Gay Man, Trans Woman Run for SF School Board
A gay man and a transgender woman pulled papers this week to run for seats on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education in the fall election.
Jaime Rafaela Wolfe, who lost her first bid for a school board seat in 2010, is again seeking to join the board. Mounting his first bid for political office is Mark Murphy, whose husband is an elementary school teacher in the district.
"I want to make sure, and continue to ensure, San Francisco public schools continue to thrive and get the tax money they need," said Wolfe, 36, a behaviorist and floor manager at Oakes Children’s Center Inc., a nonprofit that provides educational and therapeutic services to children with emotional and developmental issues. "Parents and children should feel fully supported by someone who knows how schools operate. I have the passion and will to really be that person."
Murphy, 48, a communications and marketing consultant for high-tech companies as well as the city’s recreation and parks department, co-chairs a community advisory committee that recommends how the school district should allocate $50 million it receives from the city’s general fund due to the passage of Proposition H, which will expire with the 2014-15 fiscal year unless voters renew it.
"I have long cared about education, children, and our youth," said Murphy, who had served on the LGBT advisory committee for the city’s Human Rights Commission.
The Board of Education has not had an out LGBT member since early January 2009. Rather than seek re-election in 2008, gay former school board member Mark Sanchez unsuccessfully ran for a supervisor seat that year.
In the 2010 race, all three out school board candidates who sought seats came up short. Two years ago no out candidates filed to run for the board.
This November three school board seats will be on the ballot, with at least one an open seat. Kim-Shree Maufas plans to step down when her term expires at noon on January 8, 2015, having promised to just serve two terms on the board.
Hydra Mendoza has yet to announce if she will run for a third term on the board. Her dual roles as being a school board member and Mayor Ed Lee’s education adviser have recently raised questions about conflicts of interest and speculation is building that she may opt to leave the board when her term expires. (Mendoza did not respond to a request for comment on her election plans by press time.)
Incumbent Emily Murase is seeking a second four-year term, while three community members have already formed campaign committees: Stevon Cook, Trevor McNeil, and Shamann Walton.
Considered a down ticket race, the campaign for school board is often overshadowed by higher profile races on the ballot. It receives scant media attention, and candidates often struggle to attract voters’ interest.
Both Wolfe and Murphy are hoping that LGBT voters, at least, will pay closer attention to the race this year. Not only are LGBT residents of the city increasingly having children, issues such as school bullying and transgender students’ access to appropriate school facilities have become key concerns within the LGBT community.
"We have no LGBTQ representation on the school board of San Francisco, that is unacceptable," said Wolfe. "I know I am qualified, as an LGBT person, to be on the school board."
Murphy agrees that LGBT parents, students, and district staff need to have someone from the LGBT community on the school board.
"For our LGBT staff and professionals, I want to be that voice at the table for them," said Murphy. "For our LGBTQ, and I, students in the district, I want to be that person they can turn to and look to in a leadership role in the district and someone who has their back."
While neither Murphy nor Wolfe are parents themselves, both argue that they care deeply about the state of public education in the city.
"Education is my life. I love being an advocate for our public school children," said Wolfe, who used to teach at a private elementary school in the city. "I want to be that public advocate, that elected person, who is looking after our children and looking after equitable opportunities for our public school children."
In addition to his work on the Prop H committee, Murphy has taken part in the school district’s visioning exercise for what it will look like in 2025. He has attended numerous Board of Education meetings, he said, and has spent quite a bit of time at Argonne Elementary School in the city’s Richmond district where his husband, David Allyn, works.
"With an open seat," said Murphy, "it feels like the right time to step in now and have the conversation to talk about what I feel are important issues to talk about in this race."
Murphy’s platform will focus on the district’s new curriculum and assessments being implemented; addressing the achievement gap between African American and Latino students compared to their Caucasian and Asian counterparts; and seeking more community and business support for the schools.
"I don’t believe our children’s success in the San Francisco Unified School District is dependent on what happens between the morning and afternoon bell and within four square walls," he said.
Key issues Wolfe plans to focus on in the race include budgetary oversight and encouraging healthy lifestyles, food choices and activities for students. Another key focus will be supporting LGBTQ students, she said.
"Of course, I want to ensure LGBT students, or questioning and queer students, are fully supported," said Wolfe.