Chancellor Mark Rocha speaks at a special meeting of the City College of San Francisco Board of trustees to discuss the district’s budget crisis on Feb. 1, 2020. (MaryJane Johnson/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

City College looks to real estate holdings to balance budget

In the midst of a growing budget crisis, City College of San Francisco leaders on Saturday discussed leveraging real estate to stabilize the budget without cutting additional classes.

At a CCSF Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday, administrators and trustees reviewed plans to decrease a projected deficit of $11 million in the 2019-2020 budget. An independent audit of the college, presented to the board Jan. 23, found that reserve funds have dipped below 5%, violating state accreditation requirements.

City College administrators abruptly cut 345 spring semester classes in November, right before registration was set to begin, in response to a projected budget deficit. Despite the results of the new audit, however, board members emphasized that they would prefer to avoid cutting more classes.

“It’s important for folks to recognize how completely dire and severe our fiscal situation is,” said Tom Temprano, board vice president. “It is completely unacceptable that we do not have 5% liquid reserves, period. Even though we all need to get there, and we have ways we think we are going to get there, you [administration] are not trying to cut us 5% out of the schedule.”

Instead of cutting classes, Chancellor Mark Rocha said the administration is proposing to leveraging underutilized real estate to reach a goal of 5-9% reserves within 3 years. He did not provide details of what that would look like, but said specific proposals would be outlined at the next regular board meeting.

“It is theoretically and financially possible to leverage the real estate so that bucket fills up quickly,” he said. “Whether the board decides to exercise those options is up to the board to decide once it sees those options.”

Several trustees said they would not approve a budget with less than 5% liquid reserves for fear of not aligning with state standards and accreditation requirements. CCSF faced a similar budget crisis in 2012 when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges threatened to remove the school’s accreditation.

Board President Alex Randolph noted that Peralta Community Colleges in the East Bay has been placed on probation by accreditation officials for not meeting financial standards.

“We are not necessarily fulfilling a certain agenda, the agenda that I’m fulfilling is to protect the college and prevent another state takeover,” Randolph said.

Students and advocates have lobbied against the recent class cuts, and the Board of Supervisors this week approved a $2.7 million budget supplemental intended to help restore them. However, Rocha has previously said in a letter that the situation is not an emergency and that he would reject the funding and some city officials have expressed opposition to the plan as well.

Jess Nguyen, a student and co-founder of the CCSF Collective, said she was surprised to hear the state of the budget crisis given the chancellor’s remarks. Nguyen was part of the metal arts program, which was heavily impacted by the spring class cuts.

“It feels convenient because they [trustees and administrators] are willing to downsize the college but they aren’t willing to show up to ask for money from the city to protect these classes,” Nguyen said. “But students are mobilizing, we are begging because our livelihoods have been affected.”

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