Out majority, for now, to oversee City College
by Matthew S. Bajko
With their swearing-in Wednesday afternoon, a quartet of out trustees now holds a majority on the board overseeing City College of San Francisco.
Gay incumbents Rafael Mandelman, the board president, and Alex Randolph, along with newcomers Tom Temprano, who is gay, and Shanell Williams, who is bisexual, took their oaths of office January 4 at a ceremony held on the school's Ocean Avenue campus. They swept the November election for the four seats on the college board, leading to the ouster of former trustee Amy Bacharach.
They now join the oversight body's three other voting members – Vice President Thea Selby, Brigitte Davila, and John Rizzo – as well as a nonvoting student trustee in working with lesbian interim Chancellor Susan Lamb on myriad issues buffeting the stability and finances of the 81-year-old public institution.
"It is two new people who haven't been through the last four years with us so they bring a fresh perspective, which is a good thing," said Mandelman of the freshmen trustees. "One thing very different about the board than what we have had previously is the last two years it has been a very well-functioning board and a very respectful board. I think we need to work very hard to retain that, and I think Tom and Shanell are great and we will be able to continue that."
Mandelman told the Bay Area Reporter this week that he expects to step down as board president later this month when the newly constituted board meets January 26. Selby is next in line for the board presidency, he said, with Davila moving into the VP seat due to her seniority.
"City College custom is one or two years. I've had two, and it's probably time to let someone else have a turn," said Mandelman of the rotating president's role.
The college board could see another change in leadership should Mayor Ed Lee opt to name Randolph to the vacant District 8 seat on the Board of Supervisors. As of the B.A.R.'s press time Wednesday, the mayor had yet to name his choice for the appointment. The person is expected to take their oath of office at 10 a.m. Monday, January 9 with the winners of the fall odd-numbered supervisor races.
Late Tuesday afternoon Randolph told the B.A.R. he was looking forward to his swearing-in ceremony for the college board – his third since being tapped by Lee in 2015 to fill a vacancy – and addressing the numerous issues confronting the college board.
"I have no idea beyond planning to start my term at the board of trustees tomorrow," he said, noting it is an historic time for the community college system. "For the first time in City College history a majority of the board is openly LGBT, and we have a lesbian chancellor and two LGBT vice chancellors. That is kind of very exciting and a historic moment for our community to have leadership in place that is very diverse and very respective of our community."
Photo: Rick Gerharter
Temprano and Williams did not respond to requests for comment by deadline Tuesday.
Myriad issues await trustees
The college board is facing a host of critical issues over the next six months, foremost of which will be the status of its accreditation and how that impacts its ability to attract students.
It is bracing to learn later this month, or possibly in early February, if the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges will follow through on threats to revoke City College's accreditation or find it is now in full compliance following a campus visit by a team of reviewers in October. Due to fierce backlash from lawmakers in California and Washington, D.C., the ACCJC placed City College on special restoration status to give it time to address its compliance issues that were first flagged five years ago.
City College received an early Christmas present when news broke that the ACCJC's embattled president, Barbara Beno, had been placed on administrative leave and that the U.S. Department of Education was pushing back its decision to withdraw federal recognition of the ACCJC itself until next month.
"We still are not out of the woods for our accreditation," noted Randolph, who added, "A lot of the signs are looking favorable to us. But until that announcement comes that dark cloud still hangs above our heads."
Another focus will be selecting a new, permanent chancellor; the trustees are expected to make a decision by July 1 and have encouraged Lamb to apply.
Once City College is assured of its accreditation, Randolph said increasing enrollment would be another "huge focus for the board of trustees."
Enrollment at City College has fallen precipitously, by 33-plus percent, since 2012 due to the ongoing fight over its accreditation, and its state funding is facing a $35 million cut this year as special stabilization money to help offset the enrollment declines is phased out.
During fall editorial board meetings with the B.A.R. Temprano and Williams both flagged boosting enrollment as at the top of their agenda as it will positively impact the college's finances going forward. They identified building stronger ties with the city's public school system as well as local businesses as part of the strategy they would pursue to see an uptick in enrollment.
"We need a much stronger plan to increase the number of students," said Temprano. "It can't be we lost 30 percent of our students so we are cutting 30 percent of our classes."
With the legalization of recreational marijuana use in California, Temprano pointed to the expected boom in the cannabis industry as an area that City College could focus on with new class offerings.
"We are the kind of city that should be thinking out of the box on that," he said.
Williams suggested City College could do more to attract business professionals who want to advance their education as well as people looking to learn English by offering more courses on weekends and online as a way to bolster enrollment. She also echoed the calls made by other trustees to see City College once again be the go to place to educate city employees who require ongoing training.
"The business community enrollment dropped off because of the accreditation issue. We have to pick it back up," said Williams, who attended City College and served in the student trustee position on the board.
The college's finances will also continue to be front and center for the board this year. News broke last month that the college district owes the state $39 million because there are no records verifying instructors taught all of the students they claim to have in online classes from 2011 to 2014. College leaders had flagged the issue with state education officials several years ago, noted Randolph, and the local board has been given 10 years to pay back the money.
"We are negotiating with the state on what our options are," said Randolph, who added that, "in the past the state did not penalize colleges that are self-reporting problems."
Also a top priority will be working with City Hall to implement free City College for San Francisco residents, which voters adopted as policy in the fall election. The mayor and the Board of Supervisors, facing their own budget deficit this year, are fighting over how much money will be allocated to turn the policy into reality. The supervisors have called for $9 million to cover the fall semester, with Lee indicating he prefers spending $500,000 this fiscal year and $4.25 million annually going forward.
"The whole free City College is going to capture a lot of working adults," Williams had told the B.A.R.