Three incumbents on City College of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees are running against one well-financed challenger with high-powered backers in the November race for three open seats .
Trustees Thea Selby and John Rizzo, who have been on the board since 2014 and 2007 respectively, and current board president Brigitte Davila, who has served as trustee since 2015, are all are seeking re-election in the November 6 race.
Vying to replace one of them is former U.C. Riverside administrator and U.S. Army veteran Victor Olivieri, who despite having spent just three years in California, boasts Mayor London Breed, gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom and three City College trustees — Vice President Alex Randolph and trustees Shanell Williams and Tom Temprano — among a lengthy list of endorsers.
A member of the Veter
ans Affairs Commission, the 39-year-old Olivieri is a native of Spain. He immigrated to Arizona at the age of 12 and said that his path to higher education started with community college.
While the incumbents helped steer the college through an accreditation crisis that pushed it to the brink of closure, Olivieri hopes to usher in a new era, and has raised some $37,841 in contributions — more than any other candidate — to help ensure a victory.
“I think there is a big divide between what the board is doing at the higher levels and what the students are suffering,” said Olivieri, referencing the “struggle of making sure that classes are offered on time so they can get in and out of City College.”
Olivieri points to ongoing issues with the newly implemented Free City College program, a two-year pilot offering free tuition to San Francisco residents attending City College.
“The first year it resulted in a $4.77 million deficit — that is just not a sustainable way of doing it,” he said. “We need to make sure that implementation is done appropriately so that every student we have is applying for financial aid at federal and state level before they use Free City.”
Olivieri said he would like to see Free City re-negotiated and extended to non-credit classes, vocational programs bolstered across City College’s campuses and modeled after the college’s “CityBuild” construction jobs training program in areas such as biomedics and tech. In addition, he advocates for block scheduling to ensure “greater efficiency in the way City College provides classes.”
“We need to make sure we focus on things like the 80 percent of English as Second Language classes that are vocational — focused to make sure that the people in the community who need Free City the most are not scared to use it,” he said.
Just behind Olivieri in campaign contributions is Selby, who served as board president last year and has raised $35,371 to fund her re-election campaign.
While serving as president, Selby counts working through the implementation of Free City College among her accomplishments.
Selby admits that there were some hiccups — earlier this year, the college made multiple attempts to bill The City for the program but was met with disagreement over the dollar amount and whether or not the college was complying with the terms of the program.
“I had the honor of working through the [memorandum of understanding] with The City…and to try to point out some of the issues that this round we didn’t get done but we will in the next go around,” including securing funding to offer the program throughout the summer.
Selby played a key role in the hiring of Chancellor Mark Rocha, who was brought on board last Fall amid initial criticism from the college’s faculty union, AFT 2121.
“I would say the beauty of that is that they are now very supportive of Rocha,” Selby said.
Selby also worked to bring food pantries to the college and along with her colleagues on the board passed a resolution mandating that the college “take care of our food insecure Transitional Age Youth, many of whom are LGBTQ.”
Growing the college’s enrollment, which has tanked by 40 percent since 2012, by implementing block scheduling is a goal that Selby said she wanted to continue to work toward if re-elected.
Selby is also determined to ensure that City College is poised to receive “our fair share” of Free City funding generated by a 2016 voter approved transfer tax on on properties sold for more than $5 million, or Proposition W, which funds the program.
“When we passed Prop. W by 62 percent, we passed it thinking that this money was largely going to go to CCSF and its students, but it didn’t — only about $5.8 million out of $45 million we raised from the tax,” she said.
By negotiating additional funding from The City, Selby said the Free City program could not only pay for transit passes and cover the costs of books for its students, but also be expanded to include students who “work in San Francisco but don’t live here.”
Rizzo, a freelance writer and consultant by day, has raised $8,708 in contributions and comes with more than a decade of experience serving as a City College Trustee. Rizzo said that he has brought several long standing issues affecting City College and its students “back from the dead” in the wake of the accreditation crisis, including implementing a smoking ban across campus earlier this year that had shelved five years ago.
He also brought forward a resolution, passed unanimously two years ago, to resume planning for the development of a long-anticipated Performing Arts and Education Center at the Ocean Campus.
Moving forward, Rizzo said his main priorities include upgrading aging facilities and developing underused facilities across The City in student and faculty housing.
“We have room at our various locations to build up to 3,000 units of affordable housing for our students and teachers,” he said. “It will help us retain highest quality staff and help students with finances but also help with San Francisco’s housing crisis.”
Davila has been a lecturer at San Francisco State University for more than two decades and said she became involved as a City College trustee to ensure the college’s survival throughout the accreditation crisis.
“We have a lot of things in place now that we need — Free City, increased budget transparency — and can turn our attention to things that have been sitting on the back burner,” said Davila.
Her priorities include addressing “the opportunity gap …for students of color.”
“One of the things we have to understand is looking at the data to figure out at what point do students drop out, and figure out solution for that,” she said. “That’s going to be increasingly important now that the performance standards are in place by the state.”
Davila also counts building student and faculty housing and growing enrollment among her priorities. She has yet to report her campaign contributions to the San Francisco Ethics Commission, citing technical difficulties.