City College feels the heat
after stinging report
by Chris Carson
It was not a hot night. But before speakers began to address the crowd packed into the Rainbow Room at the LGBT Community Center Monday for an emergency town hall meeting on the fate of City College of San Francisco, one man in the front row stood up, sweat soaking the back of his gray polo shirt.
No question, for CCSF, the heat is on.
Its future as an accredited community college, the largest of all accredited colleges in California with about 90,000 students, many of them part of the LGBT community, has been in question since early June, after the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges issued a blistering report saying CCSF would need to "show cause why its accreditation should not be terminated" by October 15, according to a report sent to interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher on July 2, or lose its accreditation.
That's a loss that many fear could close CCSF's doors for good.
"The report was enormously alarming," said gay city resident Rafael Mandelman, a community center board member, but, he added, "a terrible outcome of this report is if they succeed in convincing us that we should become less San Francisco in our approach to City College."
The report, highlighting that City College is poorly run, aimed to have the school meet a few of the eligibility requirements for state accredited colleges. Among them, to document a funding base and plan for how to bring in future financial resources, conduct audits, and bring in an administrative staff with "appropriate experience to support necessary services for an institution of its size, mission, and purpose," the ACCJC report said.
Angela Thomas, a Services Employees International Union representative for CCSF classified faculty, saw the ACCJC report as more of a wake-up call, and urged supporters to see it that way too.
"You guys, we have to be real here," she said. "This college is going to have to take a serious, serious look at how we do things."
The ACCJC report listed "leadership weaknesses at all levels," as well as financial issues. City College has nine campuses in San Francisco and at least 100 "instructional sites."
Thomas reminded everyone that it is completely within the rights of the ACCJC to "take our accreditation away if we don't prove we have addressed their concerns."
She urged students not to cancel classes they have enrolled in or send their transcripts off to other colleges because, "we are about correcting what is wrong."
Many at the meeting who spoke out when the floor was opened to public comment or offered questions to the panel – which included District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, CCSF Professor Alisa Messer, and student Trustee William Walker – thought what needed to be corrected was funding.
CCSF Board of Trustees President John Rizzo addressed the audience, saying, "We've been on an austerity budget for three years now. Over $40 million was cut from our budget alone, let alone all the other community colleges."
As a result, Walker explained, CCSF has only 1 percent of its total budget, which nears $200 million, in reserve, instead of the ACCJC preferred 20 percent.
Lawrence Wong, the college board's openly gay trustee, expressed confidence in an email Tuesday that City College will meet the accreditation issues.
"I am confident that we will meet the recommendations of the accrediting commission," Wong said. "CCSF has a big heart and in the past has tried to be all things to all people in serving our diverse communities. Unfortunately with continuing state budget cuts to community colleges we will now have to tighten our belts."
Wong said the district has several weeks to come up with a plan.
"We have until October 15, 2012 to craft a plan of action and must show by March 15, 2013 that we are making progress in bringing our programming and operations into line with our diminishing resources," Wong added. "CCSF has always and will always be a beacon of hope for all who want to better their lives through education – this I promise."
At the start of Monday's meeting Mar said, "We have tremendous resources here," and stressed what was discussed would be used as a starting point toward solving the problems facing CCSF.
One solution offered was for city voters to pass a $79 parcel tax on the November ballot. If passed, the measure could generate roughly $15 to $16 million for the college.
Messer added that passage of Governor Jerry Brown's School and Safety Protection Act, which raises income taxes on those making more than $250,000 by 3 percent, and increases the state sales tax by one quarter of 1 percent, could send an additional $1.5 million to CCSF.
"Chump change," one man whispered to himself, "chump change."