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




It makes far more sense to either:

1) Fire the most incompetent and useless staff, or

2) Fire the older teachers because they are paid more, have more expensive benefits and will often have lost their drive and ambition

Let's keep the better, cheaper staff and let all the dross and deadweight go.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 8:11 am

And/or a switch to a DC pension scheme fully funded by the employees.

Either is preferable to furliughs because benefits still have to be provided in that case.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

They did offer paycuts, the union membership turned it down because the older members know they cant be fired.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

They're the ones on excessive salaries and cost more in health/pension benefits/

So why can't we fire them?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:01 am

Of course it makes sense, try telling that to the union. Last to be hired, first to be hired...

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

That's what management are for. Why is the management not growing a spine and firing these useless staff? We'll need to fire less of them if we go after the "old, fat and happy" employees. And save more on their ludicrous benefits.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:03 am

or do you just enjoy fantasizing about firing people?

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:16 am

and sloppy" is obviously self-referential.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:50 am

to pay more tax so a few third-rate teachers at a third-rate college can continue to draw a paycheck just because they have in the past.

That entitles me to a viewpoint.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

indicates that you consider yourself royalty or that you fantasize about firing people or both.

Off with their heads.

Prop A passed, so deal with it. Why do you live in a city where 2/3's of its residents are "losers?"

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

passed? Which shows how doomed it really is, when even a massive bond bailout isn't enough.

Posted by guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

City College needs to reduce its footprint. According to its web site it had 12 locations.With a declining enrollment, it doesn't need all that spacell off the Downtown Campus at 4th & Mission and the John Adams Camlhs at Hayes and Masonic. That would bring in money and reduce costs.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

campuses sit on? I'd assumed not else that would be a quick and easy solution to sell off some land. In fact, I'll bet CCSF doesn't even pay rent if it is city-owned land.

But yes, there should be logistical benefits from rationalizing those sites into a much smaller number, with savings on staff costs too.

CCSF is too big and rambling.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

are too frequent and rambling.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:21 am

is that you eventually run out of public land to sell off.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 11:10 am

but clearly they are not making good economic use of it.

Nor is it conceivable that they need 12 locations when thousands of students are deciding that they'd prefer to get an education elsewhere, or even prefer no education to one from CCSF.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

"Best use" is a real estate term, meaning whatever makes the most money is the best use. The main purpose of City College is not to be a real estate venture. It's not to make money. It's to educate students, and those assets may well be needed when the college needs more capacity after recovering from this temporary dip in enrollment.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

History is full of noble civic-minded ambitions that failed because the financials were ignored.

CCSF is massively over budget, loses more money than is reasonable and has an unsustainable cost base. It also has a history of incompetence, corruption and academic mediocrity, while being spread between an inexplicable number of campuses.

That's why there have been a series of layoffs, of which this is merely the latest, plus pay cuts etc. but all to no avail. It still isn't viable.

So yes, CCSF needs a professional, fiscally-adept management. Save your ideologies for Berkeley, which has much deeper pockets and is a much better institution anyway.

Posted by guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

Really, what a suprise, Anonymous says that we should privatize public resources. Who'da ever thunk that?

Posted by marcos on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 11:31 am

private sector run it or you let it whither on the vine.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

But no thanks. I remember that prescription for Social Security -either privatize it (destroy it now) or "let it wither on the vine" (destroy it slowly). There is a third way -tax the damn rich and fully fund it!

Posted by Greg on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

successful and hand it over to proven failures and losers.

That's the policy that got CCSF in it's fiscal mess in the first place.

Posted by guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

Those parts of society that you deem "successful" are sucking dry the rest of it.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

taxes and the public sector consumes 120% of all taxes, definitionally.

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:35 am

The most obvious is the military/defense industries.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:38 am

cut that flow, then please go to Southern California and explain it to the tens of thousands there who would be laid off if we fall off the "cliff".

The richest 2% pay half of all taxes. But still that's not enough for you, is it?

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:46 am

so yes it's not enough. The richest 1% receive 93% of all income growth, so our system is effectively insuring that almost all money flows to them. Your comment about military jobs ignores the vast profits that the workers never see, but go to their private overlords.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 9:00 am

while the poor pay them.

Oh, and those percentage figures are of individuals and not of welath. Taxes exist to produce revenue and not to address inequalities.

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 9:37 am

Richard Wolff:

Michael Hudson:

I know they are written at a grade level above the Fox News pablum you usually read, but it is always good to try to push yourself. Good luck.

DFYI, the D is silent.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 9:59 am

Now cite some articles from the Cato Institute or the Heritage foundation.

Or would that spoil the pity party?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:25 am

Do we really need more corporate funded propaganda via heritage and cato to "balance" out academics like Hudson? All I see is paid hacks drowning out new ideas like Hudson and MMT because they cannot compete on the academic merits.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:39 am

rather than pretending that a one-sided censoring debate achieves anything worthwhile.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Your side's economic ideology has been in place for the last two centuries or so. Empirical results show its failure.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 11:47 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

then you have low standards. I was referring to the entirety of the planet, but just in this country, half of the population is poor or nearly poor.

People scrounging meals from garbage cans is not success in my eyes.

With your selfish sociopathic outlook, all you care about is your personal "success;" fuck you, I got mine.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

and not places we have no influence over.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

influences the whole world. You can't just look at the US economy, as badly as it is doing, in a vacuum.

Why do you think the capitalists are so keen on so-called "free trade" (read freedom of capital to exploit labor worldwide) agreements?

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

The problem is that we only consider two sides of the issue, one of those two more than twice as much as the other, when there are many, many more than two sides to every issue.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

about the transfer of tax revenue upwards to fund war industry profits:

The website is libertarian so perhaps its "bias" is more to your liking.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 01, 2013 @ 8:59 am

We hear this in the mainstream media all of the time. Bloomberg, Fox, CNN, there is no shortage of venues where your thought is welcome. Why not go hang with your own instead of hectoring us with your proselytization?

You're like the crazy Christians at 16th BART screeching every weekday morning, we can hear their wails from our property.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

expect there but whack jobs of all kinds?

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:36 am

none of whom are "whack jobs." Bigot.

Posted by Eddie on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:48 am
Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 8:58 am

I'm calling you out on your proselytizing shit, you goddamned wackjob.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 9:09 am

intolerance, your bigotry and your absolute inability to achieve any of the changes that you claim to believe in.

Posted by guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 9:35 am

Ad hominem troll, shuttupa you face.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

I love it when he gets in a lather about nothing.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

Ad hominem troll.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

You're not mad enough yet.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

Ad hominem troll, this has nothing to do with City College.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 31, 2012 @ 4:58 pm