Lily Ann Villaraza was in the middle of teaching an immigrant history class when she got the text confirming she still had a job. “‘I’m going to need a minute,’” she told her virtual class, on the edge of happy tears. “I told them, ‘City College passed it unanimously.’”
On Monday night, City College of San Francisco avoided the layoffs of 163 full-time faculty and 34 administrators, after the Board of Trustees and its teachers union, American Federation of Teachers 2121, instead agreed to implement wage cuts in a one-year agreement.
This year, full-timers will lose between 4 and 11 percent of their salary exempting the first $30,000. Overall, these concessions saved the college $22.7 million and can balance the 2021-22 projected budget, according to a May 11 City College press release.
“Nobody’s happy about getting a wage cut. We live in the most expensive city in the world,” said Malaika Finkelstein, the president of AFT 2121 and a teacher at City College. “But this is what it will take to keep our school open for our students.”
The move means most of the classes offered this year will return, assuaging fears from faculty and students that some courses, like English as a Second Language, and departments, such as Philippine Studies, would get the axe.
The Board of Trustees recommended the layoffs in February to address the college’s longstanding budget issues. Ever since pink slips were disseminated in March, however, the college and union representatives have been negotiating how else to save the money.
In negotiations leading up to the agreement, the college shaved $12 million from its originally projected $35 million budget shortfall, according to the May 11 statement from City College. The college also agreed to use $1 million in federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds to offset loss of revenue loss in 2021-22.
On Monday night, before the vote, hundreds of people tuned into the Board of Trustees meeting.
Villaraza, the sole full-time faculty member and chair of the Philippine Studies department, spoke at the meeting before returning to class. On hearing news of the agreement, she breathed a sigh of relief. “For me, if it had gone through, it was a high possibility that the Philippine studies would not have survived,” she said.
On Monday, Board of Trustees President Shanell Williams said that Cantonese will also be spared. However, it’s not yet clear which departments will receive more funding after Monday’s agreement, multiple educators said. Still, the adjusted budget means more classes will be added to the class schedule next fall, allowing some part-time faculty to stay on, Finkelstein said.
Daniel Halford, a part-time teacher at the English as a Second Language program, confirmed this. He and other part-timers’ jobs depend on the finalized class schedule.
“A lot is still unclear,” Halford said in an email. “What is clear is that if the Fall 2021 schedule has 12 percent fewer class hours than Fall 2020, some part-timers will get laid off for sure, even factoring in retirements.”
Tenaya Lafore, also a part-time English as a Second Language teacher, assumes she won’t get asked back. But, to her, that’s okay. Monday’s agreement keeps classes open for the community, especially those who come from disenfranchised backgrounds. After a chronic illness, she enrolled in singing classes that, she said, “changed her life,” and she’s seen how the classes can transform opportunities for her immigrant students.
“It’s personal for me. Working class people should have access to that type of education,” Lafore said.
Jax Puliatti, a current part-time student and member of the advocacy group CCSF collective, said she “absolutely celebrated the news.” She and her grandmother attend classes online together, Puliatti believes opportunities like this for “lifelong learning” are integral to San Francisco.
“That’s something that I think goes under-addressed. It’s a life-line for people beyond getting your degrees. It’s there for you when you need it,” Puliatti said.
While the dust settles, all parties agree City College’s issues are far from resolved.
“My students have reached out and said we are just so happy that Philippine Studies are going to be ok,” Villaraza said. “Then they said, ‘what’s our next step?’”
Indeed, this is a question faculty, City College administration, and students are faced to confront.
Activists and union members believe that a mix of solutions such as strategies to increase enrollment, short-term City funding, and a change to the state-funding formula for community colleges can help dig the institution out of its financial hole.
“Where we are as an institution is dire,” Villaraza agreed. “But we need different solutions, and we need to work together.”