City College board
OKs special trustee
by Peter Hernandez
A riotous mixture of hysteria, tears, and what some called misguided anger stirred as City College of San Francisco trustees voted 6-1 to bring in a special trustee to manage the present accreditation crisis.
The board also voted unanimously to make a $67 million cut for the coming fiscal year.
The college of 86,000 students is meanwhile preparing for possible closure if it does not meet recommendations by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The trustees reasoned at the Chinatown campus meeting Tuesday, September 11 that a voluntary special trustee would provide necessary guidance.
"I think we need someone who knows more than we do about accreditation," said board President John Rizzo.
Protesters shouted "Resign! Resign!" and wore bright red T-shirts that said, "Stand With the Chicago Teachers Union," in reference to a teachers' strike in that city that began Monday.
"Why should we re-elect you if you can't do your own job?" said student and activist Eric Blanc during public comment.
Three of the trustees – Natalie Berg, Chris Jackson, and Steve Ngo – are up for re-election in November. A fourth, Rodrigo Santos, was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee in August to fill the last few months of the term of late Trustee Milton Marks. Santos is also a candidate for the November election. Rizzo, the college board president, is leaving the body and running for supervisor in District 5, which includes the Haight-Ashbury and Western Addition neighborhoods.
The special trustee will provide "advice and counsel" to the other trustees when voluntarily implemented, assisting with meeting the commission's recommendations and preparing a closure report by October. The state would have otherwise implemented a mandatory trustee that would strip the board of its governance until resolving its finances, like at Compton Community College District in 2004.
Solutions to the commission's recommendations may include closure of some of the college's nine campuses and the hiring of more administrators – many of whom retired but weren't replaced in an effort to save money.
"We need some consistency outside of this administration," said Rizzo.
His defense of the special trustee differed from that of the sole trustee in opposition, Chris Jackson, who tapped his feet to the rhythm of protesters shouting, "Show us the money!"
The town hall-style meeting acted as a venue for many articulated frustrations, from students' lack of involvement in their college's government to the many reductions to faculty pay.
"Why weren't you there to involve more students?" said Shanell Williams, City College's associated student body senator. "There are students raising children, and we're here instead. We don't get paid for this."
The scramble for a special trustee comes after an August mandate by California Community College State Chancellor Jack Scott, who retires Friday.
"I am deeply concerned that [the commission's recommendations] may prove insufficient to save the college's accreditation," he wrote in a letter to Rizzo and interim City College Chancellor Pamila Fisher.
If the college doesn't meet the commission's recommendations, it would be stripped of its eligibility for state funding as it prepares for a possible March 14 closure, resulting in bankruptcy or privatization.
Critics of the decision reference the ambiguity of the conditions under which the special trustee would be hired. Many asked how much the trustee would cost, and for how long the trustee would remain on the board. The trustees could not provide answers and instead cited a state of "financial solvency" as a moment for the special trustee's termination.
The raucous meeting resulted in protesters taking over the board's seats, holding a mock public comment while the trustees had a private recess in the building's cafe.
"How are we supposed to vote if they're sitting in our seats?" said Fisher from the annex's cafe, where she and the other trustees sought refuge with campus police.
Standing in a clandestine circle with all trustees but Jackson and student trustee William Walker, they expressed discomfort with increasing protest within the meeting.
"Will you guys walk us to our cars after this?" asked Fisher to campus security.
Full disclosure: Reporter Peter Hernandez is a student at City College, where he works on the school newspaper.