A little breathing room: An open letter to the Board of Trustees

To: Board of Trustees, City College of San Francisco

CC: Chancellor Scott-Skillman, college community

Re: A little breathing room 

The City College community has good reason to rejoice for a moment. Proposition A is a message from San Francisco voters: it is a declaration of care, confidence, and commitment. With over 72% of the vote, it clearly demonstrates the love that San Franciscans have for their college. Students, community, and labor did the heavy lifting to make this revenue happen. These results have inspired calls from around the state congratulating us, as well as asking for advice and how we made it happen.

Some seem to think that San Franciscans don’t deserve a community college that does the broad work of serving our students’ many and diverse needs. But that is not the message from the voters: they want CCSF to exist, to succeed, and to continue providing the accessible, quality education we’ve been providing for generations—if anything, they want more, not less, from us.

We expect you, as elected members of the Board of Trustees, to stand behind this College—our college. The public has entrusted you with the responsibility of ensuring City College of San Francisco’s future. They want a community in our community college, and the level of support from the San Francisco community sets the bar high. We feel confident City College can retain accreditation while meeting these expectations.

However, we are deeply concerned that following this electoral victory of Props A and 30, the official college message to the public was disheartening. Rather than expressing gratitude or instilling confidence and optimism, it continued to beat the negativity drum, sending a message that devalues the institution and those who make it work for the students. This message will only discourage the community and has already harmed enrollment. When the voters have spoken with such force as to their desire to help the College, we must thank them and let them know that we understand and plan to meet their expectations.

Such a positive response will help us with the essential task of meeting our base enrollment for the year. The election success is already making concrete impacts on program, having saved at least 275 classes in the spring schedule as well as the summer school program. Now we need to ensure that these classes are full. The messages sent by administration and the Board can either assist or impede this effort.

The $25 million shift that Propositions 30 and A represent also allows the College time to consider and make sensible, responsible changes that will help ensure long-term financial stability without downgrading educational quality or employment standards.

While careful planning and budgeting will remain essential, what looked to many like impending financial disaster has been avoided. The current, three-year budget projections, including those put forth by FCMAT, have estimated that if no further savings were accomplished, even with Prop A funding and no additional state cuts, the District would face a new budget gap by 2014-15. You have heard these points repeatedly by now. However, efficiencies and savings have been identified and implemented, many of which will capture ongoing savings. In other words, the College has already made substantial changes in spending patterns and is making more. For instance, this year, the faculty payroll is consistently down by about 8% over last year, reflecting far more than the current 2.85% salary giveback. The College is on track to meet its adopted Board budget not just because of the substantial concessions but because of reductions in program that have already been made. Faculty counts are down: last year, the College employed 50 more full-time faculty and 120 more part-time faculty than it does today. All of these data—as well as the state’s financial picture, which Prop 30 has shifted as well—must be taken into account as the Board considers further changes.

The pressure the College and Board are under is extreme, but it has been lessened in the last 10 days. It is true that revenue and budget cuts are not the only challenges we face, and working to maintain accreditation at the pace set out by the ACCJC is harrowing at best. However, we want to remind you that even the ACCJC acknowledges that institutions should meet accreditation recommendations through changes that work for the individual institution. We need those changes to work for San Francisco’s students and for the College and its community overall, and that’s a challenge we can meet together. We’ve just accomplished what many said was not possible; of course we can save this College and its accreditation. The college community has every intention of ensuring that City College in open, accredited, and ready to serve San Francisco for the next 75 years and beyond.

On behalf of AFT 2121,

Alisa Messer

Posted in Board of Trustees, President's message

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