Strong leadership needed as City College faces multiple crises

Ten candidates vying for four seats on CCSF board

Come 2021, the oversight body for the embattled City College of San Francisco could have as many as four new elected representatives. And CCSF will need strong, dedicated leadership to see it through.

The college was already struggling with an ongoing budget deficit, student and faculty outrage over class cuts and problems with its chancellor even before the coronavirus pandemic forced all classes to move online. The pandemic has exacerbated all of those issues, and now the school faces new worries about accreditation as well.

A total of 10 candidates are vying for four seats on the CCSF Board of Trustees, two of which are held by incumbents Shanell Williams and Tom Temprano, who are up for re-election. Trustees Ivy Lee and Alex Randolph declined to run for re-election.

Like the Board of Education overseeing public schools, the CCSF Board is a volunteer body with limited powers that has struggled to steer the critically needed educational institutions to the full extent needed.

The new Board will be tasked with finding a new chancellor, balancing the budget, reversing a drop in enrollment and building back trust in the school community. But this year’s strong crop of CCSF candidates has many ideas and passion to bring new resolve in a time of crisis.

Williams’ role as the Board’s current president was a fitting development after she helped lead a coalition working to save City College’s accreditation in a five-year battle that ended in 2017. The San Francisco native was elected in 2016 after serving as a student delegate and has worked to secure long-term stability for the Free City College program, which eliminated tuition costs for San Francisco residents.

Board Vice President Tom Temprano, a legislative aide to Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, has also worked to bring the college more revenue and help implement the Free City College program. Both also worked to secure voter approval of an $845 million bond measure earlier this year.

However, the two incumbents have angered some City College community members for supporting the Balboa Reservoir development, which would bring 1,100 housing units — half of which are designated as affordable — on public land adjacent to the main Ocean campus and closing the Fort Mason campus, among other cuts. Faculty union members of American Federation of Teachers 2121 voted to not endorse the incumbents, opting for political newcomers Alan Wong, Anita Martinez, Aliya Chisti and Han Zou.

“We are going to continue to have to make tough, unpopular choices at City College the next four years,” Temprano said. “We need to fight back against the chronic underfunding of education in this state and country.”

Familiar names to the City College race largely stop at the incumbents, though a handful have been directly involved in the college’s operations for years.

Aliya Chisti, a San Francisco native who lives blocks from the main Ocean campus, oversees the Free City program through her work at the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families. The former legislative aide to Supervisor Malia Cohen would be the first Muslim woman to hold public office in San Francisco.

Chisti seeks to include educators and students in decisions and make information on the college more accessible.

“Transparency is important where trust has been eroded over and over and over,” Chisti said. “We all need to agree that CCSF is a community college, that’s my vision for it.”

Martinez also believes in preserving the college as a community college, as opposed to a junior college focused on moving students toward higher degrees. She is a retired former CCSF administrator who also served as president of AFT 2121. Martinez has sought to make the budget process more transparent and pushed for it to become balanced without cutting classes. She also emphasizes the importance of English as a Second Language classes, both as a community benefit and as an “on-ramp” for future CCSF students.

Candidates Victor Oliveri and Jeannette Quick are laser-focused on ways to balance the district’s budget while stopping class cuts and layoffs. Olivieri, a U.S. Army vet and professor who has served on various local Democratic club boards, also wants to create a center for restorative justice and look at ways to use the college’s land holdings for student and faculty housing. Quick, a financial services lawyer, wants to develop a jobs pipeline for students to work in tech companies.

Candidate Geramye Teeter, a community organizer and Bayview resident with a master’s degree in environmental management, lists appointing a long-lasting chancellor and addressing chronic deficit spending as his priorities, and Marie Hurabiell, a Georgetown University regent and vice-chair of the Presidio Trust Board, says she would come to the Board with a needed independent voice.

Despite a boost from Free CCSF, enrollment has never fully recovered from an accreditation scare that began in 2012, and the decline has cut into its funding. Alarmingly, the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges in September put CCSF on “enhanced monitoring” again due to budget concerns and high turnover in its leadership.

Wong, a legislative aide to Supervisor Gordon Mar, is focused on leveraging the college for workforce development as a means of recovery while addressing structural financial issues. The San Francisco native was one of the first to throw his hat into the ring after working to open a satellite City College campus in the Sunset District with Mar. He also wants to expand dual enrollment for high school students.

“City College won’t be able to cut its way out of the situation,” Wong said. “I’ve been doing the work to increase enrollment…and have a strong history at City.”

Zou has focused on education matters for Supervisor Matt Haney’s office and worked to reopen the still-shuttered Eddy Street campus in the Tenderloin. He’s wary of the college further pursuing private partnerships.

As with the Board of Education commissioners, City College trustees often go on to higher office, and political ambitions can be a point of frustration for community members. Student organizers called out Williams, Temprano, Zhou, and Wong for skipping out on a student-run election forum.

“They’re just focused on their own campaign and connections rather than talking to the stakeholders like the others are,” said student organizer Eira Klein, who has been working for Anita Martinez’s campaign. “It’s perpetuating the issue of it being used as a political stepping stone and letting the college be downsized and corporatized.”

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