there there. Rafferty’s case is word salad, no statistics. He further promises some divine alternative future of better minority group voter representation, yet again, he’s got nothing to back such a claim.

Superintendent Matt Wayne, backed by his new General Counsel Rodney Moore, recommended to cave to Rafferty and start the process to carve the city into several smaller districts. The move makes a certain amount of sense in just following many school districts and not taking on a costly legal fight. Yet one of the many problems in this choice is that creating new voting districts will make some groups quite unhappy and engender, yes, a legal fight.

Commissioner Lisa Weissman-Ward, a professional lawyer, amended the Wayne resolution to hold off on hiring a demographer to plan out drawing districts, and instead to consider a number of other options to make an agreeable path forward. This amended resolution was approved 6-1 with Commissioner Kevine Boggess the lone dissenter.

The problem with the other options to consider is that they would be another bespoke unproven experiment that may make things worse. There is basically no proof that limited voting or block voting or other choices can improve on what SFUSD currently uses. This case does not need the SFUSD trying again to do something fancy and finding it is not up to it. Its best move is to fight Rafferty.

As for Rafferty, he can save himself much money and see the wall being built against him and take his ambulance chasing elsewhere. A brazen attempt to get a tens of thousands of bucks off of a school district that is still at risk of state takeover for fiscal irresponsibility is just the lowest of low moves.

For Boggess’s vote, it is surely a head scratcher, especially for someone who may face a tough re-election vote in November of this year. Maybe he’s attempting to fail up into working for Rafferty? One can only shake one’s head.

We here in San Francisco have plenty of real concerns to make things better, from safety in schools to mental health challenges to paying teachers correctly to fixing ceiling leaks to making a new student assignment system to possibly consolidating schools, and on and on. We are hundreds of millions in the red and are working to stay away from state takeover. Let’s stay united on this one and tell this out-of-town ambulance chaser Rafferty he has taken on the wrong school district.

Filed under: San Francisco News