Prop. W funds have yet to reach City College

By Michael Toren

More than two months after the end of the Fall 2017 semester, City College has yet to be paid the $4.1 million it says it is owed by San Francisco to subsidize the cost of Free City students.

At issue is language in the Memorandum of Understanding, signed by City College and approved by the Board of Supervisors, which says Free City funds will only cover enrollment fees for San Francisco residents “who are not eligible for other grants or financial aid.”

To comply with the MOU, when Free City was offered for the first time last semester, City College initially required students to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to qualify for the program.

However, at the board of trustees meeting on Dec. 14, Chancellor Mark Rocha said the computer registration system at the time “wasn’t up to the task,” so he decided to drop the requirement.

“The college was in technical violation of the MOU,” he told the trustees in December.

Improvements to the computer system were made and when registration for Spring 2018 opened, it required students to complete a financial aid application.

But when the board of trustees realized at the December meeting that students were being required to complete a lengthy FAFSA form, they were visibly upset. The form, which runs 10 pages with instructions, requires applicants to list detailed financial information such as household income, amount of savings, and investments.

“This stops lifelong learning,” Trustee Alex Randolph said at the meeting.

“That was definitely not the understanding of this board when we approved the MOU,” Trustee Rafael Mandelman said. “We are not happy campers.”

Several trustees said the FAFSA form was viewed as invasive, especially for students who already know they don’t qualify for financial aid. “There are people who would rather pay $150 for the class” than fill out the form, Mandelman said.

“My biggest concern is that people are not going to enroll,” said Trustee Thea Selby. “This is not the spirit of Free City.”

Rocha instructed his staff at the December meeting to remove the FAFSA requirement for the Spring 2018 semester, changing the registration system to grant Free City status to all students who declare themselves San Francisco residents.

But Rocha told the trustees he would require their help with what have been “very difficult” meetings with the city.  “The city said, effectively, don’t you dare be out of compliance with the MOU two semesters in a row,” he said.

San Francisco voters approved Proposition W in 2016, raising the real estate transfer tax on sales greater than $5 million.  The measure was championed by Supervisor Jane Kim, among others, who said the revenue would be used to cover tuition fees at City College for San Francisco residents. The two-year pilot program is scheduled to run through the Spring 2019 semester.

City College has submitted three invoices to the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, the city agency tasked with managing the Free City program.

The first invoice—containing just an initial estimate—was submitted on Dec. 4 for $3 million.  An updated invoice was submitted on Jan. 31 for $2.8 million.

But emails obtained through public records requests reveal that DCYF had significant concerns about how figures in the invoices were calculated. They asked for additional documentation, and City College submitted a third invoice on Feb. 15 for $4.1 million.

Not addressed in the emails is the question of compliance with the MOU and requiring students to complete a financial aid application. It is unclear what steps City College has taken since the December board of trustees meeting to address the issue.

Maria Su, director of DCYF, said she had not heard about proposed changes to the MOU.

Leslie Milloy, director of the Free City program at City College, declined to comment.  She referred questions to spokesperson Jeff Hamilton, who at press time had not responded to repeated inquiries over several weeks.

Rocha agreed to be interviewed but was not available until after publication time.

“Talks with the mayor’s office were pretty productive,” Trustee John Rizzo said. “Now we’re working with them for the spring semester.”

Randolph said that Supervisor Kim was involved in the discussions, “but not on a formal level.”

Kim’s office declined to comment for this story.

Trustee Tom Temprano also declined to comment, as did Selby, referring questions back to the chancellor’s office.

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