Phil Kim and John Trasviña for San Francisco Board of Education

November 2018 election

Max Ghenis
6 min readOct 20, 2018


San Francisco voters will select three Board of Education members from a slate of 18 candidates, each voter given the option to select up to three choices. Priorities include curriculum, school assignment, and teacher affordability. With school board often being a stepping stone to higher office (two current members — Matt Haney and Shamann Walton — are running for district supervisor), other issues faced by San Francisco are also relevant.

Educator Phil Kim stands out as a reformer seeking to maximize housing on school property, invest in teacher feedback and data systems, advocate for transit and other vehicle alternatives, and explore restricted types of charter schools.

University of San Francisco law school dean John Trasviña would bring remarkable national qualifications to the office, especially a unique background in Housing and Urban Development that could help the school district navigate obstacles in building needed housing.

How candidates differ

Reading the voter information pamphlet would suggest that candidates largely want the same things: close the achievement gap, supporting teachers, strengthening relationships with parents, and ultimately improving student outcomes. They also tend to agree on more concrete topics like schools building teacher housing on district-owned land and experimenting with schools being used for nighttime homeless services.

Questionnaires from organizations like SF Democrats, United Democratic Club, and SF YIMBY reveal greater differences. Responses often go beyond the specific question, giving candidates a chance to weigh in on an array of issues such as:

  • Should we accept new charter schools?
  • What types of teacher assistance should the city and state offer?
  • Should we reduce class sizes?
  • How much parking vs. housing should schools have on their property?
  • How should the city generally approach housing and transportation?
  • Should we emphasize STEM or the arts?
  • How should school allocation work?

Kim embraces necessary change

Among the most important issue for the school district is also the core one facing the city: a housing shortage worsened by reliance on private vehicles. Teachers forced into long commutes by high rents, children moving unsafely across town, and parents taking time before work to get their kids to school are all greatly affected by this, and Kim pulls no punches:

Our City must move away from being built for cars, and instead build for a future of homes in every corner, accessible neighborhoods, and community-driven schools. Therefore, the District must do its part in fully taking advantage of the property it owns and delivering on our promise of developing teaching/educator housing. We must do our part to increase our housing stock so that families and educators can stay in the community.

Kim also supported SB 827, which would have legalized apartments near transit if it passed this year, and supports protected bike lanes and improving Muni. These changes are controversial since it often takes space from cars, but they are critical for a sustainable city.

A former teacher with the KIPP charter school network, he also supports charter schools more than any other candidate:

I support free, open-enrollment, non-profit charter public schools in exchange for partnership, collaboration, and adequate accountability of improved outcomes for students.

This is the practical approach. As I wrote in support of Marshall Tuck for state superintendent: “the research is clear that some charter schools, particularly those under large charter management organizations like KIPP, positively impact learning.”

Kim isn’t content to outsource innovation entirely to charter schools: he wants to invest in “teacher feedback & data systems” to ensure public schools are constantly improving. He also seeks to apply his current work experience as a STEM project manager at KIPP to improve San Francisco’s STEM curriculum.

Trasviña has national leadership experience to ensure equity

John Trasviña has the most impressive experience of candidates in the race: a Stanford-trained lawyer, he then taught, served as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing, and is now Dean of the University of San Francisco law school.

To meet teacher housing needs, he wants to ensure each district supervisor can make a parcel available. This equity-minded approach is lacking in San Francisco, and his experience in HUD would be valuable in making it a reality.

He is highly skeptical of charter schools, saying we are a “public school nation,” but doesn’t suggest blocking all new charter schools.

I’d be remiss not to mention that Trasviña has worked for a Jesuit Catholic school for the past five years, though he hasn’t shown any reason to think he might favor religious schools on the Board of Education.

The other reformers

Financial literacy educator Connor Krone is also open to new charter schools in certain circumstances, but lacks endorsements and didn’t complete the YIMBY questionnaire.

Nonprofit grantwriter Michelle Parker is also strongly committed to building more teacher housing and has advocated easing construction of in-law units, for which she won the sole endorsement of SF YIMBY, but has other concerning views described below.

The rest of the pack

Statements from teacher Gabriela López are representative of other less reformist candidates:

I agree that a parking lot is among the worst possible uses of land. However, as an SFUSD teacher, I also work with many teachers who have hour plus commutes to their schools. Public transportation is not a viable option for many of these teachers. The inability to park can put additional financial strain and stress on teachers who are already at their limit. More teacher parking permits could be an option.

Flipping the imbalance between what is currently spent on classrooms and what’s spent on administration, outside contractors and Consultants.

It is well established that on the whole Charter Schools do not outperform public schools and that is despite the overwhelming emphasis many charters place on test scores

Respectively: additional parking worsens congestion for everyone, especially when it uses space that could otherwise provide teacher housing that would reduce need for parking and driving (the premise of this question); administration is critical for investing in the most effective forms of instruction; and some charter school networks consistently outperform public schools.

Joining López in opposing all new charter schools are Parker, educator Alison Collins, academic counselor Li Miao Lovett, school social worker Faauuga Moliga, and case manager Mia Satya.

López, Satya, Collins, and education advocate Monica Chinchilla also support class-size reduction (CSR). While research suggests this can positively impact student achievement, its cost makes it an unwise use of limited funds:

…one careful analysis of several educational interventions found CSR to be the least cost effective of those studied…short-term rates of return for computer-aided instruction, cross-age tutoring, early childhood programs, and increases in instructional time that are all greater than those for CSR.

Several candidates want to go beyond building teacher housing on school land, in ways that could risk balkanizing housing rights:

  • Lovett proposed acquiring property for teachers to rent, and Parker wants Sacramento to allow San Francisco to reserve housing (ostensibly not on district land) for teachers.
  • Chinchilla suggested prequalifying public employees for BMR lotteries, giving them an edge over other residents for limited spots.
  • Moliga and Parker praised a recent law which prevented teachers from being evicted under the Ellis Act during the schoolyear.
  • Lovett, Moliga, and Parker proposed ways to help teachers buy homes, typically with down payment assistance programs.

These reforms either cost money that could instead fund salary increases, or replace reforms that could apply to everyone. Homeownership subsidies can also be regressive, worsen the housing shortage, and reduce teachers’ financial diversification and mobility, as I wrote in opposing California Proposition 1.

Chinchilla wants to require developers to reserve 40 percent of units as below-market-rate (BMR), rather than the roughly 20 percent today. 2016 Proposition C raised it to 25 percent, after which housing production fell dramatically, including of BMR units.

Other comments are outright nativist:

  • Satya recommends local hiring, a disturbingly common proposal to exclude newcomers from employment opportunities.
  • Lovett advocates “restrictions for out-of-town drivers who are incentivized to drive in San Francisco because it’s more lucrative to come here.”
  • Parent Alida Fisher says: “Lotteries for low and middle income housing, as well as down payment assistance programs, should also provide priority or tie breaker options for young San Franciscans whose families have been in San Francisco for at least a generation.”

Remaining candidates Phillip House, Lex Leifheit, Martin Rawlings-Fein, Roger Sinasohn, and Lenette Thompson didn’t complete questionnaires and/or haven’t secured endorsements to be viable.

As important as the common-sense proposals from Kim and Trasviña are the unsensible ones they don’t propose. The new reformer and experienced leader steer away from teacher-only public benefits and nativist band-aids to schooling challenges, opting for careful change.

Since this is not a ranked-choice race, a third vote would reduce the chances of the first two winning. Vote only for Kim and Trasviña for a future-looking Board of Education.



Max Ghenis

Co-founder & CEO of PolicyEngine. Founder & president of the UBI Center. Economist. Alum of UC Berkeley, Google, and MIT. YIMBY. CCLer. Effective altruist.