Problems at Peralta and SF City College called “chronic and ongoing” by other Board of Governors members

March 23, 2021

Story updated on March 24, 2021 with comments from Mark Johnson, Peralta district spokesperson

By David Rowe, Associate Editor

State Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley pledged to continue “monitoring the situation” at the Peralta district during the March 22  California Community Colleges Board of Governors,  despite calls for bolder and more decisive action by some board members. 

“They continue to experience challenges,” Oakley said. 

“They recently lost their interim Chancellor, as many of you know, this is somewhere around the fifth Chancellor that they’ve gone through, just since we’ve been dealing with their fiscal issues.” 

Oakley went on to emphasize that “the importance of the board coming together and work(ing) through the budget plan that they’ve agreed to implement.”

Oakley assured the board that the state chancellor’s office has  “a number of contingency plans should things continue to go in the wrong direction.”  He described “very clear thresholds…for involvement beyond what we are doing now.” Two specific thresholds were “concerns about accreditation or if they get to a point of fiscal insolvency.”

He also said his office is working closely with the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which is currently evaluating the accreditation status of the Peralta district and is expected to deliver its decision in June. The Peralta district is currently on probationary status with the ACCJC. 

Board member Kevin Holl, an attorney based in San Francisco, wasted no time in responding to Oakley’s opening statement at the meeting. 

“These chronic, ongoing problems just seem remarkable that San Francisco City College and Peralta are dealing with,” Holl said.  

“And it’s got to end at some point. I’m not saying to close the schools, but they’ve got to get their stuff together somehow.”

Oakley suggested deferring the conversation until later in the meeting when Vice Chancellor Lizette Navarette shared a presentation entitled “fiscal health & resiliency monitoring update”. The report included the following five “triggers” that could lead to state intervention into a local community college district.   

  • Late or missing compliance reports
  • Media attention
  • Whistleblower complaints
  • District requests accreditation
  • Financial status analysis

One of the newer tools used by the Chancellor’s office is the Student Centered Funding Formula (SCFF). According to Navarette, “the SCFF provides funding that supports access through enrollment-based funding, student equity by targeting funds to districts serving low-income students, and student success by providing districts with additional resources for student’s successful outcomes.”

Navarette also outlined what she described as the “fiscal forward strategy.”  “We want to focus on resiliency and focus on a process that is truly proactive and prevents these financial issues from happening and escalating,” Navarette explained.” 

Early engagement with the leaders at each college is the key to this strategy, according to Navarette. 

While the Chancellor’s office places a high priority on “the democratic ideals of locally independent boards” Navarette pointed out that it does have the option of appointing a special trustee to manage troubled districts. The latest trend, she informed the board, is to appoint a team of special trustees since no one individual has the necessary skills to resolve a multitude of long-standing problems. When former state chancellor Bryce Harris appointed “special trustee with extraordinary powers” Robert Agrella to City College of San Francisco in 2013, the district bore the cost of his $22,000 a month salary.

Board member Darius Anderson, CEO of Kenwood Investments, asked Navarette about the “line of demarcation” that would trigger state intervention. Navarette used the Peralta district as an example of how the state has “multiple levels of engagement” with the districts. 

“When we first engaged with them (Peralta), we were very worried about their low reserve levels” she said. “We’ve seen some improvements in those areas.  Where we still have a lot of work to do is stabilizing their leadership.”

Picking up on his earlier remark, Holl’s final comment at the meeting was that the board was “habitually talking about the same two districts, City College of San Francisco and Peralta.”  

“At what point do we say we’ve given these people enough chances and, ultimately it’s the students being hurt.  So how many chances does the district get?” he asked.

According to Oakley, the Peralta district may soon learn the answer to that question depending on the decision of the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)  June 9 and the selection process for its next Chancellor. 

Mark Johnson, Peralta’s Executive Director of Marketing, Communications & Public Relations, in an email statement to The Citizen, responded to the comments made at the Board of Governors meeting.  According to Johnson, the Peralta district “is on the right path as a provider of vital educational programs, as an institution of higher learning, and, thanks to the Peralta board, administrative leadership, and our collaborative governance process, is on stronger financial footing now than we were two years ago.”  He went on to say that “Peralta has made great strides in improving the overall management, administration, financial standing and stability of the District.”  The recently-announced departure of Interim Chancellor Carla Walter “in no way detracts from the significant progress we have made, and will continue to make, to the management and administration of the Peralta Colleges,” according to Johnson.