By Tyler Breisacher
The City College Board of Trustees met January 9 at the Chinatown Center for a training on California laws relating to public meetings, and a discussion of their priorities and goals for the upcoming year.
Brown Act Training
Attorney Guy Bryant gave a two-hour presentation on the Brown Act, the California law that ensures boards such as the Board of Trustees conduct their business in a way that is transparent and allows for public input.
“It’s your meeting,” he explained to the trustees, “but it’s for the public.”
The requirement to allow public comment elicited plenty of discussion. The California Education Code says the board must allow for public comment on each agenda item as it is taken up for discussion, to ensure that members of the public, including City College students and faculty, are able to make their voices heard.
Agendas for Board of Trustees meeting typically have one public comment section near the beginning of the meeting. Trustee Brigitte Davila said this was intended to make it easier for people to participate, since many people, particularly students and single moms, may not be able to stay late into the night, waiting to offer a comment on a particular agenda item.
Several trustees expressed a desire to make sure that the public gets a chance to be heard, while also not wanting the public comment portion of the meeting to take so much time that meetings run very late into the night.
This is a particular concern for City College, whose board receives more public comment than most other community college boards, according to board president Alex Randolph. At the December 2019 meeting, for instance, public comment lasted about two hours, primarily focused on the hundreds of classes cut from the Spring 2020 semester.
Trustees Thea Selby and Shanell Williams suggested that holding town halls might provide another way for members of the public to express their thoughts to the Board of Trustees, perhaps leading to a shortened public comment session during the board’s monthly meetings.
Randolph said that the board’s policies would be evaluated and updated by the policy committee, taking into account the Brown Act information and the related discussion.
Looking Ahead to 2020
In the afternoon session, the board looked ahead to its 2020 meetings. One of the main topics of discussion was the overall priorities or “north star” for City College. When the college has financial difficulties and the board is forced to make hard choices, a shared understanding of priorities should help them decide how to proceed. The board generally agreed that they wanted to offer a broad range of classes to the community, in contrast to the state of California, whose new funding formula encourages its community colleges to shift towards being only “junior colleges,” pushing students toward certificates, degrees, or transfers to four-year schools.
In the public comment section of the meeting, Wynd Kaufman, Vice President of the faculty union AFT 2121, acknowledged the difficulty presented by changes in the funding formula but said the Board of Trustees should fight against those changes at the state level.
Faculty members Harry Bernstein and Kate Frei both spoke passionately about an email Chancellor Mark Rocha sent to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in which he implied that the college did not need — and would not accept — $2.7 million in emergency funding proposed by Supervisor Shamann Walton. The fund was intended to restore the hundreds of classes that were cut from the Spring schedule last November.
Bernstein noted that because of the chancellor’s unwillingness to accept financial help from the Board of Supervisors, people may lose trust in the leadership of the college, which could make it hard to pass Proposition A, an $845 million bond measure on the March 2020 ballot, for facilities upgrades.
The next Board of Trustees meeting will be a regular meeting at Ocean Campus on Thursday, January 23.