AFT Blames District Policies for Waitlist Crisis: Connecting the Dots from Layoffs to Waitlists

"Listing Masts" Illustration by JohnTaylor Wildfeuer/The Guardsman

By Gene Thompson

 

More than 1,600 City College of San Francisco applicants languish on waitlists, often for classes they need to complete certificate programs or prerequisites, according to the teachers’ union, AFT 2121. Thousands more may be waitlisted by the end of August, the union posted on its website, and even more may give up trying to register. The union charged it is a crisis created by Chancellor David Martin and his administration.

 

The Board of Trustees (BoT) held an emergency meeting on July 27 to address the problem. Members of the college community demanded that the chancellor open more classes immediately.  It was not clear how the administration could offer more sections after firing 38 tenured and tenure-track professors, along with over 100 part-time instructors, in May 2022. A year later, the BoT approved a resolution calling upon the chancellor to rehire the laid-off faculty by 2025. At the July 27 emergency session, BoT members voted 5-0 to approve a revised resolution including a provision to immediately rehire instructors in selected classes.

 

The union insists the college has the money to rehire all the laid-off teachers. In fact, AFT contends there was never any need to fire them. The administration says the move was necessary to keep the budget balanced and to fund reserves at a level mandated by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

 

“Listing Masts” Illustration by JohnTaylor Wildfeuer/The Guardsman

The ACCJC is a private corporation engaged by the State of California to determine whether two-year colleges should be accredited to receive funding and confer Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees. It has punitive power that can destroy a college.  It nearly did destroy City College in 2013 when it attempted to remove the college’s accreditation. The action was postponed through legal maneuvering and eventually rescinded. The ACCJC is scheduled to visit City College in the first week of October.

 

Board Vice President Anita Martinez says she is confident that the college, currently on enhanced monitoring status due to years of financial difficulties, will weather ACCJC’s scrutiny.

“I think we’ll get either ‘clear’ or ‘warning’, and I’m confident we’ll get ‘clear.’ I think that’s an important message to send out to the community. When the board becomes nervous about accreditation we send an unstated concern about the college’s future. And I know if I were a student and I had choices, as our students do, about what college I would go to, I would think, ‘Well, maybe if I can’t do my full two years there in a program that I want to be in, maybe I should look around, or I should wait.’ And so I think it’s really important for me as a board member to say, as an individual board member, ‘I think we’re going to be fine.’”

 

But the current waitlist situation is not, in the eyes of the faculty union, a sign of a healthy college community to present to the ACCJC. Union President Mary Bravewoman sees a direct connection between the layoffs of 2022, current enrollment problems and the health of the college.

 

“The BoT has directed the chancellor to act on the recall of the laid-off faculty, which of course impacts student enrollment.  Increasing student enrollment is critical to the health of the college.” 

 

Asked via email if AFT’s position is that the current overflow waitlist situation was caused by the cuts in personnel and classes made by Chancellor Martin and his administration, Bravewoman replied with a decisive, “Yes!” and continued:

 

 “The district ran a surplus, above their reserves, in both years (2021, 2022).  This was due to several factors, including concessions, retirements/departures, and large increases in state COLA (cost of living allowance). Thus there was no financial need for their actions.”

 

On May 6, 2022 Chancellor Martin’s administration convinced the BoT that a financial crisis necessitated the layoff of the 38 instructors, along with more than 100 part timers, whose dismissal did not require a vote. 

 

Martinez declined to comment on whether the chancellor misrepresented the severity of the college’s financial state in his presentation to the BoT because she wasn’t on the board at that time. 

 

“But,” she said, “I will say the board would have been well advised to take a look at the union’s analysis. That’s what I would have done had I been on the board. And perhaps ask some more questions before those layoffs were being talked about.”

 

John Rizzo, who was on the board at the time, described a thorough hearing. “The administration was not the only source the board was hearing from. ACCJC had placed the district on ‘enhanced monitoring’ because of continuing structural deficits. We also had letters of concern from the state FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team) agency and the state chancellor’s office. Moody’s had lowered the college’s bond rating. And, our independent auditor pointed out problems for several years in a row, which we discussed with them at public meetings. With accreditation coming up, we felt we needed to eliminate the structural deficits to keep from getting sanctioned, which was very bad for the college last time.”

 

AFT, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other labor organizations were outraged when the BoT approved the layoffs. They mobilized the public in the 2022 general election to sweep from office three incumbent trustees who voted in favor. Longtime trustees Rizzo, Thea Selby and Brigitte Davila were replaced by a union supported slate: Trustees Vick Chung, Susan Solomon, and Vice President Anita Martinez.

 

Incoming Trustees Solomon and Martinez penned the May 2023 reinstatement resolution, which called upon Martin to present a plan to pay for the instructors’ rehiring. 

 

The new board also advised the chancellor to solicit reports from department heads describing how they have been affected by the layoffs. Martin submitted a 41 page document, 13 lines of which explained three possible ways to replace the laid-off teachers. Following that were 37 pages of reports from department chairs detailing the devastation the layoffs caused their programs, their students and their teachers.  

 

At the same meeting the board passed the chancellor’s tentative budget for 2023-24, despite Martinez’s pointing out during discussion that it made no allowance for rehiring the dismissed faculty. Martinez and Solomon have noted that the approved budget is tentative. 

 

The final budget will be considered in September, but that may be too late for many of the waitlisted students. A long line of students, teachers and other community members told the BoT at the July 27 emergency session that the need to rehire the teachers and open classes was urgent.  

 

Kevin Cross, who teaches ESL at Mission Campus, said, “Just this week I got a request from a Brazilian student who couldn’t get any classes because they’re all full at Mission … Why are we discussing ways in which they can be served years from now? It is our mission to serve them.”

 

The union’s claim that the administration underreported its resources, at least during contract talks, gained credibility on November 8, 2021 when AFT filed and subsequently won an unfair practice charge it lodged with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) “alleging the district failed to provide necessary and relevant information during reopener bargaining.” 

The allegation related to the union’s negotiating for compensation for the 4-11% salary cuts its members accepted in 2021 in a deal that avoided massive layoffs and class cancellations the administration said were necessary.

 

The PERB judge determined that the District hindered the union’s access to financial information that favored AFT’s bargaining position. Specifically, in 2021 when AFT and the District agreed to cut wages in order to avoid cutting jobs and classes, they also agreed that if revenues increased or expenses decreased, wages the union sacrificed in 2021 would be restored proportionately.

Decreases in expenses did occur, mostly as the result of cost cutting measures, including the 2021 wage cuts, and retirements. Revenues increased, partly due to government funding. But, according to the PERB case report, instead of delivering on the promise it made in 2021 to share those funds with the union, the administration obscured the true financial situation and dodged bargaining sessions.

 

These District offenses appear to have involved the administration at the highest level. Diana Gonzales, now named Diana Rose, was chief negotiator for the administration. According to the PERB document, David Martin, who became chancellor on Nov. 1, 2021, “did not give Gonzales direction about how to proceed with restoration bargaining and she did not receive direction in that regard from anyone else. Martin told Gonzales that concession bargaining was not the direction he wanted to go, and he felt the District would need to issue another round of layoff notices in March 2022.”  

 

The PERB document says Gonzales also encountered obstacles from the District’s business office, headed by Vice Chancellor of Finance Dr. John al-Amin, when she tried to fulfill AFT’s requests for information. Al-Amin continues as a member of the District’s current negotiating team.  

 

The judge admonished the District to “cease and desist from failing to meet and negotiate in good faith,” and required City College to pay the union’s legal fees in the case, totaling $14,461.13.

 

In a theatrical moment during the June 20 session AFT chief negotiator Alayna Fredricks stood up and called upon District chief negotiator Lidia Jenkins to hand over the reimbursement check on the spot, and she did so, acknowledging what the money was for.

 

When the contract negotiations reconvened as scheduled on Aug. 8 after a seven-week summer break, Jenkins confirmed that not only was the District unprepared with a counter offer to the union’s salary proposal, but also she could not answer the question the union feels is directly related to the waitlist problem: how many instructors the administration was ready to rehire.  Jenkins replied, “It’s under discussion.”

 

Most members of the District negotiating team, as well as the chancellor’s office, were sent multiple interview requests for this article. Vice Chancellor Dr. al-Amin replied and was sent questions per his direction. He did not respond to the questions despite repeated messages asking him to do so.  No other administration employee answered.

 

The Guardsman understands the importance of presenting all perspectives in a fair and accurate manner.  This obligation is difficult to fulfill when not all parties participate.