Ailing Coffers a Root Symptom of City College’s At-Risk Accreditation

 

JohnTaylor Wildfeuer

jt.wildfeuer@gmail.com

 

The Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has placed City College on “Enhanced Monitoring” after routine audits found a 98% drop in cash reserves, high administrative turnover, and deficits averaging $13.3 million over three years.

 

Under the heavy pall of deficit spending, a spring semester that saw some 300 classes cut a day before Spring registration, and the COVID-19 pandemic, student enrollment is down this semester when compared with Fall 2019 according to the Fall 2020 Census Enrollment Report. This may prove a loss the college cannot afford.

Illustration by Burcu Ozdemir/The Guardsman. Instagram: @Ozdemrbrcu.

When California transitioned to using a new formula for determining community college funding, City College was faced with the inevitability that it would lose a significant amount of state funding. 

 

“Under the old funding formula, 100% of it was based on headcount enrollment,” recounts Alan Wong, a City Hall Education Policy Advisor and candidate in the upcoming Board of Trustees election, “now it’s 70% based on enrollment, 20% based on low-income students, and 10%, based on graduations and transfers. We’ve been receiving a lot of grace periods. But it will come into effect and exacerbate the fiscal situation.”

 

City College is one of just two entities granted a Hold Harmless extension by the state of California, giving them a grace period to adapt to the formula. This was expected to end this year but has been extended, and more widely applied, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “At the rate, we’re going, once that ‘hold harmless’ ends, God knows what that drop in revenue will be for the school,” says Han Zou, another candidate for the Board, and City College alumnus.

 

Doctor Victor Olivieri, a veteran, and public servant also seeking a seat on the Board of Trustees recalls that “City College financial planning was due to run out in 2017 / 2018. Instead of weaning themselves off that stabilization funding, which amassed about $53 million, they continued to operate at the same level, [and gave] the faculty a massive raise.”

 

Marie Hurabiell who is also running for a Board seat and has more than twenty-two years of academic Board experience says reading the budget was physically painful to her. “A 10% administrative raise when there’s a 26% operating loss,” Hurabiel states, “No responsible human being would ever think that’s okay.”

 

To her point, despite salaries and benefits making up 92.3% of total expenditures in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, former Chancellor Mark Rocha promoted an administrative pay increase with misleading costs. Three months later he resigned, accepting a $340,000 contract buyout and citing a “confidential personal matter”.

 

Geramye Teeter, another Board candidate, and community organizer, says it gives him “goosebumps to think about”.

 

“There’s no punishment, [he] didn’t work with the board and [he] didn’t prioritize students. We shouldn’t be rewarding you for that, we should be showing you the door.”

 

To that point, Wong remarks, “it really reduces confidence in our city and City College when they see that an administrator leaves and takes a large severance package.”

 

Mark Rocha is not the only high-level City College official to resign as the ACCJC cites high turnover as part of its reasoning for the College’s current classification. 

 

Trudy Walton, Daman Grewal, and Luther Aaberge (Vice-Chancellor of Student Services, Vice-Chancellor of Information Technology, and Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Administration respectively) resigned last fiscal year.

 

City College has also had five Chancellors in the last six years.

 

More than half of the candidates interviewed spoke of the need to appoint a financial overseer, perhaps in the form of a Chief Financial Officer, a key position in many other community colleges in the state.

 

As of last July, Chancellor Vurdien has begun the process of hiring both a Chief Fiscal Officer as well as a Chief Student Services Officer.

 

Despite his assurance that City College’s $53 Million drop in cash revenues was “a trend” and that it “wasn’t spent on anything extraordinary,” Interim Chancellor Vurdien says he has asked himself “Why would anyone spend $53 million dollars?”

 

City College has until Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, to respond to the ACCJC findings with “plans undertaken to address the fiscal factors listed”. Institutions that fail to address the issues raised by the Commission “may receive an adverse action” according to a letter sent to and published by Chancellor Vurdien on September 23, 2020.

 

“Believe me,” assures Chancellor Vurdien, “there is nothing serious in this. This is not a big deal.” That said, the Chancellor also acknowledges that the audit report is indicative of ACCJC’s concern that, “the College doesn’t have money, and we don’t even know whether this institution can continue”.

 

The future of funding and the body of the Board is ultimately decided by students and votes. As the City College balances its budget, ultimately it is citizens and students who hold the scales. 

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