Free City program leaves CCSF with $4.77 million deficit

City College of San Francisco is asking The City to cover a $4.77 million debt incurred in the first year of implementing Free City, a program that covers full tuition for San Francisco residents.

Some $11.2 million was set aside to cover two years of the program in early 2017 in a deal struck with then-Mayor Ed Lee following the passage 2016 passage of Proposition W, which raised the transfer tax on properties sold for more than $5 million. The measure brings in some $45 million annually to The City.

But at a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing on Monday, Jennifer Worley, president of City College’s faculty union AFT 2121, said that $5.4 million was not sufficient to cover the program’s actual cost in its first year.

Calling Free City “wildly successful,” Worley said the program drew over 10,000 San Francisco residents in the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters, more than the college’s contract with The City has budgeted for.

“That success has left City College with a $5 million debt,” said Worley, who asked the committee for a “$5 million increase” and to “make the program permanent and to cover summer [semesters] at City College.”

City College spokesperson Jeff Hamilton confirmed that the $4.77 million request “represents the difference between what the city reimbursed us for and what our costs were” for the Fall and Spring semesters combined — an amount that has now fallen on the college’s shoulders.

“The intention was never for the college to cover the costs of tuition,” said Alisa Messer, a City College professor and political director for AFT 2121, who added that the program was “underfunded from the start.”

“[What is] made available in [the memorandum of understanding] doesn’t capture the actual cost of students taking advantage of Free City,” said Messer. “Which basically means the college is supplementing and paying for the students.”

Issues around the college’s contract with the City came to light earlier this year when City College tried to bill the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF), which is charged with distributing the funds, for the first round of its Prop. W allocation.

In February, an invoice for the Fall semester for some $4.1 million was rejected by The City, which requested that the college provide additional enrollment data. After several months of negotiations, a final invoice was approved in April for the amount some $2.7 million to cover the Fall semester.

The memorandum of understanding between The City and the college established Free City as a “last dollar” program, meaning that the college was supposed to exhaust all other funding sources for covering students’ tuition such as federal financial aid before dipping into the city funds.

The MOU states that in “no event shall the amount of funds disbursed …exceed [$11.2 million].”

As previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, the current MOU also does not include funding to cover tuition for the summer semesters at City College.

“We have so many students now that want to take classes,” said CCSF Board of Trustees President Brigitte Davila on Monday. “We are asking for the proper amount to be reimbursed for those classes and also for the summer program.”

According to a spokesperson for DCYF, neither the department nor the Mayor’s Office have received a formal request from City College to renegotiate the dollar amount allocated in the Free City contract.

The committee is expected to vote next week on how to reallocate funding in the budget.

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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