Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Voters affirm progressive leadership at City College


San Francisco voters this week reinforced their support for progressive leadership at City College, re-electing incumbents Steve Ngo and Chris Jackson (assuming Jackson’s 549-vote margin over Amy Bacharach holds), and bringing newcomer Rafael Mandelman into the fold during a period where the school will make drastic, transformative changes. 

At the same time, voters rejected a monied, politically connected, fiscally conservative board member, Rodrigo Santos, who was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee in August to fill the vacancy created by Milton Marks’ death. Longtime board member Natalie Berg was also re-elected, likely buoyed by her decades of incumbency, but finishing third behind the more-progressive Ngo and Mandelman.

As the college airs all of its dirty laundry, showing its worst practices to the world, San Francisco voters also showed faith that the college could spend money wisely in the future: they passed Proposition A with more than 72 percent of the vote, delivering $14 million a year in parcel taxes, for the next eight years, to the money-starved institution.

The lack of money means more than just numbers on a page — real classes will be cut, real campuses are already being closed, and the diverse communities the colleges serve will either be given smaller portions, or excused from the dinner table entirely.

Rejecting politicians that represent these kind of austerity measures, Santos was one of the casualties of this voters’ swing away from conservative politicians (despite what Chuck Nevius may think).

Santos, who head the pro-development Coalition for Responsible Growth, had all the odds stacked in his favor: he was an incumbent appointed by the mayor himself, and had a huge  campaign war chest. He raised $192,000 for his college board race, an unheard of for a local college board member.

 It did nothing for him: ultimately, Santos got slightly more than half the votes of candidates with as little as $30,000 in their campaign chests. By voting in mostly progressive candidates, and overwhelmingly reaffirming Prop. A, San Francisco has said loud and clear: they want the college to protect education in their individual communities, and for the college to maintain as many classes as possible, despite cuts urged by lack of state funds.

Steve Ngo and Chris Jackson earned their progressive bona fides in pushing forward the “Placement Plus One” program, a policy giving students taking placement tests the ability to “bump up” a class higher than they placed. Students, mainly from the local nonprofit Coleman Advocates, complained that placement tests were disproportionately unfavorable to minorities.

The consequences for placing low in math or English are huge — a student placing in a rudimentary English class could delay transferring to a four year school by years. Ngo and Jackson fought for a student’s right to decide their own futures, and importantly, fought for minority students who were falling behind.

But don’t think that just because Ngo is progressive, that he isn’t afraid to make the cuts he feels he needs to make. He notably did not support his colleagues on the board as they voted to reject the Student Success Task Force, which advocated for lowering class registration prioirty for students who took too long to get out of community colleges statewide, accruing over 100 credit units.

Mandelman as well is a figure whose professional, calm demeanor lends himself to a new progressive movement. He may have lost his past bid for supervisor of District 8, but as Chris Daly noted, Mandelman is a consensus builder with the backing of many groups and associations in San Francisco. The same was true of his City College bid, and likely why he won.

The college desperately needs someone like him that can build unity right now. The school, highly politicized and villainized in the media, needs allies. With Mandelman and his calm demeanor on the new progressive bloc on the board and a clear strong mandate from the city to back up classes with millions of dollars in taxes, there is now hope that the changes at City College may not only be transformative, but serving its diverse community through solid progressive values.

School board incumbent victories could undermine UESF


San Franciscans this week saw the end result of long-running teacher union attacks on the re-election campaign of three SFUSD school board incumbents — Sandra Fewer, Jill Wynns and Rachel Norton — who were all reelected.

The feud between the San Francisco teacher’s union, United Educators of San Francisco, and the school board was sparked by the board’s vote to protect 14 low-performing schools from teacher layoffs. Every year, the pink slips go out to teachers in San Francisco, but this time around a vote was cast to protect teachers in a “special superintendent’s zone,” established by then-Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

After the board’s vote to protect more vulnerable teachers, the teacher’s union started going on the offensive against the board. “[The union] was very angry with me,” Fewer told us. They told people all over the city not to vote for her, she said, and declined to hold any discussions on the topic. “They told me, you had just better not [pursue this],” she said. 

Ultimately, despite the attacks, the incumbents of the school board were elected with twice the votes of the closest losing candidate. Sandra Fewer netted the most out of any board candidate — 93,971 San Franciscans voted her in, as of the election day count. They’ll be joined by newcomer Matt Haney, who disagreed with the school board’s approach but not its decision.

UESF President Dennis Kelly didn’t see their conflict in quite the same was as Fewer. “When they made a mistake, we decided to point it out to them,” Kelly told us.

But political analysts say UESF will likely lose some influence in the district over its failed campaign strategy. “The school board now has a mandate to do what it wants to on behalf of kids,” political consultant David Latterman told the crowd at SPUR’s post-election wrap-up yesterday.

Ironically, even Kelly admits the fight they picked wasn’t over an issue that really impacted teachers much. He said that the 70 teachers the board decided to spare was a symbolic move. “They’re temporary teachers, their contact essentially ends that year,” he said. “It was a pointless thing to do.”

Fewer, of course, disagreed. When the district sends out their pink slips annually, they hire back most of the teachers, she said. But when you send pink slips to the younger or newer teachers at vulnerable schools, they often don’t come back.

“If you lose 60 percent of your staff every year, how can you do that and run a school?” she said.

Those schools often have the newest and youngest teachers. And that can make it difficult to retain them once they’ve left. Salome Milstead has taught in San Francisco for four years, and knows that feeling of dejection when that annual pink slip comes in. She started out at the Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the newest schools in the SFUSD.

Like the schools in the special zone that Fewer tried to protect, the Academy serves a diverse socio-economic population: kids from troubled homes, that are usually tougher to teach. In 2008, Milstead and the teachers there had achieved something remarkable: building a new school from scratch. They were a close knit-team.

“That year, the principal got his layoff notice and pretty much most of us got a pink slip,” Milstead said. “We had all worked really hard that year to build up what we had.”

It takes that kind of young, idealistic, not-yet burned out person to go into the more troubled schools and have the energy to teach, she said. After the intense schooling and work training teachers go through, to immediately receive a pink slip was demoralizing.

The decision to protect the teachers of those kinds schools was something Fewer said she had to do, but it was a hard decision.

Kelly said that despite their differences, he looked forward to working with Fewer again. “We’ve worked with them before,” he said. “There were nine candidates in this race, and we were ready to work with any one of them.”



Profiling those who rely on HANC, which the city is evicting (VIDEO)


The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s (HANC) Recycling Center has fought for the past decade to stay in its tiny corner of Golden Gate Park, behind Kezar stadium, and it may be days from closing. It’s been served with eviction notices from the city and weathered political tirades from politicians on pulpits, and most recently, saw its eviction appeal denied by California’s Supreme Court.

The recycling center, which has been in operation since 1974, wouldn’t be the only loss to the Haight either. Both a community garden and San Francisco native plant nursery are on the site, under the umbrella name of Kezar Gardens. After an eviction for the recycling center, all three would go.

So in what may be their last days, the Guardian decided to take a look at  who is a part of the recycling center’s community. What keeps them coming back – even in the face of eviction? While the final eviction date is nebulous, the reasons for it are not: as the Haight gentrified, more and more neighbors complained about the site’s surrounding homeless population, the noise the recycling center makes, and every other NIMBY complaint in the book.

Contrary to the usual complaints of the recycling center and gardens attracting numerous homeless people, the people detailed in the stories below reflect a diverse community. And there were far more stories that we didn’t include: the busy head of a nonprofit who gardens to keep his sanity, or the two brothers who bring in their recyclables every week as a way for their parents to teach them responsibility. And they’re not the only people who depend on the recycling center and gardens.

“One of the problems [with evicting HANC] is that the small businesses in the area depend on the service of the center,” Sup. Christina Olague, who representing the area, told us. “We don’t want to see it relocated out of the area.”

Olague said that although ideas for a mobile recycling center or a relocation have been batted around, nothing is concrete yet. The Mayor’s Office, the Recreations and Parks Department, and HANC were all going to have more meetings and try to come to a solution that would benefit all sides, she said.

The recycling center and gardens aren’t going down without their supporters making a clamor. They developed a feature documentary about their struggles, titled 780 Frederick. Directed by Soumyaa Kapil Behrens, the film will play at the San Francisco International Film Festivals “Doc Fest” on Nov. 11.

Until then, here’s a glimpse at some of the people who make up the community at the HANC Recycling Center and Kezar Gardens.


Greg Gaar, Native Plant Nursery Caretaker

Longtime groundskeeper and recycling guru Greg Gaar will soon be out of a job, only a year after single-handedly starting a native plant nursery in the Haight Ashbury that serves more than 100 people.

Gaar is the caretaker of the Kezar Garden nursery. He raises Dune Tansy, Beach Sagewort, Coast Buckwheat and Bush Monkey –  all plants originally born and bred from the dunes of old San Francisco.

“I do it because I worship nature, to me that’s god,” Gaar said. He spoke of the plants reverently.

The native plants aren’t as bombastically colorful as the rest of Golden Gate Park, he said, which Gaar calls “European pleasure gardens,” but they’re hearty and durable, like Gaar himself.

Gaar has a weathered face from years of working in the open air, and he grinned large as he talked about his plants. His grey beard comes down a few inches, giving him the look of a spry Santa Claus. Gaar has a history of embracing the counterculture, much like the Haight itself. In 1977, he made his first foray into activism.

At the time, wealthy developers in the city wanted to develop buildings and houses on Tank Hill, one of the few remaining lands of San Francisco with native growth. “Two percent of the city right now has native plants,” he said. It’s a travesty to him, but he did his part to prevent it.

Gaar led the charge against the redevelopers by putting up posters and flyers, and fighting them tooth and nail for the land through old fashioned San Francisco rallying.

In the end, the counterculture activists won, and the city of San Francisco bought the land back from the developers, keeping it for the public trust. The long-ago battle over Tank Hill was a victory, but the fight for the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center may already be lost.

Gaar has deep ties to the recycling center. Among his friends are two ravens, Bobbie and Regina, who recognize Gaar since the first time he fed them 16 years ago. Occasionally, he says, they’ll accompany him on his rounds around the park. The ravens aren’t the only friends he’s made through the recycling center.

They have many patrons looking to make a few bucks off of cans and bottles, many of which are poverty-struck or homeless. Gaar darkened as he spoke of them, because over the years he has lost many friends he’s made through work. The recycling center is a community, and those that are lost are often memorialized in the garden that Gaar grew with his own hands.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist C. W. Nevius frequently calls out the nursery as a “last ditch effort” on the part of the recycling center to stave off closure and legitimize its own existence. In reality, the nursery was brainstormed years before the controversy through Gaar’s inspiration.

Though Nevius may not agree with the ethos Gaar has brought to the recycling center, the city of San Francisco must trust him. The Recreation and Parks Department has offered him a job planting native plants around Golden Gate Park, which is Gaar is welcome to after the recycling center closes. But taking care of native plants is more than a job to Gaar, it’s a calling.

“Isn’t it amazing that we exist on one of the sole planets we know of that supports life?” Gaar said with wide eyes. He sees his job as preserving the natural order, working to keep alive the plants that were part of the city before the first arrival of the spaniards.

Gaar, much like his plants, is part of a shrinking population of the city: the San Francisco native. When the recycling center closes, he’ll be able to spread native plants across Golden Gate Park, another rebel cause in a life of green activism.


Kristy  Zeng, loyal daughter

Kristy Zeng, 30,  talked about everything she does for her family in a matter of fact tone, as if none of it took effort, patience or loyalty.

As she talked, Zeng unloaded over six trash cans worth of recyclables into colored bins. At home, she has two young girls waiting for her, ages three and one, she said. The money she gets from the recyclables is small, but necessary – not for herself, but for her mother.

“My mom’s primary job is this one,” she said. Zeng’s mother is 62 and speaks no English. In the eight years she’s been in San Francisco since immigrating from China, she hasn’t been able to find a job.

“People look at her and say she’s too old,” Zeng said. “She’s too near retirement age.”

So Zeng’s mother hauls cans in her shopping cart every day to earn her keep. She’s one of the folks you can spot around town foraging in bins outside people’s homes, collecting recyclables from picnic-goers in parks, and asking for empties from local bars. The money she earns is just enough to pay for her food.

Even between her husband’s two jobs, Zeng said her family doesn’t have quite enough to fully support her mother. The recyclable collecting is vital income, Zeng said. She and her extended family all live in the Sunset and Outer Richmond, though she wishes they could find a place big enough to live together.

The Haight Ashbury Recycling Center is just close enough to make the chore worth the trip. Zeng was surprised to hear that the center was near closure.

“I would have to find a job,” she said. She usually watches her infant and toddler while her husband is at work. “Mom can’t babysit them, her back isn’t so good. It’s too hard.”

It’s not so bad though, she said, because at 30 years old, Zeng is still young and can handle the extra work. But if the recycling center closed, Zeng and her mom would both have to find a new way to make ends meet.


Steven and Brian Guan learn responsibility

At about five feet tall, wearing an oversized ball-cap and dwarfed by the man-sized jacket he wore, Brian Guan, 12,  definitely stood out at the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center. All around him, grisly old men hauled bins full of cans and bottles – but he didn’t pay them any mind.

Brian had his older brother Steven Guan, 14, to look out for him. Together they hauled in four bags worth of recyclables in plastic bags, walking straight to the empty bins as if it were a routine they’d done a dozen times before.

Which, of course, they had.

“I’ve been doing this for at least a year,” Steven said. Though he looks totally comfortable, the chore definitely introduced him to a different crowd than he’s used to.

The recycling center’s clientele of homeless folks, and people generally older than 14, don’t really bother him, he said. “It’s kinda weird, but it’s no big deal.” Besides, he said, he’s happy to help out his family, who spend a lot of time working.

“My mom works in a hotel, and she collects the cans and stuff there.” His dad does the same.

Their mom is a maid, and dad is a bellhop, working in separate hotels downtown. Steven didn’t know if the money they collect each week was vital for his family’s income, but he does know that the haul isn’t very much.

“It’s usually only like $10,” he said.

So was it even worth the trip? Steven said that if he wasn’t helping out his parents by bringing in recyclables, he’d probably be “at home doing nothing.” A Washington High School student, he doesn’t play on any sports teams and isn’t in any clubs. He spends the majority of his time helping out his family.

The way he figures it, he said, the chore is meant to teach him responsibility.

It looks like it worked.


Dennis Horsluy, a principled man

A lot of the patrons haul cans and bottles to the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center out of need: to feed themselves, clothe themselves, and live. Dennis Horsluy, 44, does not count himself as one of those people.

“It’s pocket change,” Horsluy said. But despite the cost, he’s going to get every red penny back from the government that he’s owed through the California Redemption Value charges on cans and bottles. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Horsluy said that Sunset Scavenger, now known as Recology, has a stranglehold on San Francisco’s recycling and trash.

“If you leave your recyclables on the curb, it’s like taxation without representation,” he said. You pay for it whether you want to or not. In his own version of “sticking it to the man,” Horsluy makes sure his recycling dollars get back into his hands.

Horsluy is a displaced auto-worker who has only just recently found work again. “I made plenty, and now I make nothing,” he said.

A family man, he has a daughter at Lowell High School, and a son at Stuart Hall High School. He thinks San Francisco has problems much weightier than closing the recycling center, such as the school lottery system that almost had him sending his kids far across town for school.

Horsluy wasn’t surprised that some of the Haight locals had managed to finally oust the recycling center, considering they’ve been complaining for years about how it attracts many of the local homeless population to the area. “I’m sure it’s a problem for the neighbors with their million-dollar homes,” he said.

But the homeless were a problem long before the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center, Horsluy said. San Francisco has a history of generosity, and so it draws more of the needy. Horsluy will be fine without the recycling center, he said, but the more poverty stricken patrons of the center may not be.

“They’re just trying to survive.”


Chris Dye, gardening his troubles away

Some people drink to forget. Chris Dye, 44,  does something similar — he gardens to forget.

While watering the plot of greens he calls his own, Dye spun a yarn that sounded like a San Francisco version of a country song. His ex-wife bleeds his paychecks dry, and he had to leave his dream job at the National Parks Service to make ends meet in Information Technology, a job he pictures as the last place he’d like to be.

He regained a bit of peace in his ordeals through a hardcore passion for San Francisco native plants. “I found a rare kind of phacelia clinging to life in the cement at City College,” Dye said. “You know, down by the art building? When I saw it, I sketched it.”

A day later though it was gone, he said. He fell silent in what was almost a reverent moment for the rare native plant he spotted. Dye is on a personal mission to revive native San Franciscan plants.

The Kezar Gardens give Dye a chance to grow for himself all the interesting native plants he’s interested in. Inspired by the native plant nursery’s caretaker, Greg Gaar, he rattles off all the near-extinct species he’s been able to see and raise. “For me, it’s a personal experiment to figure all this out.”

It’s not all about leafy activism though. Sometimes, it’s just about a good meal. Dye snapped off a leaf and crushed it with his fingers. “This is Hummingbird Sage,” he said, holding it up to his nose for a sniff. “Mix this into a little olive oil, and rub it all over your pot roast, or whatever. It’s fucking amazing.”


Lael and Genevieve Dasgupta

Four-year-old Genevieve marched around the table by the garden, watching as a woman carves a pumpkin for Halloween.

Genevieve and her mother, Lael Dasgupta, recycle there in the Haight once a week, as part of Dasgupta’s hope to get her to learn at a young age about eco-responsibility. They don’t use one of the garden plots in the community garden, because they have a communal backyard at home. They do use some of Greg Gaar’s native plants in their garden, for decoration.

Dasgupta has mostly practical reasons for recycling. “It brings us about $40 to $50 a week… That’s a lot of money,” Dasgupta said.

But despite the location of several other recycling centers in the city, why does Dasgupta bring Genevieve here?

“Dirt, dirt dirt,” she said. “Its just good for her to play in the dirt, and build a healthy immune system. The other recycling centers aren’t as charming.”

Dasgupta said that if Kezar Gardens and the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center were to close, she wouldn’t relish taking her daughter out to the Bayview recycling center. She’s been there, and didn’t enjoy the experience. It’s easy to see that the two are comfortable at Kezar Gardens. Folks around the gardens all seem to know Genevieve, who marches around the place without fear.

The woman who was carving the pumpkins handed one to Genevieve for her to play with. The young girl promptly set to the pumpkin with a marker, making what could be either a set of incomprehensible squiggly lines, or the Milky Way galaxy, depending on your perspective.



Separated bikeways on Oak and Fell finally up for approval


After three years of delays and broken promises, the fate of a dangerous but vital bike route in San Francisco will be decided on Oct. 16. Oak and Fell streets, one of the few major east-west byways in the city, carries tens of thousands of cars each day, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Right now, there is no bike lane on Oak, and the stripes on Fell are only two feet wide with no buffer, putting cyclists inches from heavy traffic.
But all that could change. If the transit agency gives it the green light, the perilous Oak-Fell corridor between Scott and Baker will gain needed concrete barriers and wider bike lanes, according to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose and bike advocates.
“This has been a long push,” said Leah Shahum, president of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a vocal advocate of the project.
If passed, separated bikeways, crosswalk enhancements, traffic signal timing changes, and parking mitigation measures would be installed by the end of 2012, Rose said, and construction of bulbouts and a concrete bikeway barrier would be put in by the summer of 2013.
The project has met repeated delays, despite Mayor Ed Lee’s promise that it would be done by the end of 2011.
A section of the major bike route “The Wiggle,” its the only game in town if you’re a cyclist who wants to cross the city from east to west. But not everyone favors the fix.
Blogger and anti-bike activist Rob Anderson, who sued San Francisco for not performing proper studies on bike lane projects in 2005, calls it a slap in the face to people who must drive to work.
“It shows no sympathy or understanding for working people in the neighborhood,” Anderson said. He bemoaned the loss of parking as particularly harmful to residents in the area, which would lose 35 parking spaces, according to SFMTA data. “It’s all about making cyclists comfortable.”
Shahum agrees with Anderson on that point, arguing that’s the best way to encourage more people to get on a bike. “Poll after poll, survey after survey say that the biggest deterrent to biking is safety,” Shahum said. Its not just about the accidents, it’s also about people perceptions.
If the bike lanes were more safe, more cyclists would ride them, Shahum said. This would pave the way towards San Francisco’s goal of increasing bike ridership to 20 percent of trips made in San Francisco by the year 2020, which is enshrined in legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors two years ago. Currently, about 3.5 percent of bike commutes in the city are by bicycle, a 71 percent increase from 2005, according to the city’s “2012 State of Cycling Report.”
One San Francisco politician says that the city wasn’t pedaling fast enough on the redesign. District 5 candidate Christina Olague sent a letter to the SFMTA two weeks ago urging the transit agency to pick up the pace and break ground by year’s end. That may have been a factor in SFBC’s subsequent decision to give Olague it’s top endorsement, with Julian Davis gets its number two spot.
Shahum said the SFBC plans to turn out its members on Oct. 16 to ensure passage of a project it has sought for years: “We can breathe when it’s over.”

City College board takes first step toward scaling back its mission


[CORRECTED BELOW] The first step was taken in changing City College of San Francisco’s educational mission at last night’s Board of Trustees meeting, a decision that would drastically alter what programs the college funds and who it serves.

The college’s mission statement is an overarching funding guideline, according to Gohar Momjian, the college’s accreditation liaison officer. She presented the mission statement workgroup’s findings to the college’s board and a packed room of faculty and students last night.

Momjian oversees the 15 workgroups responsible for addressing the major areas the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges told the school it has to rectify. A failure to do so by March 2013 could result in the revocation of the school’s accreditation, which is necessary for the college’s degrees to be recognized and for the school to receive federal funding.

Simply put, City College was tasked by the ACCJC to gets its mission in line with current fiscal realities. The workgroups, tasked with brainstorming ways to reshape the college and meet the criteria of the accreditation team’s findings, will use the new mission statement as a guide for what programs are viable, said Momjian.

So what was cut out of the new mission statement? Completion of adult high school diplomas, GED’s (which help students test out of high school), active engagement in the social fabric of the community, lifelong learning, life skills, and enrichment courses were all dropped from the revised mission statement. [[8/27 CORRECTION: Transitional Studies, which includes GEDs and basic adult education, ended up being in included in the primary mission]].

In their place was a statement making these things “conditional” on available resources. “In addition, the college offers other programs and services consistent with our primary mission, only as resources allow and whenever possible in collaboration with partnering agencies and community-based organizations,” reads the new draft statement of the college’s mission.

Essentially, the college promises to enrich the community only if the resources are available to do so. Students and faculty from classes geared towards older adults and also disabled students came out to oppose changes to the mission statement, and a loss of their funding.

“We have students that will wait 40 minutes in the rain in a wheelchair for a bus to get to class,” Disabled Students Programs and Services faculty Katherine Brown said to the board.

Shelly Glazer, faculty in the older adults program, left the board with a warning. “Here are the almost 2,000 letters written to the Student Success Task Force when they tried to cut our dollars,” Glazer said, dropping the huge stack of paper on the top of the podium. “They need your support, and you need theirs.”

Importantly, English as Second Language classes and basic skills classes were preserved in the primary mission guideline. “There are compromises made in the mission statement. There are things we can do under [better] conditions,” said Momjian in her report to the board. “That was our compromise.”

The board made a motion to approve the new draft mission statement, and voted unanimously in favor. The board will look at a second revised mission statement on Sept. 11, and take a final vote to amend the mission statement on Sept. 27. The draft mission statement can be read at the City College website here.

Forty-five problem areas were found in City College’s financial structures by a financial consulting group at the same college board meeting last night. The findings left the college board nearly speechless once the report was complete.

The Financial Crisis Management Team, known as FCMAT, was paid for by the state community college chancellor’s office and assigned to City College to help it review its finances. This was good timing with the recent accreditation troubles, but officially has no connection to the recent accreditation team visit or with any direction from the state chancellor’s office, FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told the college board.

Plumbtree and her associate Mike Hill made the presentation to the board on behalf of the four members of the “financial SWAT team,” as they’ve been dubbed by the board in the past. The report it gave to the board that night was only the tip of the iceberg.

“The report itself is going to be in the realm of 65 pages. There are about 45 specific recommendations,” said analyst Mike Hill. “But we do want to give you a sense of some of our observations first, and some of our recommendations grouped together.”

The hit list was read in a bullet point fashion, and as he rattled off each of the findings, the silence in the room deepened:

  • The district has made a cost structure over time that can’t be sustained in this economy.
  • The district opted for short term solutions.
  • Employee contracts have been made without long-term analysis.
  • Decision making has been made by power and political whim rather than logic and fairness.
  • The conduct of key leaders and the culture within the district have greatly diminished the role and the effectiveness of the management team.
  • The district lacks data to assess sites.
  • The district supports much more faculty than its closest peers.
  • There’s a history of maintaining a small fund balance, with 90-92 percent of the budget being committed to salary and benefits, the college needs to make adjustments.
  • The department chair structure is not cost effective nor administratively sound.
  • We’re recommending a reduction in full time faculty through attrition.
  • We’re recommending the district not subsidize categorical programs, and that current subsidies be reassessed (the state cut funding for some categorical programs, like the second chance program, and City College has been eating that cost to the tune of around $20 million a year, according to AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer).
  • Consider either elimination of department chairs or diminish them while empowering deans and giving them the ability to act.”

“There’s a lot there, it covers a lot of territory, and you need to see the context and data and analysis in order to have informed questions, or else you’ll be spinning our wheels,” Hill said to the stunned board.

Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree concluded by cautioning the board against inaction. “The circumstances the district found itself did not happen overnight, decisions made over many years brought you here,” she said. “You’re going to have to move quicker than you want to, but that’s what’s needed.”

“Some of these things are new to me, but some of these things have come up in work groups. Some of these things are things we’ve known for years,” board President John Rizzo said after the report concluded. Financial administrators at City College declined to comment before the release of the full report. The 65-page final report will be made public on Sept. 18, and given to the college board a few days before that, Plumbtree said.

The City College Board of Trustees motioned to delay one of their most controversial votes at last night’s board meeting.

The board hopes to bring in a “special trustee,” who would be provided by the state, to help guide them through their recent accreditation woes. A special trustee is not simply a guide. A special trustee has veto power over the college board, giving the trustee unilateral decision making powers, according to college officials that night.

Most of the board welcomed the notion of outside help. The board has asked for $1.5 million dollars in cuts that never got made, Rizzo said, arguing for the need for the special trustee.

“It’s an enormous wealth of expertise that we do not have…We need someone from the outside to tell us where that mistake was made,” Rizzo said.

Trustee Chris Jackson wasn’t sure that the board had full knowledge of what it was asking. “I support a special trustee, but I have questions…How long would a trustee be here? What’s the process of asking them to leave?” Jackson asked, to the applause of the audience.

It was student Trustee William Walker who clarified the students’ position. He had a meeting with students the previous day, and they strongly disagreed with bringing in a special trustee to help run the school.

Given the history of special trustees in college districts, it’s not surprising why. A report by the LA Sentinel shows the discord brought by one special trustee to the Compton community college district, also facing accreditation woes. To read a report of Compton College’s and how it mirrors City College, check out the Guardian report “Saving City College.”

Special trustee Dr. Genethis Hudley-Hayes, was removed from her position as special trustee by State Community College Chancellor Jack Scott last September, according to the Sentinel article. The article cites multitudes of complaints against her by the community, who wrote a six page letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and Scott asking for Hayes’ removal.

“Who do you serve and why are you here?” Associated Students President Shanell Williams said to the board during its public comment session. “It’s shameful… If you can’t make decisions without a special trustee, then we need a new board.”

Student Kitty Lui said that the board’s decision to bring in a special trustee would undercut the democratic will of the community.
“If you don’t know how to move forward, I don’t know why you’re still here,” she said.

Despite students’ objections, if the board does not choose a special trustee, the likelihood is that one will be imposed on them, Jackson said. The board ultimately decided to shelve the decision until a special meeting on Sept. 11.

Interestingly, the “financial SWAT team,” FCMAT, thinks that a special trustee is a good idea. “To have an outside expert is always good,” FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told The Guardian. “Sometimes, you’re just too close.”

Faces of City College



The first thing you notice about Bouchra Simmons is her hair. Her black curls are bold and larger than life, much like Simmons herself.

Simmons moved to the United States from Morocco in 2008. A single mother of a nine-year-old daughter, Simmons is taking English as Second Language classes as well as business classes and working towards a certificate in management at City College.

Somehow, she also found time to become Associated Students President at the Downtown Campus. That campus is one of several that the college is now looking at to consolidate. While the analysis isn’t complete, the school might move students out of the valuable downtown property to lease it, which may generate $4-5 million a year for the school.

And the ESL classes which Simmons takes could face cuts, too.

Like many other students, she relies on Muni to get around, even to drop her daughter off at childcare and the Downtown Campus is easier for her to commute to than other campuses around the city.

“We students are not lazy, we have goals, we’re craving education,” Simmons said. She is going to work with one of the college’s new accreditation workgroups and plans on emphasizing the need for the downtown campus in particular.

Her dream is to be able to earn a living wage to support her family. “I’m a single mom, and going back to school empowers me,” Simmons said. (Fitzgerald)




When asked to describe her life, Rosa Morales, 18, said, “I was born, I loved the Jonas Brothers, and then I died.”

An SF native who just graduated from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, she is passionate about making films. Her work focuses on social issues, often touching on the lives of Latino housekeepers or how toys affect young girls’ body image.

Morales has many achievements, but her math grades weren’t among them. At 18 years old, Morales decided to go to City College, a place she says will allow her to learn basic math skills at her own pace.

“If I were not able to go to community college, I wouldn’t go to school,” Morales said.

She smiles, flashing her braces, as she says that she has registered and gotten all the classes she needed for the semester, including math. Other students her age aren’t as lucky.

Classes at California’s overburdened and underfunded community colleges are becoming harder to get into, including at CCSF. Students like Morales may soon get priority, so they can get the classes they need to transfer to a four-year university on time.

“All of [my counselors] say that I can’t transfer in two years, but I hope I can do it,” she said.

When asked how she feels about the loss of ESL classes and non-credit courses, Morales said that the issue affects more than just her. Out of the 10 extended family members she lives with, five of them (including herself) are enrolled at City College, all for different reasons.

“My uncle takes night English classes,” she said. Morales’ uncle is a housekeeper, and being unable to speak English makes it a lot easier for employers to accuse him of stealing money, and more likely for him not to get hired at all, she said.

“I know that knowing them, they’d give them up for me if they had to. But I know that from a selfish point of view, of course I want classes to be allotted to people like me… I don’t know what I’d do without those classes,” Morales said. But, she added, ” I can’t genuinely say, ‘Give them to me,” without there being a tug in my heart.” (Fitzgerald)


City College doesn’t just churn out degrees. It creates opportunities. For Galina Gerasimova, that opportunity led to a great job with the school.

A part-time instructor at the college for about eight years now, Gerasimova moved to San Francisco from the Ukraine in 1997 and immediately began taking ESL classes at the school. With a teenage son to take care of and not a lot of money to survive on, she not only mastered English but was also inspired by the warmth and dedication of her instructors.

As a recent immigrant, “you’re scared, you’re frustrated, you don’t really know what to expect,” Gerasimova said, explaining that ESL teachers are often the first people English learners really interact with after moving to the United States. “(They) helped me a lot … and of course that actually influenced my decision to become an instructor at City College.”

By 2000, she became an instructional aid, all the while pursuing an Associate’s Degree in computer sciences. She then transferred to San Francisco State University and earned a degree in Human Physiology — a subject that complemented her previous studies in biology, chemistry and physics in the Ukraine, where she worked with war veterans.

Gerasimova remembers how easy it was to enroll in all the classes she needed at CCSF and she laments the steady deterioration of public education in California.

“It just became more intense over the past year,” she said, “and I see how that impacts City College and our services.” (Bloomberg)

Quick facts about City College of San Francisco


• CCSF has 10 main campuses: Ocean (Ingleside), Mission, Civic Center, Chinatown, Southeast (Bayview), Evans, Noe Valley, John Adams (on Masonic), Fort Mason, and Downtown.

• CCSF also has single class “instructional sites” littered throughout San Francisco in various office spaces, spare SFUSD classrooms, and other locations. The exact number of these sites isn’t known by the college, but they are estimated at more than 100.

• CCSF’s English as Second Language (ESL) Department serves around 20,000 students annually, compared to an English Department that serves around 7,000.

• Non-credit courses at City College are tuition-free, as mandated by the state, although some charge nominal fees. Credit courses at CCSF are $46 a unit. A semester of full classes (12 units) costs less than a single course at San Francisco State University.

• The neighborhood campuses primarily provide non-credit classes including ESL, certificate training, and enrichment courses. Ocean Campus in Ingleside provides the bulk of credit courses, which are used to attain associates degrees or transfer to a four-year university.

• Tracking exactly how much each campus costs the school is difficult, according to school officials. Faculty and staff serve multiple campuses frequently, and many services aren’t tracked on a campus basis, making campus consolidation or closure something that will take time to evaluate.

• The state funds community colleges based on enrollment, a process known as “apportionment.” The enrollment time is measured in Full Time Equivalent Students (FTES), a measure of instructional time in hours.

• CCSF has been absorbing about $24 million a year in costs to non-credit courses when the state reduced the amount of apportionment it allotted to schools for non-credit courses. The school did not want to reduce classes in light of state cuts, and began paying for them out of pocket.

• Credit classes receive higher rates of apportionment than non-credit classes.

• In order to make up for the unique nature of its campus sites, the state offsets low apportionment at CCSF with money called a “foundational grant.” Essentially, the school receives anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million a year for specific campus locations. 

Saving City College


CAREERS AND ED City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is fighting for its life, and that struggle has turned old enemies into new allies. Suddenly, past differences seem less important than the need to work together, bringing a new sense of unity and purpose to the troubled community college.

In June the school was sanctioned and ordered to “show cause” from the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, putting it on the brink of losing its accreditation — certification necessary for the college’s degrees to be worth anything and for the school to secure federal aid (see “City College fights back,” July 17).

Twelve workgroups comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and college board members are working feverishly to prove by October that the school is making major progress. Otherwise, it could face dire consequences.

While few people with any education or political background believe the school will actually close, there are serious consequences if its accreditation is revoked. A special trustee assigned by the state chancellor’s office could assume the powers of the college’s board or the school could be merged with another community college district.

The only college in California to ever suffer both of those fates was Compton Community College in 2006. Though the two colleges serve wildly different communities, many speak of their fates in the same breath. Its shadow hangs over City College like a ghost of what is to come.


The newfound sense of common purpose was displayed on Aug. 1 in CCSF conference rooms, where once-battling special interest groups and employees gathered to tackle problems that have plagued the school for years.

The feuds aren’t just of interest to political geeks and college insiders. Infighting and a dysfunctional governance structure had stalled the school from tackling urgent issues, according to the accrediting commission.

“During interviews, criticism regarding the efficiency of the institutional governance process was revealed. The criticism centered on the length of time to reach a recommendation. It was also noted that there may be misunderstanding regarding the role of a recommending body versus a decision-making body,” according to the commission’s report.

That snippet of the 66-page critical report represents years of strife at the school, not only among the school’s elected trustees but also between the board and other college groups on issues ranging from placement testing to school site closures.

The 12 newly formed workgroups — constituted by the Chancellor’s Office and comprised mostly of faculty, administrators, and trustees — met to discuss issues and make recommendations to the system’s decision-making authorities: the Chancellor’s Office and Board of Trustees. One of the workgroups is in charge of evaluating that very decision-making system, with 14 people from different college constituencies hashing out a new style of democracy for the school.

At their first meeting, the members brought in stacks of papers to hand out — research on best practices and policies in college governments around the state and the nation. This particular workgroup discussed how an ideal student government should run, and how to enact those changes at City College.

The workgroups are brainstorming sessions, and each one has a different task ahead of it, including how to measure student learning, leveraging technology to streamline the school, facilities planning, and fiscal planning. Each workgroup acts independently, although some themes and members overlap.

The Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet and report on the progress of the workgroups on August 14 — the day before fall semester classes begin.

A final, preliminary report based on the findings of the dozen workgroups is expected to be completed before the accrediting commission’s October 15 deadline. With everything on the table, from staff layoffs to campus closures, CCSF is an anxious institution facing an uncertain future.


In Compton, faculty and staff lived in constant fear of losing their jobs between 2002 and 2006, while the school was at risk of losing accreditation. Its path offers some lessons for CCSF.

“From three or four years prior to the accreditation being revoked, every March everybody got a pink slip and then you found out, you know, whether or not you actually had a job to come back to the next year,” Ann Garten, the community relations director of El Camino Community College District, told the Guardian in a phone interview.

El Camino swooped in to save Compton from total closure when its accreditation was revoked in 2006. The fate of employees at City College is a mystery for now, but based on Compton’s experience, part-time faculty are most at risk.

During spring semester, City College had nearly 1,700 instructors, approximately half of which were part-timers, according to college payroll documents. The school’s faculty are represented by the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121.

Classified workers — those who perform services such as administrative support, technology services, and grounds maintenance — could also be at risk. Their numbers exceeded 800 during the last fiscal year, according to the school’s assistant director of research, Steve Spurling.

They are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, a large and active union that also represents most city workers. In recent years, both unions have already taken pay cuts and freezes on raises and accepted furlough days to help plug the college’s fiscal holes.

If a special trustee were to take over, these workers would become even more vulnerable. But even without a special trustee, will there be layoffs?

Though there is no definitive answer yet, “everything needs to be on the table,” Trustee Steve Ngo told us. Yet most indications are that part-timers are at the most risk.

“I’m not convinced [full time faculty] pay cuts are what is called for. Our part time is the highest paid in the country,” CCSF Chancellor Pamila Fisher told the Associated Student Presidents, made up of elected leaders from CCSF’s eight main campuses. “We pay them health care. That’s unheard of” and could be re-evaluated, she said.

Yet it’s also possible that more creative and aggressive fundraising could save the part-timers and other college functions. Alisa Messer, president of AFT local 2121, said statewide categorical funds exist expressly to help fund part time faculty health care costs, she said, although not all colleges follow through.

“AFT 2121 has been a leader in this state, and in fact in the nation, on increasing parity for part-time/contingent faculty,” Messer said. “We will not allow this crisis to be an excuse to roll back significant progress that has been made on the rights of our most vulnerable faculty.”

The commission’s June report dinged the school for spending higher than average levels on salaries and benefits, 92 percent of their funds to be exact, while other community colleges in the Bay Area have figures in the low to mid 80s.

Yet many of CCSF’s defenders say that comparison isn’t fair or accurate, noting San Francisco’s higher cost of living and the fact that the district provides health coverage to part-time faculty, which most other community colleges in the state do not provide.


As the college unites, many conflicts that remain boil down to the question of open access. CCSF currently operates with what it sees as a true community college ethos, where the varied needs of a diverse student population are balanced.

Recent high school graduates preparing for transfer mingle with adult students continuing their education, while English as Second Language (ESL) learners work towards proficiency and others seek new technical skills or transition to a new career.

Many students also take so-called “personal enrichment” courses — one time classes in the arts or languages, for example — that state government has de-prioritized as the budget hole has gotten deeper.

“I think we have to spend money better,” Ngo said, concerning “non-credit” courses, which are primarily classes for adult learners. He pointed to the fact that ESL classes are a full semester long, despite a unique “hop in, hop out” structure to the lessons, which gives students flexibility in their attendance over the course of the semester.

Reducing the number of weeks in a semester that those classes meet could be one possible strategy for saving money, he said. He emphasized that the college needs to work with hard data, and that calculations from what could be saved by such moves aren’t finished.

The number of campuses within the district is also being re-evaluated. “Yes, one of things we’re looking at is whether we should have nine sites. Centers may be combined. We don’t know if that will pay out yet,” Chancellor Fisher told the student presidents, referring to complex funding formulas that could actually prevent CCSF from saving money by closing campuses.

Fisher said officials are researching the possibility of combining campuses in close proximity, which drew a mixed reaction from the presidents. Bouchra Simmons, the Downtown Campus student president, said that combining the Civic Center and Downtown campuses would be disastrous.

“[Downtown Campus] is already pushed to capacity in terms of class size,” Simmons said. And the reverse, moving Downtown Campus students into Civic Center, would make it difficult for her to drop her daughter off at child care and still be able to make it to school on time.

Emanuel Andreas, Southeast Campus president, disagreed when it came to his constituents. “We understand what is happening, and everything needs to be on the table,” he said.

The threat of campus closures and a reduction in non-credit classes are all part of the attack on open access, as some students have said. To combat that, they’ve formed a new student group aimed at educating the city about what they stand to lose.

Project Unity is comprised of Occupy CCSF students, former student trustee Jeffrey Fang, student body President Shanell Williams, and other students, led by the newly elected student Trustee William Walker. They’ve rallied for their school at City Hall, where Supervisors Eric Mar and John Avalos have sponsored a resolution to support City College.

Project Unity met at the Mission Campus shortly after supporting the resolution, and started to plan a grassroots campaign to educate the city and its residents about open access.

Bob Gorringe, a member of Occupy San Francisco, was on hand to help the fledgling group strategize. “[Trustee] Anita Grier came out to the Occupy action council, and she was very open,” Gorringe told the group on July 31, referring to the longtime board member who is not exactly known for her radical tendencies.

Students taking such a vested interest in their college should come as no surprise, considering what happened to Compton before it folded into El Camino.

Although Compton never actually closed, it hemorrhaged students as public fears of the college closing grew larger, and the student body dropped to around 2,000 when El Camino took over, Garten told the Guardian.

Some students went elsewhere, but many appear to have just abandoned the education system.

“We looked at two or three colleges around Compton and none of us had a significant increase in students from the Compton district” enrolling, Garten said.

In other words, it looked like many disillusioned students had simply dropped out, something that nobody wants to see in San Francisco.


Just over two months remain for CCSF and its supporters to hash out a preliminary plan. Aiding them is a team of experts that will create a detailed report on everything related to the college’s financial woes — possibly the most critical problem area.

The Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, explained their process to the college on August 3.

Without revealing any specific details, Michelle Plumbtree, the chief management analyst of FCMAT, warned an audience of a couple dozen interested people that its report would seem negative, but only because that’s exactly what the report is supposed to be: a critical review of problem areas.

“You guys are doing incredible things…But that’s not what we talk about [in our reports],” Plumbtree said.

Mike Hill, another FCMAT team member, succinctly layed out the biggest obstacles to City College’s fiscal future. “This is not a one year problem…We’re looking at three years. What makes that complicated is the governor’s tax, and the parcel tax,” Hill said, referring to Prop. 30 and the San Francisco ballot measure City College sponsored. “There are four scenarios… It’s not predictable.” Prop. 30, the tax measure placed on the ballot by Governor Jerry Brown, wouldn’t raise new revenue for community colleges. If it passes, they simply break even, staving off more drastic cuts. But the parcel tax offers more hope for CCSF, if city voters approve it. It would free up $14 million in revenue for this fiscal year, restoring some of what was lost and prevent the deep cuts and scaled back mission that the school’s support most fear.

City College fights back


When your options are bad, terrible, and unthinkable, how do you choose which way to go? And should that decision be graded on a curve that takes into account the dire fiscal circumstances facing most public colleges in California these days?

City College of San Francisco (CCSF), which serves more than 90,000 students a year, last year did what some consider unthinkable: laying off administrators and leaving a reserve fund at dangerously low levels in order to save classes and stave off faculty layoffs. The current $187 million operating budget has a reserve of only $2.2 million, or just over 1 percent compared to the state-recommended 5 percent.

Such decisions may cost the college its accreditation and threaten its very existence, but they also represent legitimate differences over what role educational institutions should play in their communities.

In June, the college came under fire for administrative and financial mismanagement by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, a private organization that evaluates K-12 schools and higher education institutions every six years.

Although the commission applauded the school for its commitment to students, it placed the school under its most severe sanction before accreditation is terminated: “show cause.”

It identified eight problem areas that the college has failed to address since 2006, which include measuring student learning outcomes, attaining financial solvency, and revising the college’s mission statement to reflect current fiscal realities.

“The team finds that the current, ongoing funding for San Francisco City College appears insufficient to fully fund the mission of the college as it is currently conceived,” the commission wrote in its June report. “The team advises the college to assure the mission of the college is obtainable based on accurate short-term and long-term funding assumptions.”

Essentially, the commission is recommending a refocusing of the school’s mission to prioritize college transfer classes. The report went on to say that too many people making decisions through a highly decentralized governance system slowed down or halted altogether the college’s ability to make cuts where it needed to — or where the state and commission thought cuts should be made.

These competing visions of how community colleges should continue to exist have driven a wedge between local college officials and state-level decision makers — a clash made clear through City College’s accreditation woes.

“It’s not that City College isn’t doing a good job, it’s that these are emerging trends we have,” former Student Trustee Jeffrey Fang said. “In the long run, it might actually improve City College. The bad part is that it came at a time when we are so strapped and mired neck deep in political games.”

Those games have starved funding for public education statewide, in the process redefining the role of community colleges.

“City College has a very ambitious mission. Part of that mission is that it’s a true community college,” CCSF spokesperson Larry Kamer said. “Now, decisions are being made de facto by the budget and we need to re-evaluate that mission.”



Adult education used to be integrated into K-12 districts. But over the years, two-year “junior” colleges took over that responsibility, transforming them into today’s “community” colleges.

The newly minted community colleges began serving thousands of immigrants learning English, job seekers needing new skills, and elderly citizens looking to continue their education. But when California’s budget crisis hit a critical point, that all began to change.

Three years ago, the California Legislature said when the community colleges cut courses, they shouldn’t cut courses involving transfer, career technical education, and basic skills, State Community College Chancellor Jack Scott said in a phone interview.

Scott is responsible for overseeing all 112 community colleges in California, a quarter of all community colleges in the country. He’s on the cusp of retirement, and the end of his tenure has been marked with the changing mission of the colleges he oversees.

“I want it clearly understood that I personally want to see the community colleges offer all the classes it wants to,” he said. “But with scarcity, you have to prioritize. If you offer the same classes you did before, you’ll go bankrupt. Something has to give.”

The state agreed and asked community colleges to prioritize enrollment, with a focus on recent high school graduates who plan to transfer to a university in two years and anyone else seeking a degree or certificate.

If community colleges can’t afford to offer classes sought by their broader communities, and K-12 schools are ill-equipped to plug back into that task, does the notion of continuing adult education just fade away?

David Plank, executive director of policy analysis for California Education, a Stanford University-based research center, says it just may: “I don’t think that responsibility will be reimposed on K-12 districts because it was always seen as a sort of add-on supplementary responsibility.”



California’s Master Plan for Higher Education — which mandates that community colleges provide classes for everyone — only worked as long as there was money to fund it. But Plank says that money has been steadily shrinking since 1978 when voters passed Proposition 13, which capped property tax increases and raised the voting threshold for the Legislature to increase other taxes.

As funding from Sacramento has been slashed by more than $500 million in the past year alone, California’s 112 community colleges have turned away more than 300,000 students trying to enter the system. If Governor Jerry Brown’s tax proposal wins in November, community college funding will stay at about the same level, but if it fails, the system will see further cuts of more than $340 million.

“The system now is breaking down,” Plank said. “We’ve finally reached a point where the state’s share is too small to hold things together. We see tuition going up at very rapid rates and a substantial deterioration both in access and affordability.”

In flush times, community colleges could serve everyone — rich and poor, those seeking new skills and others working toward a new degree. Now, the community college system faces two choices if it’s unable to find new sources of revenue: continue on the path of deep cuts, or change its priorities altogether.

City College Board member Steve Ngo cites new statistics that show enrollment in English as Second Language (ESL) classes are trending down, a sign that those classes should be cut first. “The community should lead. If the demand is down, you’re not serving your community,” he said.

Yet others say community colleges should strive to serve everyone who needs them.

“Some [classes] are really valued by our Pacific Islander population, but their enrollment may not be as high. Should those classes go away? I don’t think so. It’s something I feel like the whole college community needs to come to grips with” CCSF math instructor Hal Hunstman said.

City College ESL instructor Susan Lopez said her classes have been cut about 29 percent over a decade, which she considers drastic.

“Despite that large and somewhat intentional reduction, we still serve 20,000 annually throughout the city. By comparison with our very large ESL Department, the English Department serves only 7,000,” Lopez said. “How could we abandon those who are most educationally needy and often desperately poor in favor of those who are less needy?

“We need to step up adult education across the board,” she said. “The problem is all the pressure to do less and to fund less of this type of education.”



The accreditation commission is an independent body, but it’s been pressured too.

“In the current climate of increased accountability, our regional accrediting associations find that tight spot to be more like a vice,” a commission newsletter said in 2006. “On one side are forces at the national level ready to throw out regional accreditation in favor of a federal approach; while at the local level, they are faced with institutions resistant to rapid change and increased scrutiny.”

In the past year, private entities ponied up thousands of dollars to help usher in a new numbers-based approach to education. In 2011, a 20-member body comprised of public and private representatives was charged with evaluating the community college system.

Called the California Community College Student Success Task Force, its creation was mandated by the state, but to many people it reeked of privatization.

Several private organizations funded the task force’s work, including the Lumina Foundation, an educational research and grant-making institution with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial lobbying group for private interests that authored the Stand Your Ground gun law.

By fall 2011, students, faculty, and administrators across the state began to question the task force’s methods and recommendations, which initially included proposals to cut many non-credit and enrichment courses, restrict financial aid, prioritize transfer students, and cap the number of units one person could take.

Under the veil of increasing so-called “student success,” the task force was asking schools to prioritize limited funds and change their missions to once again become “junior” colleges — a fate that City College has refused to accept.

City College’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution in November 2011 opposing the task force, nearly unanimously, with Ngo the sole dissenting vote. Then-Chancellor Don Griffin warned that the task force’s agenda was a transparent attack on open access that would disproportionately affect poor people and people of color, imploring the board to reject its recommendations.

“They’re talking about taking over the vehicle of community colleges and turning it into something else,” Griffin said. “We have to take a hard stand because everybody around the state is watching City College of San Francisco.”

Students and faculty at City College joined the fight. They spoke out at Board of Governors meetings in Sacramento. They wrote letters, emails, and scathing editorials. The school’s student-run school newspaper, The Guardsman, led a statewide campaign opposing the task force.

Despite the public’s concerns, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors adopted the task force’s final report in January.

“As wonderful as open admissions is, if it’s a false promise to an objective, it fails,” Peter MacDougall, Board of Governors member and task force chair, said at the January meeting.

“Our objective is to have that promise realized, that’s what the recommendations are intended to achieve.”

Ultimately, the initiative succeeded, shifting priority enrollment to students who are freshly in the college system. The Task Force report is now Senate Bill 1456, sponsored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal and commonly known as the Student Success Act of 2012.



As everyone waits with crossed fingers hoping for a favorable outcome at the ballot in November, City College officials are fighting keep the school open.

“Do we alter our mission slightly, or fundamentally? It’s not clear yet what we’re going to do,” Ngo said.

The trustees have until October to present the commission with a plan and then until March to prove they can achieve it. In the meantime, the commission requires that preparations be made for potential closure, which Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher and other CCSF officials say won’t happen.

Only two other community colleges received a “show cause” order this year: College of the Redwoods and Cuesta College. Yet as of January, 25 percent of California’s community colleges are under sanctions, according to the accreditation commission documents.

Federal funding hinges on the certification and other educational institutions, such as the University of California and the California State University systems, only accept transfer credits from other accredited institutions.

Everyone seems to agree that City College is too big to fail — with more than 90,000 students, it’s the largest community college in the nation — but how it will look and operate in the future remains unknown.

City College already cut dozens of classes this year — including many with students already enrolled after the spring semester began. But City College isn’t alone in its plight.

Santa Monica Community College caused an uproar earlier this year when it proposed charging more for popular classes. As of July 1, classes cost $46 per unit but under Santa Monica’s proposal students would pay $180 per unit for courses in high demand.

When students protested this two-tiered payment system in April, police pepper-sprayed them, just five months after UC Davis students received the same brutal treatment for holding a non-violent Occupy-style action against their own tuition hikes.

“What we see is a move towards privatization, in the sense that we are now expecting students to pay a larger share of the cost,” Plank said. “Over certainly the last 40 years, California has been steadily disinvesting in post secondary education.” Whether tuition increases at the CSUs and UCs in the near future depends on whether voters approve Brown’s tax proposal this November. City College’s financial future hinges not only on the governor’s tax proposal, but a local parcel tax initiative as well. City College needs both to pass in November just to break even. “A lot of San Francisco’s workforce is educated at City College,” City College board member Chris Jackson said, adding that for poor and working class people, it’s the only affordable option. In addition, as veterans return from foreign conflicts, ex-offenders are released from prison and enrollment capped at the state universities, Jackson said, “We need local investment in City College.”