SAN FRANCISCO – Flanked by the mayor and officials from City College of San Francisco, state Sen. Mark Leno announced Monday that he has introduced legislation to guarantee funding levels to the institution as it fights to retain accreditation, despite enrollment drops triggered by its uncertain future.
City College enrollment is down 16% from last spring, officials said, and without the proposed bill that would result in a loss in the next academic year of as much as $26 million in state funding.
The enrollment declines stem from the decision by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges -- the quasi-public regulatory body for California and the Pacific -- to revoke the institution’s accreditation status as of this summer.
City College, which serves about 80,000 students and is by far the largest of the state’s 112 community college districts, is appealing the accreditation decision. Meanwhile, the San Francisco city attorney and the California Federation of Teachers have filed lawsuits against ACCJC alleging that it did not follow proper procedures when it made the determination, based largely on financial and governance issues at the college.
Leno (D-San Francisco) said Monday that he hopes to steer clear of the controversies and focus instead on an area of broad agreement: the need to stabilize funding and avoid “a vicious cycle, a death spiral” for what he called the state's "most important" community college district.
Current law ties a community college's revenue level for each fiscal year to the number of full-time students served. During times of declining enrollment, existing law provides for only a single year of so-called stabilization funding. The legislation would treat the current stabilization year, 2013-14, as the base year and calls for state funding to remain stable in 2014-15.
Funding in 2015-16 would be no less than 95% of that base, the following year’s funding no less than 90% and the year after that no less than 85%.
If the bill does not pass, a funding hit of $23 million to $26 million would take effect this fall, said City College Chancellor Arthur Q. Tyler, who was present at the news conference in the office of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
That would come out of the general fund budget of $190 million, forcing the college to deeply slash programs, Tyler said.
Tyler said the college has determined that students who have not re-enrolled are not enrolled elsewhere, but rather are in a holding pattern.
"It's going to take some time for students to have the confidence to come back to school," he said. "They're just sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what's going to happen to us."
In addition to Tyler and Lee, Leno was joined by City College of San Francisco Special Trustee Robert Agrella, who said the college has made significant strides in correcting financial issues of concern to the accrediting body. The bill buys time as the process continues.
“It is a floor, it is a safety net, it is a baseline,” Leno said.
[Updated at 2:35 p.m. PST, Feb. 10: An earlier version of this post misspelled Robert Agrella's last name as Argella.]
The legislation, introduced Friday, is sponsored by California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris. In a statement, Harris said that without it “there is a very real threat that declining state support caused by falling enrollment will do lasting damage to City College’s ability to serve San Francisco.”
Echoing Agrella's comments, Harris said the college “has made great improvements recently in areas of leadership and management.”
As an urgency measure, the bill would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature. It states that in order for the funding levels to be maintained, City College must be facing a threat to its accreditation.
As written, it also requires that the special trustee be in place. But Leno pledged Monday to remove that condition and replace it with another measure that would guarantee progress and accountability.
Agrella's role has been controversial, as he has taken over for the elected board, and faculty union president Alisa Messer said the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 had opposed the legislation's condition that he be kept in place for the funding guarantees to continue.
As long as that issue is remedied, she said, “everyone is standing shoulder to shoulder in San Francisco to support the bill.”
The mayor said the legislation sends a powerful message that leaders are unified in their confidence that the college can overcome its difficulties.
“It’s absolutely necessary for us to have our City College,” Lee said. “It’s necessary for job skill creation, it’s necessary for business, it’s necessary for the educational goals of all city residents…We are not going to fail. We are not going to allow City College to fail.”