City College of San Francisco tackles more legal battles

Dave Newlands, TSV Staff Writer
March 13, 2014 • 816 views

City College of San Francisco has filed a formal appeal of the decision to revoke its accreditation.

The decision to appeal came after the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges denied CCSF’s request for a “substantive review” of their accreditation actions. A substantive review would have allowed the school to remain accredited while the commission reviewed actions taken by CCSF during the initial review process.

CCSF filed three requests for substantive review on Feb. 6. The ACCJC responded just one day later.

ACCJC President Barbara Beno said that CCSF has not made those substantial improvements.

“The commission found that the four criteria for review outlined in the Policy on Review of Commission Actions were not met for any of the reasons raised,” Beno said in her open letter to CCSF Chancellor Dr. Arthur Q.Tyler. “The Commission took action to reaffirm its June 2013 decision to terminate accreditation effective July 31, 2014.”

“The college is now pursuing its right to appeal the decision per the ACCJC bylaws,” CCSF Director of Communications and Marketing Peter Anning said via email. “The appeal has been submitted.”

Senate seeks CCSF rescue funding:

Responding to the 12 percent decrease in state funding to CCSF, Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced a CCSF stability funding bill on Feb 10.

Senate Bill 965 calls for a four-year plan that would limit funding decreases to CCSF in order to ensure financial stability. Leno feels that the decrease in state funding, itself a standard response to CCSF’s decrease in enrollment, was caused in large part by the impending loss of accreditation, and will only hurt the college’s chances of recovering.

“All three pieces go together,” Leno said of accreditation, funding, and enrollment, during the press conference to introduce the bill.

“We have to stabilize funding, and that’s the point of this bill,” Leno said. “Without the stabilization of funding, what happens is what’s known as a vicious cycle, a downward spiral. Students don’t enroll, fewer dollars from the state because of the low enrollment, as a result, programs have to be closed down, faculty may have to be let off, and it gets smaller and smaller until we may not have our district any longer.”

The bill responds to the current rules, which tie funding levels to enrollment numbers. Under Leno’s proposed plan, CCSF would see a maximum funding decrease of only five percent per year over the next four years, regardless of enrollment.

This bill will give the struggling CCSF a large block of funding, but questions remain as to how responsibly this funding will be spent. One of the ACCJC’s requests regarding CCSF retaining accreditation was that the Board of Trustees undergoes financial training because of what the ACCJC perceived as the mismanagement of the district’s budget.

Many members of the board that presided over the district in the years leading up to the accreditation crisis remain on the board, including President John Rizzo, and Vice President Dr. Anita Grier.

The board has also made some contradictory financial decisions recently. Special Trustee Bob Agrella struck down a resolution in January of this year, which would have given school administrators a 19 percent pay raise while faculty would have seen a four percent decrease in pay. On Feb. 27, however, Agrella approved salaries for three new vice-chancellors set at 10 to 13 percent higher than the approved base salary for their positions.

The board agenda justified these salaries, stating that, “in order to employ an individual with the appropriate background and experience for the position … the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration has recommended to the Chancellor that this position be independently adjusted.”

The passage of this bill could set a precedent for all of California’s 112 community college campuses, showing that there is hope of recovery when times get tough.

Assembly bill calls for overhaul of the system.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced a bill on Feb. 20 that proposes a major overhaul to the accreditation process. The passage of Assembly Bill 1942 would affect all of California’s community and junior colleges. The bill calls for more competition, transparency, and choice in the accreditation process.

When introducing the bill, Bonta cited inconsistencies in the ACCJC’s recent actions.

“CCSF failed to meet nine out of 11 standards required by the commission,” Bonta said. “However, two other colleges failed all 11 standards and were only given a warning, which is the lowest level of sanction. These types of actions and decisions put our community colleges in a vulnerable position, and ultimately have a negative impact on California’s students.”

The state legislature has already approved an audit of the ACCJC, but Bonta’s bill goes even further.

Bonta said the bill would allow colleges to choose which organization would perform their accreditation review. This would create competition among review agencies, and would force reviewing agencies to make all deliberation a public matter, something that is not required of the ACCJC.

While the ACCJC does hold decision-making power over public schools, they are considered a private entity, and thus not covered by the Brown Act, which requires all public agencies to hold open meetings.

CCSF itself is not currently holding board meetings, but agenda items are open to public input, according to Anning.

“There are no board meetings,” said Anning. “The board agenda is posted according to the schedule, then the Special Trustee (Agrella) accepts public input by email for one week, then he weighs the input received and makes a decision.

We support the peer review process of accreditation and are a member institution of the ACCJC,” Anning said.

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