SAN FRANCISCO - A broad coalition of city residents and leaders is launching a campaign to assure the future of the 90,000-student City College, beleaguered by years of budget cuts and in recent months, threatened with losing its accreditation.
Crowding the steps of City Hall Sept. 4 for a Rally to Save City College, including passing a special parcel tax, were students, faculty and workers at the school, along with parents, trustees, city supervisors, K-12 school board members, union leaders and concerned San Franciscans.
Board of Trustees President John Rizzo said repeated cuts in state funding have resulted in "fewer teachers, fewer workers, fewer classes, students taking longer to get through the college when they can't get the classes they need."
He called the recent elimination of 700 classes, on top of hundreds of classes lost in recent years, "not sustainable." While the ballot measure, Prop. A for a temporary $79 parcel tax, "doesn't restore all the funding, it will go a good way toward that," he said.
Rizzo also urged support for a state ballot measure backed by the governor and the labor movement, to temporarily raise sales taxes and taxes on personal incomes over $250,000, with most of the money going to fund K-through-university education.
Calling the college "the heartbeat of the city," San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar pledged to help build a coalition to fight for "a strong, high quality, accessible, affordable system for everyone for the future." Mar emphasized the college's importance in allowing immigrant communities "to have an equal chance for jobs and high-quality livelihoods to make sure their families are supported in the city."
School board member Sandra Lee Fewer provided a living illustration of the college's importance to the community as she told the crowd, "I am a proud graduate of City College. My father died when I was 14; City College was my only option for higher education." Fewer's husband and mother are also City College graduates, she said, and her children's participation in child development classes there "taught me how to be a better parent and taught them how to be better playmates."
In conversations after the rally, City College students told what the school means to them.
"When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what career path to follow," said Tiffany Monica Louie, who is in her third year at the school. "I took ethnic studies," she said, "and found my passion - giving back to my community, to people of color."
Louie said further cuts would affect tens of thousands of students: "Many like me would be left not knowing what to with our lives."
Brian, a 22-year-old student in the college's GED program, said that without the course, he "would probably just stay at home - if the program ends, there will be nothing else for me to do."
Like all of California's public higher education, City College has suffered repeated cuts in state funding. Over $800 million has been cut from the state's 112 community colleges since 2008. City College's share, $26 million, has meant a 13 percent cut.
But the school is also threatened with loss of its accreditation, because, according to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, it has - among other things - failed to operate in a fiscally sound manner as the state cut its budget. Just two other California community colleges face similar challenges to their accreditation.
Unless it can satisfy the commission by next March that it is coping adequately with 14 major problems, the college will be forced to close.
Participants in Tuesday's rally vowed not to let that happen.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW