Endorsements 2012: San Francisco races - Page 6

Rizzo and Selby for D5 supervisor. Our top choice in D1 is Eric Mar

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That said, we need to add a bit of perspective here: City College is going to survive. The board has already hired an outside trustee to monitor its compliance with WASC's recommendations, and by next spring, WASC is going to approve the school's accreditation.

But along the way, the district is going to have to make some major changes that could shift its essential mission and alter the role City College has played in the community. Put simply, WASC and the state agency that oversees community colleges want City College to become more of a traditional junior college, designed to prepare students for transfers to four-year institutions, at the expense of adult education, English as a second language, and job training. The people who will decide the district's fate want fewer teachers, fewer campuses, more administrators, and higher financial reserves — even if that means serving a smaller number of students.

It's going to be tricky: School officials will have to thread a sharp political needle to emerge without lasting damage. And the question for the voters is simple: Who is best qualified to make sure that the school meets the WASC requirements — without gutting everything that's important about the San Francisco Community College system?

We approach this with a couple of observations. The problems at City College aren't new — they're the result of many years of incompetence, malfeasance, corruption, secrecy, and lack of accountability that was driven by the elected board and infected every aspect of college operations, culminating in a scandal that resulted in felony charges against the chancellor. For more than a decade, a board majority that at best ignored and at worst empowered bad administrators and worse decisions ruled the college like a private fiefdom. Natalie Berg, who is running for re-election, was neck-deep in the sleaze. Milton Marks, who died in August, was often the only voice for honesty and sanity.

In the past few years, Marks found some allies as John Rizzo, Chris Jackson, and Steven Ngo joined the board, and since 2009, the reformers have had a clear majority. They haven't been perfect, by any means — and it's hard to deny that they were at the helm when the crisis hit, and could and should have move earlier to avert it. But they've at least made a credible effort to dig the school out of its mire.

Along the way, they've had to cut the budget by 20 percent — and made conscious decisions to preserve a professional teaching force and a broad mission, even if that meant laying off administrators and accepting lower-than-normal levels of reserves. Right or wrong, those were honest policy moves — ones that happen to conflict with what the state and WASC currently want.

It's tempting (particularly when WASC complains about board dysfunction, which actually means that the members sharply disagreed, for very good reasons, on a lot of issues) to call for throwing out all the incumbents. But that's a mistake; two incumbents are on the right side of the reform battles and have a vision for the school's future. We're also endorsing two challengers who offer a valuable fresh perspective.

Chris Jackson, a researcher with the San Francisco Labor Council, is running for his second term. He's the only board member who voted against hiring a special trustee to oversee the districts WASC compliance — and he raised valid points about the trustees role and authority. He's been a strong supporter of the reform agenda, and while he needs to understand that resisting the WASC demands entirely is a recipe for disaster, and that the board needs to accept greater fiscal discipline even if it means cutting programs he supports, Jackson's voice is needed as the board moves forward.

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