Proposed law seeks to protect elected trustees like those at CCSF 

click to enlarge CCSF
  • mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • "It doesn't matter what I think of the college trustees and how they do their jobs," Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said. "Love them or hate them, they were elected and we should respect that process."
When City College of San Francisco’s elected leaders were emasculated in July after state authorities took control of school affairs, little was said about when the board of trustees would return to power.

Since then, the trustees have been sidelined — one even resigned — and there has been little talk about how, when or if the board will be reconstituted, except for murmurs of possibly disbanding the body altogether.

Now, the first moves are underway to push back.

On Thursday, state legislation was introduced that would bar the California Community Colleges board of governors from taking power from an elected board like it did to CCSF when Special Trustee Robert Agrella was appointed. The effort comes amid continued dissatisfaction over the removal of CCSF’s board.

“It is not acceptable that you have a public institution that has no accountability,” Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, said at a community meeting about CCSF on Wednesday night.

Rafael Mandelman, an elected trustee who attended the meeting, said there is little political appetite for putting the elected body back into power.

“My sense is that an edict has gone out that we are untouchable,” Mandelman told attendees of the meeting. “There’s certainly no plan to bring us back before the end of the one-year special-trustee period.”

San Francisco’s top elected official, Mayor Ed Lee, has been mostly silent on the issue, but he said he does not want to see the board permanently eliminated.

“The mayor believes that governance by a board of trustees should be one day restored, but that the appointment of a special trustee has been a crucial step in requiring long-overdue reforms at City College and has put the institution back on a path to maintaining its accreditation and long-term fiscal stability,” read a statement from the Mayor’s Office on Thursday.

Meanwhile, others have talked about reforming the board instead of giving it back its powers.

Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Jim Lazarus said there has been talk of possibly changing how the school is run.

“Do you go back to an appointed board, partially elected, partially appointed?” Lazarus asked. “The only oversight is the voters, and it’s too removed, too far down the ballot.”

The state legislation introduced Thursday by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would “prohibit the California Community College Board of Governors, when exercising its duty to provide assistance when community college district encounter severe management difficulties, from usurping, transferring, or limiting, in any way, the powers of the governing boards of these community college district[s].”

Ammiano essentially likened the board of trustees’ situation at CCSF to a political coup d’etat.

“Those actions tell the voters that their voices don’t matter,” Ammiano said. “Rightfully, we are critical when elected officials in other countries have their powers taken away without a defined process. We should not accept it here.

“It doesn’t matter what I think of the college trustees and how they do their jobs. Love them or hate them, they were elected and we should respect that process.”

The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office said the law would not execute its stated goal of aiding schools.

“We believe the legislation would hinder the ability of the state Chancellor’s Office to help colleges that are in danger of insolvency or imminent loss of accreditation,” spokesman Paul Feist said in a statement. “The state chancellor and Board of Governors have exercised this authority only twice, and in the case of City College of San Francisco the appointment of a special trustee has resulted in tremendous progress in bringing the college into conformity with accreditation standards and providing a fiscally sound path forward.”

In June, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges voted to terminate CCSF’s accreditation, effective this coming July, unless the school did not come into compliance with commission standards and eligibility requirements. The termination was not linked to academics.

However, in early January, a judge granted a preliminary injunction in a civil case filed by the City Attorney’s Office that accused the ACCJC of wrongdoing. No final action on accreditation can be taken until the trial is completed.

Losing accreditation would effectively force CCSF to close.

Correction: This story was updated Feb. 21 to reflect that comments originally attributed to CCSF Special Trustee Robert Agrella were made by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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