City College's new divide

Students and teachers rallied to support Prop. A, but they aren't benefitting much from its passage.
Ara Bloomberg

Despite recent voter approval of Proposition A, the parcel tax expected to bring $14 million annually to City College of San Francisco, faculty there are enduring pay cuts and layoffs, a reality that has rankled union leaders and others who have rallied to save the school. 

In the face of the school’s accreditation crisis, which if not addressed by March could lead to its closure, the college was a united front to keep the school open and pass Prop. A, which was approved by over 70 percent of San Francisco voters on the same night as President Obama’s reelection.

But a combination of timing (the money won’t roll in until later in 2013), the depth of the district’s fiscal hole, and declining student enrollment have left CCSF with essentially status quo funding. District officials appear to be leaning toward using most of the surplus it does get to beef up its scant reserve funds, which was one of the things that triggered the accreditation crisis.  

After the good news of Prop. A’s passage, CCSF discovered it wasn’t on track to meet its required enrollment numbers -- and the number of students enrolled dictates state funding.

“[The administration] was focused on these accreditation reports. It’s a big job. It was very disruptive to change chancellors kind of midstream,” said John Rizzo, the college’s board president. “We had to switch administrations, and that’s been very difficult.”

City College has been through three different chancellors in the past year: longtime Chancellor Don Q. Griffin left in April due to illness, Pamila Fisher was interim chancellor until October, and now Thelma Scott-Skillman is the current chancellor.

Whatever the reason, City College has 3,000 fewer students enrolled than it expected to have for the Spring, potentially putting it $6.5 million in the hole this coming year. It has until the end of summer to boost those numbers. Now, despite all the cards coming up aces for them in the polls, the college still needs to save millions of dollars somewhere else in the budget.

It has started by slashing faculty and administration wages 8.8 percent, and not renewing contracts for more than 30 part time teachers, 18 part time counselors, and 30 clerical staff. Notably, Scott-Skillman -- whose office negotiated the plan, which the board discussed on Dec. 13 -- will also take a paycut.

Alisa Messer, president of the faculty union at City College, thinks cutting teachers, and therefore classes, flies in the face of what the voters bargained for with Prop. A. “There’s no discussion here about accountability to San Francisco voters,” Messer told us. And with the loss of competitive wages, the faculty has already started to come apart at the seams.

“We have unfortunately heard from quite a few faculty that they will be looking for jobs out of state,” Messer said. “Many said they’ll have to change their living situation or move out of San Francisco.”

She said that would hurt CCSF: “These things have to do with the long term viability of the college.”

Steve Ngo, a trustee on the college’s board, thinks that the Prop. A money should be used to shore up the school’s reserve fund, as dictated by the accreditation team that threatens the school with closure. Unfortunately, this means losing teachers now rather than later.

“If you want to frame it in terms of labor, there’s nothing worse to do than spending money now [to retain teachers] and laying off teachers in the future,” Ngo said. “Those are younger teachers. The people there now will be retired.”

Due to increased focus on diversity in hiring, CCSF’s more diverse and younger teachers tend to be the newer ones, and part time faculty, Ngo said. Those are the teachers most at risk -- and the ones that students will end up losing.

Amidst the arguments about proper use of funding, teachers at the school are seeing their wages cut. Some, like Danny Halford, are losing their jobs.

Halford taught English as a Second Language at City College for seven years. A friendly and outgoing middle-aged guy, Halford is a veritable man about town, and can be seen at City College fundraisers, and was among the college’s most ardent Prop. A supporters, waving picket signs and attending rallies.

He was also one of the part time faculty members to lose his job in the Spring.

“Greg Keech, our super-wonderful ESL Dept. chair, wrote me a very nice letter to inform me that due to budget cuts there will be no job for me next semester,” Halford said. He had also recently lost his job as an organist at the College Avenue Presbyterian Church, which he’d had for 10 years, when a new pastor had “a new music concept that I don't fit,” he said.

One of his favorite memories from City College was of a student named Elmer, from Guatemala. “He came into my Literacy class in May 2006, near the end of my first semester, with almost no English.  He made progress quickly.”

“When he got his G.E.D. diploma, I was so proud of him, I could have bust,” Halford said. “I've watched him grow, off and on, for six years now. He has no family here, and I think of him as my nephew.”

He may even be re-hired next fall, but until then he waits in limbo. He’ll try to substitute teach at the college for now, he said, but ruled out looking at other schools for work. As he said, “There are no jobs at other colleges because all colleges are in the same boat.”

Ngo said that the choice is basically between drastic change, or the closure of the school.

“It’s mathematically impossible to keep that payrate now,” Ngo said. “My hope is to provide the best wages and benefits in the long run, but we can’t offer it if it’s a facade. We can’t maintain payrates as they are now because we have too many faculty...There’s no agreement if there’s no college.”

City College’s faculty’s union, American Federation of Teachers 2121, filed an unfair labor practice charge Dec. 21 with the Public Employee Relations Board, a state entity that has the power to enforce labor law in California. The charge alleges that the college’s paycuts are unlawful.

A recent email to their union members outlines the AFT 2121’s grievances with the college: “At Monday’s bargaining session, the District finally outlined its claim that it will cut wages to recover last year’s ongoing state cuts of $13 million—even though the parties bargained in good faith, reaching agreement on June 20, 2012 to address these losses, including the 2.85% wage reduction this year and millions of dollars in savings through attrition and program cuts. The District is essentially overriding the previous agreement by now moving to cut wages to recover $13 million on top of the already agreed to concessions.”

College spokesperson Larry Kamer said he hadn’t seen the charges yet, as the college is on vacation, but that “we respectfully disagree with AFT 2121's characterization of the situation.”

“City College is facing an immediate budget shortfall due to a second straight year of missed enrollment targets,” he said. “In the past, City College might have papered over such a budget gap with money it didn't have, but those days are over. The college remains in a perilous situation with regard to accreditation and has no choice but to respond to the crisis with swift action and a request for shared sacrifice.”

And there’s the rub. In the midst of reforming the school to meet the requirements of the accreditation team by March or face closure, the college failed to keep its eye on their enrollment.

“The unions were trying to help, calling prospective students and trying a pitch,” Rizzo said. “‘Hey enroll!’ That kind of thing. They’re helping. A lot of people are trying to chip in to help this.”

“Ultimately it’s the people in the administration who are responsible for the enrollment,” he said.

With City College’s newest Chancellor Scott-Skillman on track to stay for at least a year, some stability may return to college’s administration. But City College’s dilemma, to potentially strain its budget to the breaking point or to lose valued and experienced teachers, has no easy answers  -- and either way the losers may end up being the students.

To register for classes at City College, visit Enrollment for Spring is open.


CCSF by the numbers:

Prop A - $14 million a year for 8 years starting in 2013
3,000 - the number of students city college needs to enroll in order to meet its budget expectations, or lose money
$6.5 million - the amount CCSF loses if it doesn't enroll 3,000 students
8.8 percent, the amount faculty wages are being cut
160 - faculty lost in the past year due to attrition - retirement, quitting
30 - part time faculty not rehired next semester, including ESL teacher Danny Halford
30 - clerical staff not rehired for next semester
18 - part time counselors not rehired next semester
3 - number of chancellors running City College over the past year




The funds should be invested in the core viability of the college, and not to give their teachers a few more months before they have to be fired anyway. You can't use bond money to pay salaries - that's like burning the furniture to keep warm.

So yes, fire the teachers, replenish the reserve fund, and try and keep the college as a viable concern going forward.

CCSF is the lowest level of tertiary education in SF and, as such, it cannot be allowed to suck up too many resources. Rather, invest in excellence and cutback the mediocer schools. It's a no brainer.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 3:40 pm


-- a City College student

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

are something else. You tout the importance of getting educationed (your word) in order to better oneself and participate in your fantasy prosperity for all economy.

Then, when people try to obtain that education at a community college, like CCSF, you attack those students as mediocre.


Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

that take a small pay cut to keep the whole institution alive.

And good luck on the academic and intellectual powerhouses of City College getting new jobs out of state. Community college professors with MAs are a dime a dozen in an extremely depressed education market and they know that.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

but the cost over-run probably necessitates layoffs anyway.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

according to the article.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

and so it is obvious that either bigger pay cuts are needed, or less teachers need to be paid.

Since enrollment is thousands short of target, reducing the number of teachers would be a logical response. That may mean that further pay cuts are avoided, or at least deferred.

But longer term, I don't believe that CCSF is viable unless it is run with the students paying the full cost of tuition.

Posted by guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

so we have a better-educated population without burdening students with enormous debt loads upon graduation. If students pay the "full cost" of tuition then the university or college is no longer "public." How would you like graduating with $100,000 in debt in this economy? Do you think that's good to burden young people with that kind of debt thus preventing them from getting mortgages?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

The privatization crowd is perfectly happy with those high debt loads because they and their friends make money from the burgeoning for-profit sub-prime higher education industry underwritten from government backed education loans, and their banker friends profit from the interest spread on those loans.

Those loans can't be forgiven through bankruptcy unlike the financial industry's losses that have traditionally been socialized. Look for the inability of students to repay their loans to be a major contributing factor to the bursting of a future speculative bubble.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

and these "forgiveness" and income-based repayment plans are a joke - by the time the student is granted "forgiveness" they've repaid nearly twice the cost of the loan after paying for 20 years!! There's a real sickness in this industry - why the government needs to make 6-8% off lending cash to poor students for an education, something which helps everyone, is something which is highly irrational anyway. Every government-backed education loan is already disbursed with fees deducted in the first place, the government sucking more from debt-burdened students through interest payments is disgusting.

Private loans are horrific - most of them are equivalent to usury.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

We should pay kids a stipend to go to school and an extra bonus for every liberal arts class they take.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

Whatever way you look at it.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

Yes, I did work study, both the formal kind and on-again and off-again bouts of working, going to school, combos of both and neither, for a decade until I could wrest the BA from the rock face.

But kids should be able to study full time without the distraction of having to worry about making ends meet.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

It's designed to allow students to both work and study - and it can usually be paired with something designed to give the student real-world experience. it's limited to 20 hours a week so it's not a burden. Mine was enjoyable. It'd be better if it were non-taxable income but the yearly amounts are limited so it's not a problem.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

Privatize all schools and then the government can give vouchers to poor kids to help them pay for tuition, if the taxpayers and voters are happy to fund such types of social engineering.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

You're mouthing right-wing propaganda aimed towards public education at the grade, middle and high school level. Since all public universities accept on the basis of merit and not mandated acceptance based on residency the argument you're peddling is totally moot and inapplicable.

Community colleges are designed to accept any student and prepare them for either trades or for higher education.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

The taxpayers shouldn't be subisidizing the education of those who can afford to pay market fees for education. We can privatize CCSF, charge market rates, but then give vouchers to those who are poor. That would ensure help is targetted, and that the cost can be easily and strictly controlled.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:59 am

Taxpayers should subsidize the higher education of all because that is the best investment known. New York and California provided free education during their golden eras, and even in Texas 32 years ago, my tuition was a mere US$225 out the door, practically subsidized.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:18 am

As budgets become strained and deficits grow, subsidies must become more targeted. vouchers and black grants can help with the budget and delegate decisions down to a local level.

Behemoths like CCSF cannot survive in their current form, and we are merely concerned with how to manage it's orderly decline.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:33 am

If the Federal Reserve can subsidize the rich to the tune of $15,000,000,000,000.00, then there are plenty of dollars for higher education at similar non-positive interest rates.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:51 am

That is restricted to managing inflation and employment. They have no mandate for funding education.

You're confusing the Fed with the Treasury.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 9:10 am

all this largesse?

I'm guessing it doesn't include you?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

who are responsible for this mess. The new Chancellor is actually on vacation for weeks, is receiving $300,000 paycheck, free housing and car service. Zero mention or intentions of laying off those who were in charge. And they wonder why enrollment is down.

Posted by Guest Junkyard on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

pa? Remember that we need to compete with major corporations for the kind of talent that can turn around a struggling enterprise. You don't get that for peanuts.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

Someone who's not just doing it for the money. Maybe someone who doesn't try to hide the finances?

Fact is, "CEO" is a bullshit job. Take a lot of these supposedly brilliant CEOs, particularly those in the private sector who aren't professionals (except professional bullshitters), and replace them with a random janitor, and they'd do just as well if not better.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

You gotta pay big bucks in order to get someone whose not got a soul and can "make the difficult decisions" to fuck everyone who's not got money in favor of those who're loaded.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

CCSF doesn't need that Mirkirimi-Newsom vision thing, it needs a nuts and bolts administrator.

Posted by matlock on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

The persistent problem is the layer of middle management left over from the Berg/Day era that has no allegiance to the elected Board.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

Schools should be run by professionals, not ideologs.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

Oh, wait, they're doing that in some places. Bailing out the parasitic rich and imposing austerity on everyone else, through governments of "technocrats." I love that word... technocrats. So benign, so "non-ideological."

Of course it is an ideology, and a very brutal one at that. All these choices are political. Privatization, austerity, allocating resources to the upper echelons at the expense of everyone else... it's all part of the same hardnosed rigid ideology masquerading as economic inevitability. There's nothing inevitable about it. It's all about conscious choices and priorities.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 11:15 pm
Posted by matlock on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:36 am

What we need is competent, business-minded managers. It's not a political issue at all - it's a matter of efficiency and competence.

Colleges are businesses. Why would you want the same people that run Muni trying to manage CCSF? Both are disasters.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 7:02 am

Colleges are a public good. Colleges exist to educate people. City College in particular exists to provide accessible education to everybody. Businesses exist for only one purpose -to make money.

As such. "business-minded" managers are precisely what the college does not need. It needs "people-minded" managers. To that end, having the people elect them is a good start.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 11:07 am

first place. It will take a business approach to save CCSF, even assuming that anyone thinks this sad old institution is worth saving.

A bankrupt school staffed by "people-minded idelologs" won't do anyone any good.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

Phil Day was very business-minded, selling off City College assets to business, building lots of stuff with the help of (and in the service of) the private sector, to the detriment of the students.

And the "business-minded" board majority helped him cover it all up. By the time the new civic minded majority was elected and started lifting the curtain and letting in some sunshine, there was a huge mess.

The "business-minded" adminstration wrecked City College, just as the "business-minded" folks wrecked the economy writ large. They're the last thing we need at any level of governance.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

because all public services face years and decades of decline because of deficits and public apathy.

The issue here is not to grow CCSF into a world-class educational establishment because it never was and never could be. It was designed from the outset as the lowest tier of academic excellence and it has lived down to that modest ambition.

But, when times are hard, it is always the lowest and worst institutions that will suffer the most, just like recessions always hit the poor the hardest. So while Harvard and Stanford continue to flourish, with CCSF it is more a matter of prudent fiscal management of it's decline.

And for that you need financial acumen and not some starry-eyed old fart with a beard, a pip and a pair of sandals.

Posted by guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

Conscious, deliberate suffocation by the economic elites, who see no role for institutions of higher learning geared toward the working classes.

Like you, apparently, they believe the masses are there to serve them rather than lead and enter high paying professional jobs, so what's the point of having a college for them? The elites have theirs, so fuck everyone else. So yeah, sure, install some unelected "business-minded" lackey to preside over the destruction of City College -sell off everything that's worth money to private capital for cheap, and let the remaining carcass "wither on the vine." Best to put a fellow 1%-er in there to do the job. From the private sector, so that big money only goes to people already at the top. Anyway, a soulless reptile can do the job best.

That's what you're really asking for. You people are disgustingly transparent.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

really give a crap about CCSF. Since parcel taxes are paid only by the one third of voters who own their home, the other two third will happily vote for any bond measure, knowing it won't cost them anything.

That's a flaw of our voting system - everyone who votes for a bond should have to pay something towards it. And if that were the case then, and only then, would you really learn how little people care about CCSF.

That said, I have nothing against CCSF existing, but it clearly needs to be in a downsized form, with just a core that is actually viable. We really shouldn't be subsidizing basket-weaving classes for the idle wives of the rich.

Posted by guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

Why not restrict the vote just to property owners? That's what you really want, isn't it?

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

bond measures be borne by anyone who gets to vote on it? Why should 2/3 of voters have no skin in the game?

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:32 am

Can't you take your right wing libertarian crap elsewhere? Municipalities and counties tax on property and float general obligation bonds to fund projects. Nothing local will change that. Take your proselytizing elsewhere, redstate, bloomberg, foxnews....

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:44 am

Just like has happened in every nation that tried communism.

But I'm sure that's just a coincidence. Liberals always welcome and celebrate a diversity of viewpoints, right?

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:57 am

You do not offer debate, you harass and that shuts down debate.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 9:17 am

Not a business? Then its a???? ehh?? ???????????
Come on man!
Not a business?
You, my friend, must not have taken any accounting or business classes, because, had you, you would know that a business is EXACTLY what a college is, whether it is for profit or not.
Im embarrassed for you on that one.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

Not a business? Then its a???? ehh?? ???????????
Come on man!
Not a business?
You, my friend, must not have taken any accounting or business classes, because, had you, you would know that a business is EXACTLY what a college is, whether it is for profit or not.
Im embarrassed for you on that one.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 7:56 pm

a very badly-run, fiscally-doomed business.

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:33 am

I've known some pretty quick janitors, and then there is Cris Daly and Gavin Newsom on the board of supes and the mayors office.

Posted by matlock on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:39 am

The layoffs would be of the "younger" workforce, who of course are "more diverse".

We all know you like to present the view that a non-white losing their job is somehow worse than a white losing their job. Or, at least, you think there's more mileage in suggesting that bias without actually stating it explicitly.

Or perhaps you didn't even realize you were doing that?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

I ask because Joe Fitzgerald wrote the article.

You might consider CCSF; your enrollment would help the college towards its funding goal and you might improve your reading comprehension.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

The only artciles accepted for submission here have to play the race card somewhere. And Tim is the editor, and so has the final say on approving for publication this kind of racist nonsense.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 28, 2012 @ 9:05 pm