Proposed Layoffs Spur Rally to Protect City College’s Programs for Vulnerable Students

Courtesy screen capture/AFT 2121

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Dozens of City College of San Francisco teachers and students took part Thursday in an online virtual press conference in support of keeping English as a Second Language courses that could possibly be cut by the next academic school year.

That morning, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team determined the college must act to become financially solvent “if it wants to continue operating independently.”

On Feb. 25, the college’s Board of Trustees approved steps that directed Interim Chancellor Rajen Vurdien to preliminarily send 163 layoff notices by March 15 in order to reduce expenditures related to faculty and administrative salaries. The final notices may be issued by May 15.

College officials said in March that the layoffs are an effort to reduce a budget deficit totaling over $30 million for the 2021-2022 academic school year. In a virtual budget forum held Tuesday by Vice Chancellor John al-Amin, he explained some of the projected rising costs, including $11 million post employee benefits, a carryover of a $5 million deficit from the previous academic year and costs related to deferred capital and technology maintenance. 

The college is also required by the a state and accreditation mandate to have a five percent reserve on hand, which al-Amin noted that the college does not currently have. The college is supposed to have a total of $9.2 million currently in reserves, al-Amin said.

Mary Bravewoman, vice president of the college’s faculty union AFT 2121, said Thursday that an additional hundreds layoffs could come to part-time faculty, such as those who teach ESL courses at the college.

ESL Department Chair Gregory Keech saidd the number of ESL courses offered have dropped since between the spring and fall last year by 20% and the department could be losing 25% or more of its program by the time the fall semester arrives.

“We have in San Francisco 170,000 people who say that they have limited English proficiency,” Keech said. “That’s 170,000 people who could benefit from ESL classes. What is the college doing to serve those students?”

ESL student Daphne Devine said the courses are important for immigrant students who want to learn English in order to better communicate with others and to also get employed.

“Proper and fluent English in the USA is so important for a non English speaking immigrant in,” Devine said. “Learning English is the first step to being able to contribute to society.”

District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar joined ESL faculty and students in his support in keeping the classes from being cut. 

“They’re so important for expanding employment opportunities, and just more generally for building skills and capacity for everyone to participate in civic life here in our city,” Mar said.

The Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance sponsored by Mar called the Workforce and Education Recovery Fund to support workforce development programs at City College. But because of the city’s budget deficit, the fund only received a “modest” allocation from the city’s budget.

Mar said he will advocate for a larger investment into the fund as the city recovers from the pandemic.

“We do have a responsibility to also step up now, to ensure that City College classes including ESL and other essential programs are maintained, and especially now again as our city moves forward to recover from the health pandemic,” Mar said.