San Francisco City College trustees appeared grateful, albeit somber, last night as they listened to a lengthy assessment of the college district’s finances and heard tough recommendations on how to stave off insolvency and keep from losing its accreditation.
“Thank you for an extremely comprehensive and extremely depressing report,” said trustee Rodrigo Santos, just half-heartedly in jest.
In a 150-page report, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) warned that CCSF is in “a perilous financial position,” facing a deficit as large as $27.8 million by
2014-15 if Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s school funding tax initiative, doesn’t pass in November. (Go here to read an article on the report itself). But at Tuesday night’s special meeting, FCMAT analysts reassured the Board, and about 50 faculty and staff members filling the room, that it’s not too late to make changes.
“The question has come to us quite often: ‘Can San Francisco get through this?’” acknowledged Michelle Plumbtree, chief management analyst at FCMAT. “Absolutely, but it is not going to be easy and you’re going to have to make some really really difficult decisions.”
At the top of that list is staff. City College goes above and beyond comparable schools in its level of full- and part-time faculty. The college has nearly 24 regular tenured faculty per one thousand students; almost double the rates of Santa Monica and Mt. San Antonio community college districts in Southern California. As a result, CCSF spends about $17 million more a year on academic salaries.
“When we talk about the magnitude and size of some of your numbers, touching personnel is probably a reality that you just have to acknowledge,” FCMAT consultant Michael Hill advised the Board.
FCMAT is an independent, quasi-public agency that provides fiscal assistance to K-12 schools and community colleges. The Community College Chancellor’s Office hired the agency to review City College’s finances after the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) put the school on its “show cause” list, the most severe sanction next to having its accreditation terminated.
Although the FCMAT report is separate from the accreditation commission’s work, there is a “nexus between the two,” said FCMAT’s CEO Joel Montero. In issuing a “show cause” order, the accrediting commission wants colleges to demonstrate that they’re looking at all options, considering all the information available to them, and moving forward to solve their problems.
“The FCMAT report is the tool; it shows us how we address the accrediting commission’s concerns,” said John Rizzo, president of the City College Board of Trustees. “They don’t really give us the how in the [accrediting commission] report; they just say this is what you have to do. So this is a companion piece. It tells us what specifically to look at. It gives us numbers and metrics to judge by. It’s a very useful tool for us.”
The Academic Senate doesn’t share that enthusiasm. Some of the recommendations are good, agreed Senate President Karen Saginor, but others are based on incomplete information. In particular, she disputes the section of the report that describes how department chairs have too much authority, even over deans, and how that leads to fragmented decision making. Saginor said FCMAT interviews were too narrowly skewed toward administrators.
“That’s one where I felt they didn’t have enough information, they didn’t have precise information and they didn’t have a complete set of perspectives on what they presented,” Sagnior argued.
There were some murmurings among faculty members at the meeting that they are being blamed for the financial problems that nearly all tied to staffing levels, salaries, and benefits. But FCMAT’s Montero said the report never makes that argument.
“Labor is not the villain,” said Montero. “This has been a long time coming. This has been the result of years and years and years of collective bargaining negotiations wherein there was an agreement and somebody had to say, ‘Yes.’”
City College has until October 15 to present the accrediting commission with its plan to regain financial footing, improve the quality of instruction and student success, and outline steps to a more coordinated governance system.
The Board of Trustees will discuss its proposals at another special meeting next Thursday, and expects at least one member of the accreditation commission to be on hand to provide feedback.