While President Joe Biden this week pitched a plan to offer federal funding for community colleges, that promise is still a long way from being fulfilled.
City College of San Francisco, meanwhile, is looking for much more immediate financial help from The City to stave off massive layoffs.
The college last week laid out a request for $15 million, which would support nearly 800 classes starting in the fall, the Examiner has learned. Nearly 200 staff face layoffs to balance a $33 million budget shortfall for the upcoming academic year, which would significantly impact class offerings, and the prospect of a state takeover looms if the college cannot balance its books.
The calls for city officials to prevent cuts to CCSF come even as the prospect of federal assistance appears on the horizon. This week, Biden proposed legislation that, among other investments in education, would make community college free and boost Pell Grants for students.
CCSF is still analyzing what the impacts of that legislation would be, but it wouldn’t become a reality for a long time, said Board of Trustees President Shanell Williams.
“It’s great to hear the intention from the federal government,” Williams said. “We need things we can take to the bank now. When you can’t pay your bills, the state takes over and we’re very close to that.”
San Francisco has a Free City College program, first approved by supervisors in 2017 to recoup enrollment lost during a previous accreditation crisis, but more federal resources would help its financial stability, officials said.
In early April, state auditors sent a letter to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office warning that CCSF needed to act quickly on its budget if it wanted to remain independent. Auditors called the school’s financial state “not currently sustainable” because it had not significantly reduced costs as enrollment declined 35 percent over the past eight years, instead tapping into reserves.
Williams, a student activist during the five-year accreditation crisis that ended in 2017, said there were longstanding structural management problems that officials are finally scrutinizing as they face further enrollment impacts from the pandemic.
“We have been working really hard to ensure that our college is sound fiscally,” said Trustee Alan Wong. “The [city] money would be used to help invest in City College for the future in terms of making sure that we have the courses to attract future enrollment. Education has been underfunded in California and across the state.”
CCSF has accepted more than $25 million in state and federal COVID-19 emergency funds in the past year and will receive about $28 million from the federal stimulus passed earlier this year. Funds have been used for technology, protective equipment, direct student aid, and other costs associated with the pandemic.
Supervisor Gordon Mar’s office has asked for legislation to be drafted to provide supplemental funding, but details are still being worked out. Li Mao Lovett, an aide to Mar, meanwhile praised CCSF’s detailed plan to boost offerings through a workforce education recovery fund supervisors passed last fall.
The fund, known as WERF, requires half of the money allocated to be for workforce-related training, a quarter for social justice and enrichment classes, and a quarter for student services like registration support. Programs prioritized by CCSF include nursing, architecture and construction management, health education, child development, and business.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen said earlier this week that she would work to obtain city funds to save the CCSF nursing program during a news conference with the faculty union, the American Federation of Teachers 2121.
But support from other supervisors is uncertain. Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton — who has often supported additional city funds for CCSF — said he could not offer more finances without assurances that $30 million from 2020 Proposition A will go to building a new community facility at 1550 Evans St., as promised.
CCSF, Walton said, is claiming that they cannot legally sign a long-term lease and must have the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission transfer the property to the college in order to use the bonds.
“I’m not going to support them getting millions of dollars from the city and county of San Francisco if they’re going to rip off the southeast sector,” Walton told the Examiner. “We all fought for this bond, there were promises that were made. It’s like they’re trying to extort The City for the property.”
Williams said they have been advised they legally cannot use the bond money on the facility without assurances CCSF would be a permanent tenant. That could either happen with the land transfer or with a long-term lease, she said.
CCSF is committed to building the facility and hopes to resolve the issue, Williams added. Without an agreement, gaining enough support from supervisors — led by Walton — to approve the supplemental funding will be a bumpy ride.
“We are kind of stalled,” Lovett said. “We’re waiting for these important policy discussions to happen.”
AFT2121 was not involved in crafting the request, but President Mailaika Finkelstein said the classes proposed for funding were similar to what the union identified. Where they differ is the cost; Finkelstein said $30 million is needed this year and $40 million annually.
“We need something to pass, whether it’s this or something else,” Finkelstein said. “The conversation nationally is about expanding access to education. It would be beyond awful if San Francisco was pulling the opposite direction.”
The Board of Trustees will vote on changes to staffing and classes in May.