City College classes for English learners jeopardized by cutbacks

English learners and their supporters called for financial support from The City for City College of San Francisco on Thursday...

English learners and their supporters called for financial support from The City for City College of San Francisco on Thursday to stave off class cuts.

The college last month issued layoff warnings to 160 faculty and has said class cuts will be determined next month.

The list of potential layoffs include 11 full-time equivalent faculty teaching English as a Second Language, which would bring the program down from 70 to 59 full-time faculty, and from 39 part-time faculty members to none, said CCSF spokesperson Rosalinda Zepeda.

More than 400 ESL students, faculty and community supporters including Supervisor Gordon Mar on Thursday urged against upcoming cuts. ESL Department Chair Greg Keech acknowledged that CCSF has structural budget problems, but argued that a long-term plan is needed to boost course offerings and enrollment.

“What we have now is a budget cut, that’s not a plan,” said Keech. “The City has money. How can we use that money right now to get through the emergency and then how can we work together to not have a plan to cut but have a plan to grow?”

The layoff notices are part of an effort to address a $33 million budget shortfall for the upcoming academic year. The call to prevent cuts comes after California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team determined last week that CCSF must act quickly to become financially solvent “if it wants to continue operating independently,” the San Francisco Chronicle first reported.

Mar said he is in ongoing discussions with City College leaders, faculty, students and other supervisors about The City providing financial support to the college, as it has in the past. But he noted solutions to CCSF’s chronic underfunding “are really needed on a state level.

“Further cuts to ESL classes and other City College programs will really close a door to opportunity for limited English speakers at a time when they need it most,” Mar said. “We do have a responsibility to also now step up to ensure that City College classes, including ESL and other essential programs, are maintained.”

Supporters emphasized the importance of a robust ESL program to allow The City’s immigrant population to improve their English and gain vocational training in areas such as hospitality, in order land better-paying jobs. ESL students have had a tougher time enrolling and logging onto classes held on various platforms with remote assistance during the pandemic.

“Without ESL to guide us, our ability will be greatly reduced once we step into an English-speaking society,” said Daphne Devine, an ESL student. “We need a complete ESL program that serves all of our levels and needs.”

CCSF supporters warned that the layoff warnings were just part of the picture, with part-time faculty in danger of losing work and reducing course offerings. It’s not yet clear how many part-time faculty will be cut, as it depends on the final number of full-time faculty laid off. CCSF has 575 part-time faculty, Zepeda said.

“We are hopeful that, through ongoing discussions with AFT and our other labor partners, that we would be able to mitigate the extent of these layoffs,” Zepeda said. “Even if we were to implement the full extent of the layoffs, we would not be reducing 53% of ESL classes — our year-over-year reduction in classes would be about 27%.”

The extent of the cuts will be better known when class schedules are released in May, said Zepeda. Negotiations with the American Federation of Teachers 2121 are ongoing to attempt to lower the number of layoffs.

“CCSF must be here in order to meet the needs of San Franciscans,” said Mary Bravewoman, AFT vice president. “There are no classes without faculty. Part of our struggle at City College is chronic underfunding.”

The Board of Trustees will vote on the final number of layoffs on May 10.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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