From the SF Chronicle
(03-14) 18:44 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — Hundreds of faculty, students and activists marched from the Mission District to City Hall on Thursday demanding support for troubled City College of San Francisco, even as college leaders prepared to meet Friday’s accreditation deadline that will determine whether California’s largest public school lives or dies.
March 15 is the day all 14 accreditation deficiencies identified by inspectors last summer were supposed to be fixed. Not all were. But college administrators hope their report will persuade the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that enough progress was made to justify an upgrade to probationary status, allowing them to continue receiving state funds and escape closure.
“Everyone loves City College, and this milestone is an embodiment of the feelings they have for it- and the hope that it can continue,” said John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees.
Rizzo didn’t join the demonstration at City Hall, where protesters sang and chanted their opposition to new austerity measures at the college, including faculty pay cuts imposed by administrators when labor negotiations moved too slowly for the March 15 deadline.
Protesters blowing vuvuzelas and chanting “Save our school!” crowded into the marble entryway of City Hall, calling on Mayor Ed Lee and city supervisors to meet their demands: stop the accrediting commission from imposing sanctions, aid City College financially and ensure that the college spends its Proposition A parcel tax money in a manner consistent with voter expectations. Neither Lee nor the supervisors have control over the accrediting commission or the college’s finances.
“We want them to hear us until they give us the funds we need to save our school!” cried Shannel Williams, president of the student body, to cheers.
The protesters, who took their demonstration – part dance party with drums and music – across to City Hall Plaza, call themselves the Save City College Coalition. But Rizzo and other college leaders say their own efforts to force City College to live within its means is how it will be saved for the 85,000 students who depend on it.
Success is no sure bet. But the college is trying.
As the protest swelled to about 500 people at City Hall, administrators at 50 Phelan Ave., the main campus, finalized nearly 300 pages of paperwork. Friday is the “put your pencils down” moment when they will e-mail their report to the accrediting commission in Novato, deliver a copy by Federal Express and, perhaps, pray.
That thick report will be filled with examples of big problems they’ve fixed: a Rube Goldberg-like governance structure, a duplicative and costly student services department, and a look-the-other-way approach to verifying whether instruction is effective.
But there is more to do.
“Time is not on our side,” Rizzo said.
City College has yet to figure out how much it costs to run each of its 11 locations around the city, a major factor in comprehending its own budget. Despite that large blind spot, the college nevertheless opened a fancy, new Chinatown campus last fall that it had been counting on for years.
Labor contracts are also a big unknown. Administrators imposed a one-year, 9 percent pay cut on faculty this year, and plan to permanently cut their pay by 5 percent in July. The faculty union has filed charges of unfair labor practices.
Nonetheless, the accrediting commission will decide the fate of the college in June but may not announce its verdict until July.
It was last July when the commission gave City College until this Friday to repair all of its deficiencies, most of which kept the school from making sound financial decisions. The inspectors who visited the college found it had too few administrators, no way to collect data needed to prioritize spending, and an environment of bickering and mistrust.
Many of its problems were left over from the last accrediting visit six years earlier. Irritated commissioners levied the most severe penalty on City College: “show cause,” meaning the burden of proof was on the school to show why it should stay open. The proof required repairing all problems by March 15, at the risk of losing accreditation. Without accreditation, the college could not collect state funds and would have to close.
Would the commission really yank its accreditation?
“Just because (City College) is big, I don’t think they should get a break,” said Gornick, chancellor of the tiny West Hills Community College District in Fresno County. “There are small colleges busting their buns with budgets that are getting just as ripped apart as City College’s, and they’re doing some remarkable things.”
Today, City College is doing remarkable things, said Robert Agrella, the “special trustee” appointed by the state to oversee its transformation.
“Everyone has put in a tremendous amount of effort into this,” he said, sounding sanguine about the college’s prospects for the first time since being hired last fall. “It’s too big an issue to not feel some optimism.”
Protesters say the quality of instruction at City College is high and should be enough to keep the college accredited.
Julie Thomas, an ESL instructor with City College since 1980, said that even if the school was closed “there are a lot of us – a lot of teachers – who would keep teaching anyway. We love this place so much, we’d come back. I know I would.”
– Accreditation inspectors will visit City College in early April to verify claims made in the college’s “Show Cause” report due March 15.
– The inspectors will report their findings to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
– The commission will meet from June 5 to 7 at the San Francisco Airport Marriott in Burlingame. Although the public may attend a portion of the meeting, no testimony is heard and deliberations about the fate of colleges is done behind closed doors.
– The commission has 45 days to make its verdict public.
Read more: Comprehensive coverage of City College’s accreditation problems can be found at sfgate.com/citycollegegeofsfaccreditation