Ten months ago, when Chancellor Pamila Fisher of City College of San Francisco received a package from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, she knew her school was in trouble.
Fisher, who had agreed to serve as CCSF’s interim leader for about six months while the institution searched for a new chancellor after the retirement of Don Griffin, knew nothing about the pending document or the accrediting team’s prior visit.
“I knew the college was facing a huge fiscal crisis, but I hadn’t even heard the word ‘accreditation’ until I received that package in the mail,” Fisher said in October, days before her appointment was set to end. “So we went to work on that immediately.”
The document that arrived at Fisher’s office last May was a scathing review of CCSF’s governance, finances, technology and student outcomes.
The report essentially gave the college 14 ways to reform itself or risk loss of its accreditation. If the institution were to lose its accreditation, it would jeopardize its federal funding, grants and student aid, and the school could be forced to close following a final decision from the commission in June.
To avoid that fate, many administrators, teachers, staff and students banded together to move swiftly on recommendations ranging from layoffs, financial reform and campus closures to tracking student learning outcomes. But the reforms, which must be presented to the commission by Friday, are highly controversial with labor groups and some students.
Thelma Scott-Skillman took over for Fisher in November on an interim basis, and college officials eventually suspended their search for a permanent chancellor until after the accreditation process is completed.
Administrators took on the college structure as one of the largest physical reforms under the re-accreditation process. The goal was to streamline CCSF’s structure, which means that dozens of department chairs are headed back to the classroom. City College now has 61 department chairs, not all of whom will remain in that position.
Instead, many of their duties will be handed over to eight newly created dean positions.
The trustees also voted to close the Gough Street campus and move classes from three instructional sites. More such closures could be on the table.
But work remains to be done, much of which involves college finances. Two accrediting commission recommendations were highly critical of the way the school handles its funds and reports its financial situation.
College administrators say the hang-up is CCSF’s collective bargaining system. Since the largest portion of the school’s $186 million budget is employees’ pay and benefits, its 1,600 instructor contracts must be changed for the school to meet the standards outlined in the accrediting report, the administration says.
Faculty and staff already received an 8.8 percent across-the-board pay cut, and an additional 5 percent cut is expected next fiscal year. Additionally, 34 employees have received layoff notices since the start of the year.
But more tough decisions and major cuts need to be made to meet accreditation requirements, CCSF spokesman Larry Kamer said.
“When you start talking about saving money in the collective bargaining process, you’re talking about people’s wages, the way they work and the amount they work,” Kamer said. “There is no magic formula. It’s a time for sacrifice, and the balancing act is how much sacrifice gets us to our goal.”
A plan to get the college on track financially was introduced Feb. 28. It includes increasing the school’s reserve funds and money spent on maintenance, technology and professional development. It also lays out how the college will use funds from Proposition 30 and Proposition A, education-related tax increases approved by voters in November.
“We’ll be on track for this district to have a $10 million reserve,” said Peter Goldstein, vice chancellor of finance and administration. “We’ve been operating on a thin margin. We did not have the extra money for reserves. We had to take as little as possible out and we’ve had to cut so much.”
Many of the college’s critics, though, say these funds should be used for adding classes and keeping teachers, not just for reserves.
“Prop. A was to enable us not to have to downsize the college,” said Alisa Messer, president of the teachers union American Federation of Teachers Local 2121. “This is a slap in the face of San Franciscans who wanted to maintain the institution and the quality education we offer.”
Messer said the college has already made too many overreaching demands of its employees.
“We’ve taken a number of cuts and stepped up significantly over the last couple of years,” Messer said. “And most recently, without agreement, the administration has imposed significant cuts.”
Some faculty members wary of all the changes have formed a group called the Save CCSF Coalition aimed at reversing cuts and continuing to make City College affordable and accessible.
“Accreditation is being used as a weapon against public education,” said Nancy Kato, a student and coalition member. “They’re trying to shut down what 73 percent of voters who voted for Measure A — who said, ‘We need a college that is diverse.’ If we don’t stand up against this criminal procedure … we’re going down like a sinking ship.”
On Feb. 21, students held an overnight sit-in protest at the administrative building to protest the changes occurring at CCSF. The group of 30 said they weren’t leaving until their demands were met. Hours into the protest, Scott-Skillman agreed to meet with the group several days later.
The demands included reversing layoffs, restoring student services and hosting town hall meetings with students.
But Shanell Williams, Associated Student Council president for the Ocean campus, said the administration was not receptive to those demands.
“We want to figure out solutions that are affordable and don’t affect students,” she said. “But we got a blank stare. They said they can’t reverse the cuts.”
Another protest is planned for Thursday.
Kamer said that while the administration hears the demands, they should have been voiced much
earlier in the process.
“This has been upsetting to many people; I get that,” he said. “But this decision came down eight months ago and there have been all kinds of opportunity for people to participate in the work groups and offer suggestions.”
Despite all of these challenges, administrators and the board of trustees remain optimistic that what they have done thus far will at least give the college more time to complete the changes.
“I’m hopeful,” board President John Rizzo said. “We have made a lot of changes and continuing to make changes, and certainly things are a lot better than they were a year ago at this time.”
The final 250-page document was approved Feb. 28 and will be submitted to the accrediting commission by Friday.
In as close to English as possible, here is a distillation of the commission’s advice to CCSF:
Recommendation 1: Mission statement
Recommendation 2: Effective planning processes
Recommendation 3: Assessing institutional effectiveness
Recommendation 4: Student learning outcomes
Recommendation 5: Student support services
Recommendation 6: Human resources components of evaluation
Recommendation 7: Human resources
Recommendation 8: Physical resources
Recommendation 9: Technology resources
Recommendation 10: Financial planning and stability
Recommendation 11: Financial integrity reporting
Recommendation 12: Leadership, governance and decision-making
Recommendation 13: Governance and Structures
Recommendation 14: Effective board organization
Source: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
A timeline of key dates in CCSF’s efforts to renew its accreditation:
Source: City College of San Francisco
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges oversees schools in the western U.S., including California’s 112 community college districts. Here’s a look at sanctions in the state since January 2012. All colleges are still operating. The last college in the state to close was Compton College in 2005.
PLACED ON WARNING
Lowest level of severity
PLACED ON PROBATION
Greater level of severity
PLACED ON ‘SHOW CAUSE’ STATUS
Greatest severity short of loss of accreditation