As City College San Francisco threatens to lay off nearly 200 full-time faculty by mid-May, students and teachers from the school’s English as a Second Language program pleaded the college to save it during a virtual protest on Thursday.
Hundreds joined District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar and the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 union at a Zoom press conference where they argued that gutting the English as Second Language (ESL) program would harm the thousands of immigrants who rely on the courses to gain citizenship, socially assimilate, or find better paying jobs.
If the layoffs go through, advocates suggest that the ESL department would suffer a particularly “crippling hit.” At present, there are 69 full-time staff and 52 part-time staff in the ESL program, and Local 2121 vice president Mary Bravewoman said the cuts would gut up to 52 percent of the staff.
The union said 44 part-time faculty will be gone, and 19 full-time ESL staff also got handed pink slips.
“Further cuts to the ESL program will really close a door to opportunity for limited English speakers at a time when they need it most to recover from the economic impacts of the health pandemic,” Mar said. “[These programs] are important, just more generally for building skills and capacity for everyone to participate in civic life.”
In March, City College of San Francisco officially announced that its Board of Trustees passed out pink slips to 163 full-time faculty and 34 administrators which will affect the ESL program, the nursing department, aircraft maintenance and Philippines Studies.
The College pointed to a $33 million budget shortfall for the 2021-22 fiscal year as the reason for the layoffs, which was largely the result of staff and pension costs and deficit spending for more than 10 years. In 2021, CCSF withdrew $21 million to cover retiree expenses for two fiscal years and, at present, 93 percent of the College’s budget goes toward salary and benefits, the college stated in a March press release.
“The magnitude of the budget challenges means that City College is reducing the number of classes it will offer, as well as curtailing some student services. These reductions, while painful, are necessary to ensure the long-term stability of the College,” the statement said.
The salary for a full-time professor with a bachelor’s degree starts at $63,230 and increases by approximately $2,000 each extra year they work, according to the July 2020 pay scales. Those with a master’s initially earn $65,900.
Bravewoman responded to this on Thursday, and said the 93 percent staffing budget was necessary, as “the classroom doesn’t run without faculty.”
Local 2121 president Malaika Finkelstein, who works at the Mission campus, agreed, citing that San Francisco is an expensive city to live in. “[The college] really [doesn’t] have money, that’s true. Our pay scale needs to be able to allow us to live here, otherwise we have no college,” she said.
Finkelstein said the college and union are exploring a plethora of options to keep the classes funded: possible local or state funding in the short term “to stop the bleeding;” federal Covid-19 money that union members argue can be used to extend class sections and rehire staff; or possible wage concessions (no specifics have been put forth).
Already, City College has endured a myriad of issues and controversies, including almost losing its accreditation, closures of other campuses and class cuts, and padding six-figure administrator salaries an extra $100,000. Much more recently, the college shut down its Fort Mason campus and experienced a shortage in enrollment during 2020, following the start of the pandemic.
The ESL program, too, downsized 20 percent after the Spring, 2020, semester, when about 15,000 students attended English classes in the program.
Tenaya Lafore, who taught at City College since 2016, was among those laid off for the summer and fall of 2020. Though she was offered some hours in summer of 2021, she said she worries the potential cuts could rob students of the ability to choose a class that fits their schedule, as many are working-class immigrants who lived in the Mission.
“If they were working nights, they’d go to morning classes,” Lafore said. “There were classes all day and on Saturdays from 8 to 8, multiple sections of every level, so they could find a class and a location that worked for them.”
Daniel Halford, a part-time teacher at the ESL program at City College since 2006, was laid off along with 24 others for one semester in 2013, he said. But he finds the current situation much worse, as he believes the cuts might obliterate the specific courses geared toward citizenship, and vocational classes, such as nursing and janitorial services.
“There’s people who come to noncredit ESL who had a great job in their country,” Halford said. “But for example, for nursing, you have to pass an exam here, but the exam is only in English. There are people who want to continue the wonderful careers they already have, but need the language to do so.”
In San Francisco, 35 percent of the population is foreign-born. About 12 percent of all households speak a foreign language at home, and speak English less than “very well.” In Spanish-speaking homes, this shoots up to 21 percent; Asian households, 36 percent; and European households, 17 percent; and 13 percent speak “other languages,” according to 2016 city data.
Thursday’s rally appeared to reflect this in some capacity: students of all ages and English levels revealed they had immigrated from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Vietnam, China, Brazil, and more.
Many said that halting classes would do the same for their learning. “[These] gave me the freedom to say what I want, to go where I want, “ said Brazilian immigrant Debora Badair. “It’s so devastating that my professors will lose their jobs and I will lose my education.”
Other former and more advanced students said how mastery of English and other skills changed their lives. One was a current member of the grassroots immigrant organization PODER SF, and another was a newly bilingual student who read poems titled “How City College Saved My Life.”
Maria Rivera said City College enabled her to work her way up from non-credit English classes to her associate’s degree. This year she acquires a degree in mathematics from the University of California Berkeley.
And it made a leader out of Tania Estrada, the current Community Programs Director of the Women’s Building, who immigrated to the United States nine years ago.
“I’ve seen firsthand what a successful life looks like when you have the accessibility of these resources,” Estrada said in English and Spanish, noting the classes encouraged her to take leadership roles and volunteer at the Women’s Building eight years ago.
“The peers and community motivates you. I met my first friend there, who is from Bangladesh, who I still talk to every day,” Estrada said. Now, she refers Women’s Building participants to the CCSF ESL non-credit classes.
Layoffs won’t be official until final layoff notices come on May 15, 2021, a March statement from the college said. The statement added that college leaders and union members were speaking weekly to save some jobs. The college did not respond to request for comment.
Finkelstein said that the college had asked department chairs to draft a potential fall 2021 schedule which included only two to three full-time faculty cuts, though several part-time jobs remained on the chopping bloc. It is unclear whether that will be implemented, but Finkelstein said the union is “not closed” to the idea of wage concessions, which the college offered to consider in lieu of less layoffs. Finkelstein also said that, in the past, the union attempted to negotiate wage concessions with the college, but nothing came to fruition.