fixes for City College
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Candidates running for the City College of San Francisco board agree on the school's value to the community, but they have varying ideas on how to fix the community college's problems as it faces the possibility of closing.
"City College is critical to the educational and career dreams of our students," said candidate Rodrigo Santos. In August, Mayor Ed Lee appointed Santos to the board to serve out the remaining few months of Trustee Milton Marks III's term, after Marks died due to a brain tumor.
"Today, due to fiscal irresponsibility and lack of real planning, City College is fighting for its life," Santos, 54, said in response to a Bay Area Reporter questionnaire. "It is clear that City College needs leadership change across the board and, as trustee, I will create a new, more prosperous future for CCSF."
The community college, which has nine campuses and 86,000 students, may lose its accreditation due to problems that were addressed in a critical report issued in June by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
The commission outlined a series of shortcomings, including an inadequate funding base, lack of a planning process, a failure to react to ongoing reduced funding, and inadequate administrative leadership.
Don Griffin, the college's last chancellor, stepped down due to health issues; interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher, who was hired in May, is expected to leave this month, shortly after an October 15 deadline for the college to submit a special report to ACCJC. Last week the board selected Thelma Scott-Skillman as the college's next interim chancellor; she begins work November 1.
The appointment of Santos, a structural engineer who currently sits on the city's Workforce Investment Board, puts him in the top tier of candidates. Three incumbents are also running, as is gay attorney Rafael Mandelman. There are four seats up in November; the board has seven members.
If Mandelman, 38, wins a spot in the November 6 election, the panel will have two out gay members. Another gay man, Lawrence Wong, currently serves on the board. His seat is up in 2014.
Mandelman is a past president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and already serves on the college district board's Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee, to which he was appointed earlier this year.
In his questionnaire, Mandelman said, "The simple reality is that if we want City College to continue to do the excellent work it has historically done, we need to find additional sources of revenue to support it."
Mandelman recently told the B.A.R. in an interview that the school's vast network of alumni should be tapped as donors. He also talked about lobbying the business community to support City College, given the campus's role as a workforce trainer.
In her questionnaire, incumbent Natalie Berg, who's 74 and has served three terms as the board's president, responded to a question about her awareness of problems before the ACCJC report was released and what she'd done to address them by saying, "Because of communication issues with the past administration, the board members were not apprised of the problems; therefore, they could not be addressed."
In a follow-up interview, Berg said she was referring to former chancellor Griffin, who "did not inform of us anything."
"As soon as he left, we found out what was going on, but we did not know while he was there. ... If we asked him questions, he didn't respond to them."
Berg said she's worked to deal with the issues facing the school.
"I was a voice of one voting 'No' on everything my esteemed colleagues were voting 'Yes' on," including increased pay for teachers, Berg said.
"I know we feel bad about not giving raises to people, but we can't do it," she said.
Chris Jackson, 29, is another incumbent running to remain on the board. Among other accomplishments, Jackson helped create the college's Bridges to Success initiative with the San Francisco Unified School District and the city.
"This partnership allows us to provide targeted outreach to SFUSD students and ensure that they have early registration for classes and financial aid," Jackson said in his questionnaire responses.
As far as addressing the school's problems, Jackson said, among other steps, "I have supported efforts to cap our vacation time payouts and have worked hard to restructure our administration and consulting contracts, which has saved City College over $5 million annually."
A newcomer to city politics, Amy Bacharach, 36, said in her questionnaire that she went from a high school drop-out to obtaining her Ph.D. degree. She works as a researcher and evaluator for California's Administrative Office of the Courts and has experience working with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges – the body that oversees the ACCJC.
In her questionnaire, Bacharach said people associated with City College "need to assess our budget in an in-depth and thoughtful way, making difficult decisions based on analysis of data and facts while leaving emotions aside. In addition to analyzing and balancing the budget, I will implement data collection practices, working with the academic senate to determine and define outcome measures."
Incumbent Steve Ngo, 36, said in his questionnaire responses that the "major challenges" facing the school are "addressing entrenched internal governance structures" and "spending our money better." That's whether the school addresses the $180 million-plus retiree health obligation, smarter enrollment management, or other ideas, he said.
All of the candidates who responded to the B.A.R. 's questionnaire support Proposition A, the City College parcel tax that is on the November ballot. Prop A would authorize a $79 tax on each parcel of residential and commercial property in San Francisco for eight years. It anticipates raising an additional $15 million annually for City College of San Francisco. According to the city's Department of Elections Ballot Simplification Committee, among other things, the funds would be used by City College to maintain core academic courses, including English, math and science.
The B.A.R. is endorsing Prop A, as well as candidates Bacharach, Mandelman, and Santos.
Candidates Nate Cruz, Hanna Leung, George Vazhappally, and William Walker didn't provide completed questionnaires. Walker is openly gay and currently serves as the student trustee, elected by the student body.