Accreditation group president denies edits had intent to close CCSF

The president of the commission trying to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco denied she unfairly edited the college's evaluation report, as she returned to the witness stand Wednesday.

“All my edits are suggestions,” Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges said in Superior Court in the trial for CCSF's existence, with Judge Curtis Karnow presiding.

The testimony came a day after Beno acknowledged making edits to a draft evaluation report and addressed city attorney allegations that the report was unfairly modified.

If the allegations are true, CCSF originally would have narrowly kept its accreditation and would not face potential closure. The City Attorney's Office alleges Beno unfairly tipped the scales towards a decision to terminate CCSF.

Beno and others made about 20 suggestions to modify the college's evaluation report, she said. Not all of those suggestions were followed.

She also countered that in editing CCSF's evaluation report, her focus was on corrections for spelling, capitalization, clarity and consistency — not on closing the college.

In cross-examination, Deputy City Attorney Ronald Flynn asked, “The evaluation team concluded City College met [two accreditation standards], correct?” Beno replied, “Correct.”

But, Flynn asked, subsequent to Beno's suggested edits, “the commission terminated City College and said it did not meet those two standards, correct?”

“That's correct,” Beno said, though she maintained her edits did not influence the 19-member commission's final decision.

The ACCJC's attorneys then introduced a new witness: Sandra Serrano, the chancellor of Kern Community College District. Serrano was the chairwoman of the evaluation team which visited CCSF and wrote the evaluation report.

ACCJC attorney Andrew Sclar took a shot at the City Attorney's allegations, asking Serrano, “Do you consider that you are bound to follow suggestions you receive from a staff reader?”

Beno, who admitted making edits to the draft report Tuesday, was the staff reader.

“That is not my interpretation or practice,” Serrano said.

But the City Attorney's Office quickly turned the argument around, asking Serrano to address the checks and balances in editing college evaluation reports.

Normally when a significant change is made to an evaluation report, the chair (Serrano) must consult the evaluation team for approval.

Deputy City Attorney Matt Goldberg asked Serrano, “Did you consult teammates [about Beno's edits]?”

She replied: “I really don't recall.”

Under deposition last month, Serrano was directed to submit any record of communications between her and the evaluation team.

Goldberg alleged Serrano did not submit any correspondence at the time of Beno's edits, proving she did not consult her team. Instead, he alleged, she made immediate changes to the report which would ultimately condemn CCSF.

During the trial's break Wednesday, Assemblyman Phil Ting held a news conference, announcing he would pursue legislation or budget modifications to cut the ACCJC off from state funding to pay for legal actions.

In April, the ACCJC reportedly sent emails to the 112 California community colleges charging them $1,000 in extra fees each to help pay for the trial to close CCSF, Ting said.

“[The] ACCJC has got a blank check from the state in their litigation,” Ting said.

The ACCJC would not confirm the current cost of the trial.

“These are wealthy Marin law firms,” Ting said, and the trial's cost could potentially hit millions of dollars, all on the dime of the state. He did not identify an alternate funding source for the ACCJC's legal proceedings.

Much of the trial so far has centered around CCSF's money woes, inability to pay retiree benefits, and alleged conflicts of interest of the ACCJC.

But students and faculty at the trial wondered why the ACCJC could close CCSF for allegedly having money trouble. Many times in the trial, CCSF's graduation and transfer rates were shown to exceed those of colleges across the state.

“Education quality should be at the heart of accreditation,” said Harry Bernstein, who teaches music fundamentals at CCSF. “If it's not, I don't know what is.”

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