Deal reached to fund Free City College, withdraw ballot measure

City to provide $15 million annually for 10 years toward tuition subsidy program for SF residents

City leaders on Thursday announced a plan to allocate $15 million annually toward fully funding City College of San Francisco’s Free City program, which offers free tuition to San Francisco residents, for 10 years.

With its two-year pilot set to expire on June 30, the popular program’s future has been uncertain. Late last year, the Board of Supervisors voted 7-1 to place a charter amendment introduced by former Supervisor Jane Kim on the November ballot that would have required The City to spend $15 million a year on the program through an ongoing budget set-aside.

Supervisor Gordon Mar, who along with Mayor London Breed negotiated the new agreement, has now moved to withdraw the proposed charter amendment, a motion that will be voted on at a future Board of supervisors hearing.

The new plan will require The City to provide $8.4 million in new funding to Free City next year in addition to the $6.6 million already budgeted for the program. The City will also provide a one-time payment of $5.4 million to offset “costs incurred” by City College “as a result of enrollment exceeding the original Free City College projections,” according to a statement released by Breed’s office on Thursday.

Some $11.2 million was set aside to cover two years of the program in early 2017 in a deal struck with the late Mayor Ed Lee following the 2016 passage of Proposition W, which raised the transfer tax on properties sold for more than $5 million.

The Examiner has previously reported that City College incurred a $4.77 million debt in the first year of implementing Free City, which at the time drew more San Francisco residents than the college’s contract with The City had budgeted for. City and college officials have also struggled in the past to reach agreement on the amount of reimbursement for the program.

“With this agreement we will bring greater transparency and financial responsibility to the program while ensuring that our residents will be able to continue to take courses at City College for free,” said Breed in the statement.

The agreement calls for city and college leaders to continue working on a new 10-year contract that will “incorporate terms of the proposed charter amendment and require City College to leverage state funding and financial aid.”

The college will also be required to implement agreed-upon reporting and accountability metrics, and to report back to the City to avoid future budget shortfalls.

The agreement avoids placing two City College-focused measures on November’s ballot — the college is also expected to ask voters to approve an up to$800 million facilities bond.

City College Trustee Ivy Lee said that the proposed charter amendment was “supposed to provide stability for the program so that everyone would be able to know that Free City is here to stay.” She added that “this agreement achieved that goal and it does more.”

“It also makes up for the shortfall and opens the door for additional discussion with the mayor’s office on how to expand the program so that potentially in the future workers can also be included,” said Lee. “Right now, if you are a teacher at the San Francisco Unified School District or City College or staff at either institutions, you can’t acess it unless you are a resident.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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