CCSF Approves Plan to Avoid Layoffs — SF Mulls Permanent Fund for Threatened Classes

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A person in an orange sweatshirt holds wearing a mask holds up a cardboard sign that says "Save City College" on a sunny day.
Demonstrator Akeylah Hernandez holds a sign that says, 'Save City College,' during a rally outside Mission High School in San Francisco on May 6, 2021, to demand trustees cancel planned layoffs to CCSF faculty.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

City College of San Francisco has averted 163 layoffs and hundreds more potential job losses — for now.

In a special meeting Monday, CCSF's board of trustees voted to approve a contract with its teachers for the 2021-2022 school year that would cut faculty pay across the board.

The trustees said they were thankful for teachers' sacrifice, which will see their pay slashed by as much as 11%. However, the alternative would mean broad cuts to vital classes, administrators had argued, from car mechanic training to English as second language classes used by thousands of new immigrants annually.

State funding would likely not rescue the college, board of trustees President Shanell Williams said at the meeting. Instead, state leaders want to see the college change who it focuses on.

"I just want to be very candid, we heard very clearly from our federal leaders, our state leaders, that they want to see that structural change at our college," she said. "They were not really receptive to providing funding in that way."

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The contract's approval also means fewer changes to class schedules and programs, preserving courses the community rallied for last week to see preserved.

Students were particularly fearful to lose Cantonese-language courses, vital to train the local workforce to communicate with monolingual Chinese communities at a time of rising racist violence and COVID-19 concerns.

CCSF Teachers Threatened With Layoffs

Student Lauren Chinn told the trustees that taking Cantonese at City College helped her get Cantonese speakers counted in the census.

"Taking Cantonese at City College has been a way for me to reconnect with my roots," she said.

Faculty pay cuts were approved by teachers themselves in a vote earlier Monday afternoon by CCSF members of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121. Out of 732 faculty who voted, 603 said yes to the pay cuts.

Layoff notices were sent to 163 faculty by college administrators in March as the school faced a $33 million budget shortfall amid historic declining enrollment. Failing to meet its financial needs may lead to a state takeover of the school, the trustees have warned.

The class cuts at CCSF are forcing a fork-in-the-road moment, the union and San Francisco leaders say: Should the college focus its dwindling dollars on younger two-year transfer students who are bound to universities? Or maintain its historic broader mission of serving older and returning students, workforce training and English as second language courses aimed at newcomer immigrants?

In some ways, the college's hand has been guided to the former choice by the state under a funding scheme called the "Student Centered Funding Formula" first implemented in 2019 that prioritizes funding not only by enrollment, as was the case previously, but also calculations including "student success" as measured by certificates, associate degrees or students transferring to four-year colleges and universities.

CCSF was given a reprieve from mandates to meet that formula until 2023 — but the college is now tasked with streamlining classes to ready itself for that date.

While the vote Monday saved jobs, for now, the state funding formula is a structural issue the college still needs to solve, trustee Alan Wong told the public.

"This is a one-year deal. And City College will continue to have a structural budget deficit and funding gap," Wong said. "Immediately after approving this tentative agreement, we must turn our attention to long-term funding."

While state leaders aren't receptive to funding the vision some locally have for CCSF, San Francisco elected officials are working behind the scenes to find new funding to pay for classes that California government won't foot the bill for.

SF Supes Support Stepping in for CCSF

San Francisco Supervisors Gordon Mar and Hillary Ronen view the binary of serving younger students and the broader workforce as a false choice. They're seeking city funding to pay for classes they think buttress the city's economy and its culture.

Mar said the funding will likely come from his previous legislation, the Workforce Education and Recovery Fund.

"I'm hopeful my colleagues and Mayor [London] Breed will support a significant expansion of WERF as an investment in City College and economic opportunity for residents and communities impacted by the pandemic," Mar told KQED in a statement. "I continue to discuss the best way to accomplish this with City College leadership and other City officials and hope to bring a proposal forward in the coming weeks."

The mayor's office said they are in conversations with the college's administration to "better understand the long-term health and needs" of City College.

Ronen framed her support for City College as sorely needed for San Francisco's economic recovery from the pandemic.

"As the city prepares for a long road to recovery ahead, our city government, our local businesses, and our residents alike will rely on City College's workforce training and professional development programs more than ever before," she said in a statement. "It is in the City's own best interest to preserve these programs in order to fill our most urgent workforce needs and provide thousands of marginally employed San Franciscans with reliable pathways to job opportunities and financial stability."

There seems to be broad support at the Board of Supervisors to aid City College. Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston, Connie Chan and Matt Haney all told KQED they support funding CCSF to maintain classes to some degree, though all mentioned a need to suss out either particular funding sources, or to what degree they'd fund CCSF classes.

"We need to get down to brass tacks. What do we need City College to do that the state doesn't? And how much do we need to pay for that?" Mandelman said.

Mandelman said that unlike the state, San Francisco believes City College should be a place for older and returning students, and that maintaining a large number of campuses across San Francisco's many diverse neighborhoods (another frequent target of state officials' desire to slash CCSF resources) may also be a need.

But, Mandelman said, "Somebody's gotta pay for it," and the city needs to "expect more from City College" in terms of managing its resources better.

Haney said it's possible future tax windfalls could help pay for City College classes San Francisco wants to maintain. A property transfer tax earmarked for City College may need to be better put to use to maintain classes as well, he said. "City College has not received most of that money," Haney said. "It just goes into the city general fund."

And Peskin said he feels the state needs to change its tune on its priorities for City College.

Students Worry for Cantonese Classes

"I'm willing to spend some city money, but the state needs to step up to the plate, too," he said, specifically calling for San Francisco Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu, as well as state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, to continue advocacy on behalf of City College.

One supervisor who has a conditional stance on City College is Supervisor Shamann Walton, who wants assurances that a new campus will be built in the southeast side of the city before he'll commit any funds to CCSF.

"I'm not going to support them getting millions of dollars from the city and county of San Francisco if they're going to rip off the southeast sector," Walton told The San Francisco Examiner a week ago. Walton told KQED his comments stand.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar joined Walton in that feeling. She told KQED, of a CCSF funding effort, "I would vote for it if there is a solid plan" for accountability, and also "for promises kept to the Bayview for investments in that campus from the bond approved last year."

That hiccup aside, the number of city leaders indicating support for CCSF may mean San Francisco will put its money where its mouth is and fund the classes its city leaders have said for years its residents need.

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KQED's Erika Kelly contributed to this story.