City College of San Francisco

Commentary: Alan Wong

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.

10 replies »

  1. Mr. Wong says nothing about the GROWING the college. He also fails to mention how students, faculty and staff will all be involved in the decision making he proposes. For far too long, the Board and Chancellor have “solved” budget problems by cutting classes and laying off faculty and staff. If the college is ever going to serve the city as it was meant to, it needs to grow and expand its offerings to be more inclusive and considerate of the needs of all the citizens of our city.

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  2. City College leadership has failed to understand for a decade that there is basically ONE source of revenue—service to students. In other words, offering education to the adults in San Francisco. For a decade the response to fiscal problems has been to CUT REVENUE! In other words, close classes, close sites, cut services that taxpayers fund, want, and need. If any other business did this, they would have gone bankrupt a decade ago.

    The State of California has not only NOT cut revenue to community colleges, both the Governor and the Legislature have proposed to increase funding to the tune of $2Billion. BUT City College needs to EARN the available money. How? By providing educational opportunity to the adults of San Francisco. NOT closing all classes to Older Adults, for example. Classes that were full of students.

    While I completely concur that the budget process is absolutely out of control, needs to be open, transparent, factual, accurate, up-to-date, etc. The ROOT of the problem is we have lost 80% of our enrollment over the last decade through complete mismanagement at all levels of leadership.

    I also completely concur that City College is needed, supported, wanted by almost every single person in San Francisco. However, there has been a tragic level of incompetence and destructive at the highest level. That needs to change immediately.

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  3. Wong’s comment is larded with gibberish. Quotes from it followed by comments.

    “But for far too long, City College has suffered from budget problems that have hampered its financial stability, threatened its accreditation and discouraged enrollment.” This was one of the false claims made by the accreditor, the ACCJC back when it threatened the college with closure–if it was true, the state chancellor would not have needed to change the rules to justify the state takeover of the college. Maybe true today–we don’t know–AFT 2121 put forward a budget for 2022-23 that was ignored by the board and the administration that would have required no cuts and would meet reserve requirements.

    “Balancing the budget is the most important issue facing the College.” Really? Not educating students and providing them with educational opportunities?

    “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.” earth shattering proposals–Why aren’t these things currently being done?

    “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.” Clueless comment–why does it face a fiscal cliff is not addressed–maybe the reasons include discouraging students from enrolling by not fixing the online enrollment system and by not printing and widely distributing the schedule; by cutting the number of classes scheduled every year, and then squandering money on incompetent and overpaid administrators, needlessly spending money on consultants, etc. As a result, CCSF enrolls fewer students and receives less money from the state.

    “while reviewing current 2021-2022 year spending, I noticed that on two budget line items, we had exceeded the budget by approximately $6 million.” How could he write this and not describe the budget items and explain why they exceeded the budget?

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  4. I applaud you Allan for calling out points of failure and for declaring what you are doing personally to make a difference. We need more accountability in SF and CA for the money we spend on programs. I am thankful for the passion, dedication, and thoughtfulness you apply to your responsibilities as a trustee.

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  5. Free City is still Free City. Those funds have been used to make the college free to residents of the city. That said, the primary source of revenue for the college is STUDENTS. CCSF receives state funding based on ATTENDANCE. Cutting classes reduces attendance and so it follows that it reduces funding. GROWTH is what the college needs and the city, too!

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  6. Mr. Wong needs to acknowledge that funds for CCSF are provided by the state on the basis of student attendance. Cutting classes cuts students and cuts funding. His budget plan should include a large investment in outreach to let San Franciscans know what the college offers them. Remember the CCSF schedules that used to arrive in our mailboxes every semester? Bring those back!

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  7. Hi Alan,
    Good to hear the optimistic tone of your letter and everyone likes a good 5 year plan. (It’s done wonders in China.). We look forward to the creation of one here with community input that will focus on the growing of the College that will redouble its efforts in ESL and our once splendid Older Adults Program with access for all in line with our original Mission statement(s).
    Best wishes to all and the great Richmond Review.

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