By Tyler Breisacher
City College is facing an estimated $13 million budget deficit according to administrators, leading to several cost-cutting measures including the removal of over 200 classes for the upcoming Spring semester.
Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Tom Boegel raised the alarm at the Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 14, telling the trustees that the college had already made some cuts and that further cuts would be needed to balance the budget for the 2019-2020 school year.
Trustee Ivy Lee asked Boegel and Senior Vice Chancellor Dianna Gonzales to present information at the next budget committee meeting about controls that could be put in place so that future overspending would be prevented before the deficit grew large enough to require urgent class cuts.
In an email, Trustee John Rizzo agreed that better controls are needed. “We need a Budget Analyst in order to do a better job at predicting budgets, and a Controller to make sure that the College stays on budget,” he wrote.
The Art Department was among those that were hit particularly hard, with 43 sections being eliminated, according to a list of canceled classes sent to deans and department chairs on Nov. 19.
The full list showing which classes were cut was not sent to students, but students can identify some cancelled classes because they show up as “FULL: 0 of 0 seats remain” on the Web4 schedule. Other canceled classes have simply been removed from the schedule entirely.
The college’s faculty union, AFT 2121, released a statement saying the shortfall should not come as a huge surprise, given that the administration under-budgeted for part-time faculty by about $12 million.
“[P]resenting the shortfall as unexpected is a classic ‘shock doctrine’ tactic designed to create panic and complicity with a specific agenda,” the statement reads. The statement went on to describe that agenda of cutting classes, “sidestepping the department chairs and the shared governance process.”
When asked about the AFT 2121 statement, City College spokesperson Rachel Howard said, “The decision to reduce the number of sections was made quickly to avoid needless confusion by allowing students to register for Spring classes that would only be eliminated later.”
Regarding the budget deficit, Howard said cuts were necessary because “projected savings for the 2019/2020 budget were not realized,” and referred to one of the slides presented at the Board of Trustees meeting, which detailed reasons the college overspent. The largest amount of overspending was due to schedule reductions which were not implemented, and the reduction in part-time faculty being mostly on the low end of the pay scale, according to the slide.
New State Funding Formula
Prior to 2018, the state of California based community college funding on the number of students enrolled at a college. Under the new formula, called the Student-Centered Funding Formula, colleges are awarded more funding based on the number of students who receive a degree or certificate or transfer to a four-year university. The formula also gives colleges more funding if they enroll a greater number of students who receive certain grants, such as Pell Grants. This shift is intended to encourage community colleges to serve low-income students.
City College is currently funded under “hold harmless” status, meaning that the new formula is not being applied yet. However, that status is temporary. Worley said the shift reflects a change in the way California thinks about its community colleges.
“The people of this city want us to have a very broad curriculum, and to have a true community-college-based curriculum. But our state is really pushing us toward funding only what’s called a junior college,” she said.
She noted that many students take classes without intending to graduate or transfer. “Perhaps they’re taking it in order to brush up their job skills,” Worley said, “perhaps they’re taking a non-credit class, like English as a second language… All of those types of situations are not as well funded under the new formula.”
However, AFT 2121 is working on a few projects to boost funding to City College. One is a statewide measure called “Schools and Communities First,” which supporters say will raise $12 billion per year in commercial property taxes, for schools and other local services. AFT 2121 has joined with the San Francisco Unified School District and many other organizations to gather signatures in hopes of getting it on the ballot in November 2020.
While the faculty union and the administration disagree about how the current budget deficit came to be, they are united on one of the potential tools for solving it. They both support asking San Francisco to establish a new fund called the Community Higher Education Fund (CHEF), which will provide more financial support to City College.
Alan Wong, a Legislative Aide for District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, said that CHEF should be established to reflect the fact that the city values the rich variety of classes and programs that City College offers, particularly those that are undervalued by the state’s new Student Centered Funding Formula.
City College Sunset
Mar has also worked to show his support by offering some new classes in a part of the city where the college doesn’t have a presence today. He established a pilot City College Sunset program to make six college classes available within District 4.
Mar’s office collected feedback from 400 Sunset residents and held a town hall in February which drew about 150 community members. Wong said this demonstrates that there is strong interest in having City College classes available in the Sunset community.
The new classes, based on the feedback from Sunset residents, include two child development classes, an English as a Second Language class, a Mind-Body Health class for older adults, and two classes high school dual enrollment classes: American Sign Language and College Success.
If the classes are popular, Mar’s office will work to “make this into a sustainable and long-term program that benefits the community,” Wong said.
Sunset residents interested in the new classes are invited to attend enrollment fairs to learn more, on Dec. 10 and 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wah Mei School, 1400 Judah St.