Ensuring City College’s Future for the Sunset
By Alan Wong
City College of San Francisco has always been an invaluable resource to Sunset District residents, offering accessible community college classes for job training, transfer to university and opportunities for lifelong learning. Its classes have helped working-age adults advance their career skills, give high school students and graduates college-level credit and a leg up on university applications, and helped new immigrants learn English.
But for far too long, City College has suffered from budget problems that have hampered its financial stability, threatened its accreditation and discouraged enrollment. It seems that nearly every year City College rewinds and replays the same budget scenario of class reductions, student protests and labor strife. We can no longer just look at each year’s budget challenges alone. City College needs systemic reforms in how we monitor, plan and spend.
Balancing the budget is the most important issue facing the College. As chair of the Budget and Audit Committee, I am committed to ending this cycle of instability by institutionally strengthening fiscal oversight and financial planning at the College. I have been working with my colleagues on the Board of Trustees and College administration to develop long-term structural reforms to change the way we handle our financial affairs at the College.
My proposed reforms include five key points: 1. Regular Budget Updates; 2. Multi-Year Budget Plan; 3. Deficit and Reserve Spending Controls; 4. Requiring a Balanced and Realistic Budget; and 5. Independent Fiscal Oversight.
Since joining the Board in 2019, I’ve pushed the administration to provide the Board and public with monthly budget updates to enhance transparency and ensure that the Board can closely monitor finances throughout the year. My proposal this year will institutionalize this practice by requiring regular budget updates at Board meetings. This will allow us to monitor current year spending, incoming revenue, state-related budget developments and judicious use of one-time money.
However, oversight for just the current year is not enough. City College faces a potential fiscal cliff on the horizon just a few years out. We may lose approximately $8 to $10 million in annual funding once state funding meant to stabilize City College expires. Instead of just looking at balancing the budget for next year, we need to anticipate three to five years into the future to ensure the long-term sustainability of the budget, project budget trends, predict revenue needs, and foresee budget shortfalls. The reforms in my proposal would require that, in addition to budgeting for the next year, our adopted budget include a multi-year budget plan on a three- to five-year horizon.
Last year, the Board approved a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022. However, while reviewing current 2021-2022 year spending, I noticed that on two budget line items, we had exceeded the budget by approximately $6 million. These unprojected costs created a new midyear budget deficit. My proposed policy would create a trigger mechanism that requires Board approval in the event that spending may create a deficit or cause the college to end the fiscal year with less reserves. The reform proposal will also ensure an accurate budget is submitted for consideration each year by the Board.
Past Trustees Ivy Lee and Alex Randolph championed the idea of an independent auditor and helped us hire a well-qualified expert to provide periodic reports to the College and public. However, since the auditor moved on to a new position, this role has been unfilled. My proposal would require the Board to be provided with periodic independent financial analyses through an independent auditor or external agency.
These proposed reforms will be reviewed by constituency groups at City College and considered for adoption later this year. I am confident we can bring City College onto the path of fiscal stability to sustainably serve Sunset residents for future generations.
Alan Wong serves as an elected member of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees and serves as chair of the Budget and Audit Committee. He is a military veteran and was born and raised in the Sunset District.
Categories: City College of San Francisco