Parcel Tax Proposition May Decide Fate of City College

San Franciscans in front of City Hall rally in support of Proposition A. Photo by Erica Hellerstein.

San Franciscans in front of City Hall rally in support of Proposition A. Photo by Erica Hellerstein.

Proponents of Proposition A, a parcel tax on November’s ballot to fund City College of San Francisco, say that without the ballot measure hundreds of college classes will be eliminated.

Opponents argue that taxpayers shouldn’t throw money at a community college that’s on the verge of having its accreditation revoked because of operational and fiscal mismanagement.

Tomorrow voters will decide whether to approve the measure to levy a $79 annual parcel tax for eight years, providing City College with $17 million per year.

The largest community college in the state, City College has nine campuses throughout San Francisco and serves over 90,000 students annually. One of those campuses is in the heart of the Mission District.

Last year the state reduced funding to City College by $15 million, and over the past three years has reduced funds by a total of $53 million. If approved, Prop. A would restore some of the funds cut by the state, but not all, said John Rizzo, president of the college’s Board of Trustees.

“Because of the cuts the state has been making, there has been fewer and fewer classes, and the waiting lines to get into classes are longer, and a lot of people can’t get into classes at all,” he said. “Some people can’t graduate when they want to.”

Fiscal woes are not the only problems City College has faced recently. A report released this summer by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges found City College deficient in a number of areas that could ultimately affect the school’s accreditation. In October, the college released a plan to address areas dinged by the accreditation commission.

While changes certainly need to occur at City College, said Alisa Messer, president of the American Federation of Teachers local that represents the college’s faculty, not funding the college because of the recent accreditation crisis is ultimately hurting the people everyone wants to see succeed: students.

“People are upset and concerned and asking critical questions about the college, which is really about management,” Messer said. “The questions people are not asking are about the quality of education and dedication of the faculty. Ultimately, saying no, I don’t want to fund a college in crisis, is saying, I don’t want to fund 100,000 students.”

Opponents of Prop. A argue that City College needs to prove it is worthy of taxpayer dollars.

Marcy Berry, vice president of the Libertarian Party of San Francisco and a City College alumni, is grateful for the education she received there. At the same time, she doesn’t believe throwing money at the college is the best solution to its problems.

The college, Berry argues, needs to learn to live within its means. She asserts that City College is under the impression that taxpayers ought to care, and need to give their tax dollars simply because San Francisco is a progressive city that tends to lean liberal.

“Our position is that City College has some really fundamental management issues,” said Mike Sullivan, co-chair of Plan C, a moderate political activist organization. “There’re some cost structure issues with City College that need to be addressed first before the city throws more money at the institution.”

City College has a reputation as a generous organization, providing good salaries to its employees and offering excellent benefits, Sullivan said. But no one can spend outside his or her means, Sullivan said.

“We need to support this service in a wise way,” he said.

Progress is underway at City College, Rizzo said. The college is addressing its problems and making tough choices, and has already eliminated 700 classes to save money. Rizzo’s characterizes the financial situation as “pretty serious.”

“The plan that we passed last month is a good plan, and now we have a road map to follow,” he said. “We’ve done all the right things and are on the path to sustainability.”

City College is also hopeful that Proposition 30 will pass. The statewide measure raises California’s sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent and increases taxes on the wealthiest Californians for the next seven years. The money generated from Prop. 30 would fund K-12 education and community colleges.

City College has a balanced budget in the current academic year, based on the passage of Prop. 30. However, recent polls show declining support for the measure. Prop. A is not a boost in funding so much as helping the college remain whole, Messer said.

“Prop. A won’t solve everything,” she said, “but will get us further along the way.”

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