Battle to Save City College Divides Teachers and Administration

A protesting caroler holds up a sign outside the City College Board of Trustees meeting in December.

A protesting caroler holds up a sign outside the City College Board of Trustees meeting in December.

Over 100 Christmas carolers braved the cold Thursday night to sing outside the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees meeting. The chorus included faculty, staff and students who earlier had lobbied for San Francisco’s Proposition A, a parcel tax touted as a measure to save City College.

But last night, led by the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, they sang a different tune, protesting the college administration’s plans for spending that parcel tax money: “We want to serve our students, and retire someday, keep benefits and pay, but they just don’t care what we say!”

Supporters of the eight-year, $79 per parcel tax, which passed with 73 percent of the vote this November, had hoped that the $16 million per year in new revenue would be used to prevent layoffs, offset budget cuts and maintain classes at the financially struggling school — as outlined in the proposition.

Now, however, the college is proposing to put Prop. A funds toward other things, including technology upgrades, facility maintenance, retiree health benefit costs, professional development and shoring up its reserve, said Larry Kamer, consultant and acting City College spokesman. Those items were set forth in a July report by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The college has until March 15 to show that it’s complying with the commission’s recommendations in order to stay accredited.

In the first year that City College receives Prop. A funds, roughly 50 percent of the money could go to funding the college’s depleted reserve, Kamer said. Five percent of the budget is supposed to be in the reserve every year, according to recommendations by the State Chancellor’s Office.

“If we continue to maintain accreditation, we stay open,” Kamer said. “If we don’t, we cease to exist.”

But while the college is proposing to fund items outlined in the accreditation report, it also is continuing to lay off teachers and asking faculty to accept greater pay cuts, restructuring of departments, raising the cost of classes and cutting courses.

Alisa Messer, president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, said the college is asking teachers to take an immediate 8.8 percent wage cut, on top of a 2.85 percent wage cut the union agreed to earlier this year. The college also wants the union to accept a 5 percent ongoing wage cut or equivalent reduction starting next year. Meanwhile, the district recently laid off 19 counselors and other faculty continue to face the possibility of layoffs, Messer said.

“We all want the college to survive,” Messer said. “We all want to maintain our accreditation. But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of our students’ education and the livelihood of our workers.”

City College is the largest community college in the state and serves over 90,000 students each year. But in the last three years, the state has reduced its funding by $53 million. The College will face another immediate financial crisis if it cannot meet its target enrollment of 34,000 full-time students in the spring semester. If City College continues to enroll students at its current pace, it would lose $5 million in state funding.

Board of Trustees President John Rizzo said the board hasn’t yet made any decisions about how to use the Prop. A funds. That money won’t start coming in until the next fiscal year, starting July 1. Rizzo said he would not support a plan to spend all Prop. A funds on the reserve, technology, facility maintenance and retiree benefits.

“The budget for next year hasn’t been determined,” Rizzo said. “It will be determined by talking with the employees. It will be collaborative.”

Yet the Board of Trustees has already approved a sweeping reorganization of the college. Starting in January, administrators must reapply for their jobs. While some current administrators will retain their jobs, new administrators will be brought in from outside City College, Kamer said.

The reorganization will reduce 61 departmental chairs to 17 or 18 positions, which will be consolidated into eight schools overseen by individual deans. The efficiency measure will save $2 million a year, Kamer said.

But the current departmental chairs ensure the success of their individual programs, said Edgar Torres, chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies department. For example, Latin American studies is more interested in adding English as a second language courses than is African American studies. Under the new structure, however, the two programs would be overseen by the same person.

“Without the chairs, the programs will eventually die,” Torres said.

The passage last month of Prop. A, together with the statewide Prop. 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s tax revenue measure, was supposed to supply the financial life support needed to forestall devastating cuts to City College, Messer said.

“It feels at the moment that we are hardly better off than we were before we passed Prop. A and Prop. 30,” Messer said. “With Prop. A, we were trying to ensure we didn’t need to make these drastic decisions and we didn’t need to downsize the college long-term.”

Chris Jackson, a member of the Board of Trustees, called for public discussions over how to spend the Prop. A money, rather than talks behind closed doors in Interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman’s office.

Early Friday morning the board made a commitment to establish a citizens’ oversight committee, a Prop. A requirement intended to ensure that the funds are used for voter-authorized purposes.

“There’s a lot of interest in how that committee will be selected,” said Torres. “If the board appoints their own people, like they have been doing, they will be forcing their way on where the money goes.”

The oversight committee will not be empowered to make policy, Kamer said. Decisions on how to spend Prop. A funds will ultimately be made by the board.

Special trustee Robert Agrella can veto the board’s decisions if he feels the actions won’t support the recovery plan for the college.

“The people who barely lifted a finger to pass the parcel tax are now having their meetings without public input and trying to dictate how the parcel tax resources will be used,” Jackson said. “It’s highly unfair to the voters that invested faith in us.”

Shanell Williams, president of the City College of San Francisco Associated Students Council, said that students, the union and the citizens of San Francisco should decide where Prop. A funds are spent. She said she doesn’t trust an interim chancellor and special trustee who have no long-term connection to City College to do what is best for the college.

“They don’t want to use these funds appropriately,” Williams said. “We’re going to try every avenue we can to not let them dismantle our school.”

9 Comments

  1. T. Mastel

    Students should know that CCSF has been and still is providing a quality education that is completely accredited. Students can be assured that the courses they take are still valid and transferable. Students and San Franciscans should also know that CCSF was highly commended by the accrediting agency for its academic quality and the diversity of its offerings. Below are direct quotes from the evaluation report written by The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in March 2012.

    “City College of San Francisco is commended for several exemplary models of demonstrated educational quality based on their program reviews, student learning outcomes and assessment results used for continuous improvement. These exemplary program models include engineering, culinary arts, earth sciences, mathematics, English, nursing and other health career programs, computer networking, information technology, credit ESL, among others.”

    “The locations of nine primary campuses and numerous sites of the college located throughout the city places almost everyone in San Francisco within walking distance or within public transportation of a City College of San Francisco neighborhood site. The college has done a superb job of bringing the community college to the varying communities throughout the City and County of San Francisco service area. The satellite sites appear to be focused on programs that address the needs of the neighborhoods they serve (II.A.1.a-b). The satellite campuses serve as an outreach and recruitment function for the college where students can transition from credit or non-credit programs at the satellite campuses to credit programs at the Ocean (main) Campus.”

    “The college is noted for a number of exceptional CTE programs including its highly regarded Culinary Arts Program, its excellent Computer Network and Information Technology Program, its Computer Science Program, its Engineering Program, the Graphic Communications Program, the Business Program, and multiple health career programs located primarily on the John Adams Campus.”

    • JoAnn Consiglieri

      I grew up in the Excelsior district of San Francisco and can still see City College from the kitchen window from where I grew up. My dad still lives there and is 95. My siblings as well as many other relatives and friends attended City and my cousin worked there for many years in the office. My husband has been working in the music department for 43 years. City has served the needs of so many people and the vote in favor of prop 30 tells us that City College is cheirshed by many San Franciscans. Do the right thing.

  2. Bravo on the reporting and to those constituents who protested. If the current interim administration has the interest of the college at heart then it should choose transparency – for SF voters and the college community’s sake.

  3. David Hurwich

    I am a City College professor. This is a petition to make sure the Board of Trustees uses the Prop A fund as stated in the ballet instead of using it for other purposes as it has been proposed. It is supported by AFT2121, the union of City College professors and instructors. Please sign it

    http://bit.ly/PropApetition

    • Thank you for providing an actionable link. It’s so infuriating that after all that work to pass Prop A, the trustees are even thinking about spending the money in ways that run contrary to how the proposition was presented to voters… Is that even legal?

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  5. Stephanie Lyons

    The oversight committee is, under the terms of Prop. A, appointed by the Board of Trustees – all but one of whom are the same people who got us into this mess.
    We should encourage a wide variety of people who have attended, or worked, or care deeply about San Francisco and public education to apply for seats on this committee, even if it doesn’t have the final say. Members would have a “bully pulpit” to draw attention to any malfeasance. That is how Rafael Mandelman came to care enough to run for and win a seat on the BOT – by serving on the advisory committee for the bonds. He has an opportunity now to make a real difference.

  6. Molly Hankwitz

    I have lived in San Francisco over twenty years. Many friends have attended and benefited from City College, including recent immigrants who have gone on to get good jobs in radiology and early childhood development. City College is more than just a school it is an idea about a city – the City of San Francisco and what it stands for as a place. My husband teaches at City College.
    I’d like to know more about why the City of San Francisco Board of Supervisors has not seen to it that a great institution – an institution that has served and served well, its students, is not going to go under? They need to stand up to the forces quickly “restructuring” the school against voters demands.
    The fall of City College would be a huge huge blow to the very importance and quality of urban life here.

  7. kensensei

    Important to note that, during the teacher protests of Jan 11, Chancellor Scott-Skillman did not state in the television interview specifically how or where the prop A funding would be used. In the meantime, it has completely disappeared from the college budget! That’s the kind of lack of transparency these instructors are protesting. Prop A funding is for student education and teacher salaries and health care benefits, not for Scott-Skillman’s own personal agenda.

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