Words and deeds

Mayor Lee and his new trustee say they support City College -- but they aren't helping the district raise money

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City College of San Francisco has so far received only rhetorical support for its well-financed new Trustee Rodrigo Santos.
PHOTO BY SAN FRANCISCO NEWSPAPER CO.

steve@sfbg.com

When Mayor Ed Lee appointed engineer and pro-development activist Rodrigo Santos to fill a vacant seat on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, both men talked about the urgent need to save this troubled but vitally important institution.

"Our economic future is directly tied to the success of City College," Lee said at a press conference, touting the school's critical job-training role.

But when you cut through all the politics and hyperbole, the school's biggest single problem is a lack of money — and the mayor and his new trustee aren't doing much to help.

Neither Lee nor Santos have yet endorsed or publicly supported Proposition A, the $79-per-parcel tax that would stave off deep cuts to a district whose accreditation has been threatened over its anemic cash reserves and reluctance to scale back its course offerings (see "City College fights back," July 17).

Nor have they appealed for support from their deep-pocketed allies in the business community, which City College supporters say should be doing more to support the district.

And while some say Lee is finally getting ready to endorse Prop. A, he's done nothing to help the campaign.

"It's a shame because [the mayor] has pledged to support City College," John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees and a supervisorial candidate from District 5.

Lee also refused a request the trustees made last year to ease the more than $2.5 million in rent and fees that the district pays annually to the city. That's a stark contrast to the city's generous support of the San Francisco Unified School District, which gets an annual subsidy from the city of around $25 million, thanks to a ballot measure pushed by city officials of various ideological stripes.

"K-12 is important, but when we try to get help from the city, it falls on deaf ears and I don't know why. Maybe little kids are cuter," Rizzo told us.

Sup. Eric Mar said that dichotomy is a real problem, particularly given City College's current challenges and the important role it plays in providing low-cost training to local workers. Mar has called for a hearing this month before the Joint City and School District Select Committee, which oversees SFUSD's relationship with the city.

"I support stronger city support for City College," Mar told us.

Asked about Lee's unwillingness to help with City College's fiscal situation, mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey said Lee has offered logistical support from city officials to help City College overcome the threats to its accreditation and has been carefully monitoring the situation, but she didn't directly address why he has withheld financial support or endorsed Prop. A.

"The mayor has not taken a position on the parcel tax and is focusing his efforts on supporting the college's need for serious fiscal and management changes and protecting its accreditation," she told us by email Sept. 7. "The mayor knows it is more important than ever that the City support City College to make sure they get back on their feet for the sake of current and future City College students and for all San Francisco residents."

But City College officials aren't buying it. "Talk and nice words don't mean anything anymore," Rizzo said.

Other Prop. A supporters agree.

"The mayor needs to step up and support this," Trustee Chris Jackson told the Guardian, arguing that most of the district's problems stem from steadily declining financial support from the state. "We have a revenue problem."

"It is the workforce training vehicle for the city," said Rafael Mandelman, a candidate for trustee who has been actively supporting Prop. A. "Maybe now is the time when the city shouldn't say no to that."

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