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San Fran schools used over $500K marked for improvements to fight mural legal battle

The San Francisco Unified School District has had a rather tumultuous three years as the school board courted controversy over a painting of George Washington and the renaming of over 40 schools.

Regarding the former, the San Francisco Chronicle reports the district used over half a million dollars slated for facility improvements to cover legal costs associated with a lawsuit.

After the school board had voted to paint over the mural of the first U.S. president at George Washington High School because it was “offensive and demeaning to Native Americans and African Americans,” a school alumni association sued. (The board later opted to merely cover the mural with curtains.)

The district eventually chose a settlement which included $345,000 for the alumni group’s legal fees and $180,000 to its own lawyers.

District lawyer Danielle Houck claimed the money was spent legitimately as bond funds “allow for remediation of health and safety risks” and the mural “is a part of a school building [which] ’caused psychological harm to students.'”

But Citizens Bond Oversight Committee Chairman Rex Ridgeway called out Houck and the district: “I want them to put the money back,” he said. “They’ve been using this as a slush fund as far as I’m concerned.”

Ridgeway admitted the $525,000 total cost was “a pimple on an elephant’s back” out of the $744 million in total bond funding, but said it’s the “principle” behind it.

MORE: San Francisco school district drops ‘chief’ from job titles

From the story:

The oversight committee was expected to vote Wednesday on whether to accept the findings of a Prop. A bond audit, which would certify the proper use of bond expenditures, including the legal costs associated with the mural. That vote was postponed until the group’s next meeting on Aug. 3.

A vote denying approval of the audit would be largely symbolic. The oversight committee, while mandated by state law, doesn’t have the authority to address misuse of bond funds, but it could seek outside legal guidance or refer the issue to city or state officials, Ridgeway said. …

[I]t’s unclear whether current school board members will resurrect an effort to cover up the mural despite their legal counsel’s assertion that it is a health and safety risk. …

The board is expected to consider putting a $1 billion facilities bond on the ballot in 2023, requiring the support of 55% of voters.

In February, voters ousted three SFUSD school board members for, among other things, concentrating on renaming over 40 schools in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Recalled board President Gabriela López blamed the recall on “white supremacy” and funding by “Republican billionaires.”

MORE: SFUSD’s renaming of buildings miffs even progressives

IMAGE: Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.