Students and faculty demanded Friday that college and city leaders find alternatives to reducing the cash strapped City College of San Francisco’s class offerings.
The community college passed a $185 million operating budget in August which includes an $11 million deficit, down from a $25 million deficit the year before, and stands dip to below its recommended budget reserves next year. It proposes cutting the number of class offering by one-third starting next semester.
“Next year… there is no trampoline money. No reserve or safety money,” said City College Chancellor Mark Rocha, at a first joint committee hearing featuring city supervisors, city college and San Francisco Unified School District leaders convened to discuss the college’s plans to cut some 500 classes by 2025 starting next year in an effort to get back into the green. “We are $10 million over budget and I have about 40 days to get this to zero.”
Rocha is expected to present a balanced budget to City College’s Board of Trustees for adoption next month.
“It is true that we are cutting class sections to be more efficient,” said Rocha. “We are cutting empty seats. It is also true that every single individual in the college is going to make a sacrifice to get us on goal.”
To save money, and to meet new state funding requirements that have shifted weight away from enrollment numbers toward graduation rates, college leaders said they are now focusing on expanding courses required for students to transfer to four-year universities, and have described the proposed reduction in class sections as a reconfiguration of college’s offerings in the name of efficiency, and to provide higher salaries for teachers.
But students, faculty and many City College community members said they are not ready to make that sacrifice, and on Friday testified to the negative impacts that proposed cuts — which largely target historically under enrolled lifelong learning, general education and diversity courses — would have on their lives.
“I’m taking classes in real estate, dance, exercise, music, film and piano. I fear that this budget that you are putting forth is taking the community right out of the San Francisco community college system,” said Gary Barringer, a retired city worker. “Education is exploration. Education is opportunity. Education is for growth.”
Many said that smaller departments that close equity gaps such as music, theater and ethnic studies, would be eliminated and result in large classrooms that are not conducive for learning.
“There is a reason why City College doesn’t have 100-person lecture rooms. It’s an equalizing space for students who fall through the cracks,” said City College student and member of the it’s student assembly, Marcus Cruz Carpio. “Some need second and third chances to get through college. We have to make sure these are quality chances.”
He added that cuts disproportionately affect smaller departments like American Sign Language, has lost three of eight sections offered going into the fall.
“That is an almost 40 perent decrease in sections,” he said. “Philipine studies is a small department that has two clasess, and it lost one of its classes. That’s a 50 percent cut. We have a huge Filipino population in San Francisco, why are we gutting this [department]?”
Policy allows City College administrators to cancel classes that fail to enroll at least 20 students. Cruz Carpio said that some classes, including in the English Second Language department, met that goal and were still cut.
A new, three-year contract negotiated last year with City College’s teachers union, AFT 2121, will raise salaries by $9 million, said Rocha, adding that 64 new full-time faculty were appointed last fall what he described as the college’s largest hiring spree in 15 years. Chronic underfunding by the state and changes to community college’s funding formula have contributed to CIty College’s budget woes, he said.
In an effort to close it’s achievement gap by 2015, the City College is adding requirements of college-level English, Math and adding tutoring support, and Rocha indicated that there are plans to expand its career job training programs.
Funds are also needed to renovate and reopen two campuses, one in the Tenderloin and one in the Bayview.
Rocha said that the college has made other attempts to mitigate it’s financial deficits — some 200 full-time and part-time faculty as well as several administrators have taken offers to retire early in exchange for an annuity in addition to their pensions.
He maintained that the college this year offered 12 percent more seats than it had students enrolled last year.
In more than two hours of public testimony, opponents of the class reductions called on The City to increase its financial support to the college, by increasing funding allocated to the college through the voter-approved Proposition W and by finding other ways to tap into the city’s wealth.
Prop W., passed in 2016, made City College free for all San Francisco residents by raising the transfer tax on properties sold for more than $5 million. According to the City Controller’s Office, Prop. W raised $30.3 million in the 2017 fiscal year, but only about $11.2 million was set aside to cover two years of the Free City program.
“Our job in San Francisco, especially right now considering we are in the richest times in the history of this city is to find ways to fund the values and priorities we all agree on,” said Chirag Bhakta, community engagement coordinator with the Mission Housing Development Corporation. “We have the wealthiest industries on the planet coming into our city every day, we have IPOs that will create multimillionaires overnight, quite literally living adjacent to people who may not have access to future ESL classes.”
“That’s an absurd reality that we don’t have to choose,” he said.
Supervisor Matt Haney, who chairs the joint committee and called for Friday’s hearing, agreed.
“We should look at local funding, how City Hall can do more. Prop W. was passed, and it’s funding part of Free City, but it’s not enough. A lot of people voted for it thinking a large majority would go to City College, and that not happening right now,” said Haney. “There is a ton of money in this city. If we don’t already have it in our budget we need to go out and access it and use it for institutions like City College.”