California's community college system Chancellor Jack Scott said Monday that it would be a "disaster" if City College of San Francisco lost its accreditation and had to close, and urged any reluctant college leaders to accept that cuts need to be made and do what needs to be done to save themselves.
"The thing to do is roll up your sleeves and reach a solid conclusion. That's what all the community colleges have had to do – you're not being picked on," Scott told the college trustees Monday in San Francisco, as students and some faculty members in the audience hissed at the measures being forced on them.
"The last thing we want to see happen is for you to lose your accreditation," Scott said. "That would be a disaster."
Scott and the president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, Scott Himelstein, addressed the board for the first time since the regional Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges determined in early July that City College is so poorly run and its finances so precarious that its accreditation will be yanked next year without a radical transformation.
The heads of California's vast community college system don't run the state's 112 colleges, which are under local control. Instead, they set statewide policies and provide guidance – and pep talks – to the districts, as they did Monday.
"The situation is of great concern to us," Himelstein said. "The chancellor and I urge you not to spend time arguing. Tell us where we can help."
Without accreditation, an essential seal of approval, City College would close or, perhaps more likely, be taken over by a new authority. Scott, in fact, urged the trustees to request a "special trustee" to step in.
City College of San Francisco is the largest school in the state, with 90,000 students, nine campuses, and anywhere from 100 to 200 small "instructional sites."
The college must make its case for survival on March 15. Until then, college officials are working furiously to address its deep problems – many of them identified six years ago during an earlier accreditation evaluation. The commission is expected to issue its verdict in June.
But addressing the problems is likely to mean deeper cuts, fewer classes, and turning away thousands more students than they already do. Students, faculty and even some trustees are reluctant to do so.
"We're the safety net," Trustee Chris Jackson told Scott to applause. "Where will the students go?"
Scott said if he were king for a day, he'd give City College the same money it used to have before the state's economic crisis, which has seen millions cut from education budgets. But because the money isn't there, "there's no other way," he said.
Efforts to raise money
Meanwhile, there are student fundraisers ("Save City College" T-shirts are offered on Facebook at $15 to $150), newspaper editorials, and a parcel tax on the November ballot to benefit the school.
But the real backbone to saving the college will come from the recommendations of the independent Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, whose work is being paid for by the state chancellor's office.
The crisis team arrived in July to study the college for a couple of weeks. The team examined most of the areas identified by the Accreditation Commission as big problems for City College: Does it need nine campuses? Can it afford to enroll all 90,000 students, including about 42,000 taking noncredit classes?
Blueprint for future
The Accreditation Commission mainly faulted City College for failing to live within its reduced means as the state has repeatedly cut education funding. It ran a deficit of almost $6 million last year.
So the crisis team looked at the college's financial structure, including the disproportionately high portion of its budget, 92 percent, going to salaries and benefits, retiree health obligations and collective bargaining agreements.
The team will also compare City College with five other college districts: Foothill De Anza in Los Altos Hills, plus Santa Monica City College, Long Beach, El Camino and Mount San Antonio in Southern California.
Its final report is due in mid-September and is expected to include the blueprint for a new, leaner – some would say meaner – City College.
"If you follow those recommendations, I'm confident you'll have your accreditation," Scott said.