Just weeks ago, advocates for a tuition-free City College felt their victory was assured. Now, not so much. The first problem: A major budget deficit which the Chronicle ties to the city's underperforming pension fund and other "mundane" problems like sales tax revenue and transfer tax revenue from the sales of property that are lagging. That, as we learned last week, meant that the Mayor would be using funds that appeared to be bound for City College's coffers for other purposes like homeless services.
Though Prop W was passed by voters with the explicit goal of increasing the real estate transfer tax that applied to residential and commercial properties worth over $5 million and taking that extra money to make City College free, as it was until the early 1980s, the resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors in July to funnel Prop W funds to City College was nom-binding. Essentially, Prop W funds are just going to the General Fund, and won't be restricted for any particular use.
The Mayor's decision to use the funds for homeless services is one that puts him at odds with the Board of Supervisors, the Examiner writes, and he plans to spend just $500,000 on City College this fiscal year and $4.25 million annually thereafter. By contrast, $13 million is needed annually for tuition-free City College, according to estimates. “The mayor supports the City College supplemental but spending it over a longer period so we have a sustainable program that addresses the needs of those students that can not afford City College,” Mayor Lee's spokesperson Deirdre Hussey told the Examiner.
But that was just half of the bad news: City College needs to return almost $39 million in state funds, an external report made public last week concluded. The school can't prove it taught 16,000 students, the Chronicle explains. It's not an issue of fraud, just mismanagement — for online courses, instructors didn't meet specific requirements like documenting the time they spent interacting with students.
"They knew they should have been keeping records of communications between students and instructors to prove the course was happening — and they didn’t,” the vice chancellor for fiscal policy at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office told the Chronicle. “No one can prove that they did, or they would get to keep the money.” The state will give the college a decade to repay the money, meaning that CCSF is out $3.9 million a year.
The problems occurred as online courses were new and as City College itself was in a state of some disarray. “This is from City College’s old dark days,” Board of Trustees President Rafael Mandelman told the Examiner, referring to the institutions accreditation crisis but clarifying that the problem stemmed from City College itself and not the accreditation committee. Currently the school's accreditation is being reviewed and a decision on the matter is expected in February. Could this old problem haunt that review process? Probably not. “The very fact that we discovered this practice at the time and reported it shows the very fact that we are making a commitment to doing the right thing and putting the controls in place,” Susan Lamb, the college’s interim chancellor, argued to the Examiner.
Yet amid the chaos of the college's finances, advocates for the institution — including noted alumnus Danny Glover — mustered enough cheer to sing political "carols" at City Hall. Similar to a carol protest at Mayor Lee's house last year, the group altered the lyrics to popular christmas songs to make them about making City College free. Videos are below, but I somehow doubt that these carolers are on the mayor's "nice" list this year.