REGARDING: THE FISCAL CRISIS & MANAGEMENT ASSISTANCE TEAM (FCMAT) REPORT ON CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO
One of the major weapons in the attack on CCSF has been the report of the “Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team”. Sensational but false information from the report was featured in the SF Chronicle. It was even referenced in a Sacramento hearing on community colleges.
Last Monday July 8, Community College Chancellor Brice Harris included false information from the FCMAT report in his presentation on the need for a “Special Trustee” for CCSF. The following two letters were sent by email and regular mail to the FCMAT officers, Trustee Bob Agrella and CCSF Interim Chancellor in May. After several weeks with no response, they were resent.
As of this date there has been no reply.
Dear FCMAT, California Community College Officials, and anyone concerned about our community colleges:–
I wish to draw your attention to errors, exaggerations and misleading statements in the September 2012 report prepared by the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team for the City College of San Francisco (CCSF). It would have been better if these errors and questions had been raised earlier, but I believe this is still important considering the situation at CCSF and also for the accuracy of future FCMAT reports.
In this letter I will
1) List specific errors, exaggerations and misleading statements
2) Raise several questions and concerns.
1. ERRORS, EXAGGERATIONS and MISLEADING STATEMENTS
Error on Page 5 – The report states “City College of San Francisco ….. has provided salary increases and generous benefits with no discernible means to pay them.” This is misleading. As reported elsewhere, since 2007 no employee group at CCSF has received any pay increase. Faculty salaries at CCSF are in fact LOWER than at nearby Foothill-DeAnza College in Cupertino. Furthermore, since 2010 faculty have accepted salary reductions. Far from “salary increases” the salaries have been reduced.
Exaggeration on Page 6 – The report states “CCSF has employed twice as many full-time faculty per 1,000 full-time equivalent students (FTES) and incurred expenses that are $17 to $18 million higher than
comparison districts ….” This is an exaggeration. According to the data on page 40 Foothill-DeAnza has 549 full-time faculty compared to 842 at CCSF which would make a 53% difference not 100%. As an aside, it is generally acknowledged that full-time teachers are more dedicated and higher quality than part-time.
Example of “Cherry Picking” on Page 7 – Your report says “CCSF has almost twice the number of tenured faculty as the two largest comparison districts ….. Mt. San Antonio and Santa Monica”. As shown on page 40, the largest comparison college is Foothill-DeAnza, not the ones you mention and use for comparison.
Exaggeration on Page 8 – The FCMAT report says, “CCSF shows little evidence of an effective enrollment management plan” That can be contrasted with Evaluation Report of the ACCJC Review Team. For example on page 34 it states “The team determined that City College of San Francisco has a defined process for canceling low-enrolled classes with fewer than 20 students for credit and non-credit courses.” The report goes on to describe the process of cutting and managing classes.
Error on Page 9 – Your report says “the costs of employee contracts have increased through a succession of chancellors”. Chancellor Griffin assumed that position in 2008 and as elsewhere noted in the report “No employee group received a salary increase since 2007”.
Exaggeration/Slander on Page 9 – In the closing paragraphs of the Executive Summary you state “Interviewees consistently indicated that CCSF has for many years operated based on power, influence and political whim rather than reason, logic and fairness. Interviewees indicated that CCSF’s focus and purpose, which should be serving students, has been lost and is not the basis for decision making.” These are highly sensational and damaging allegations. Who are the “interviewees”? How many and how reliable are they? Are any of the “interviewees” paid lobbyists? These questions are relevant and essential for a fair evaluation because the statements are completely at odds with the Evidence and Findings in the report of the Accreditation Evaluation Team which commends CCSF in the following words: “the college has done a superb job of bringing the community college to the varying communities throughout the City and County of San Francisco (P30) ….. “Based on interviews with employees, the college is clearly student centered. Employees consistently demonstrated their concern for students, and, ultimately, the focus on students’ success. The college’s strength is definitely seen in its service to its various communities’ needs (e.g. the breadth of offerings) and attention to its’ students’ success.” (P31).
The question of whether CCSF has been serving students successfully was probably answered most resoundingly in the election last November when 73% of the electorate voted to raise the city property parcel tax for the next 8 years to help CCSF in the current fiscally troubled time. If the allegations in the FCMAT report were accurate to any significant extent, it is very unlikely there would be so much outpouring of civic support for the college. In short, it appears that minor issues of power abuse have been exaggerated and a misleading picture, verging on slander, was presented in the FCMAT report.
Exaggeration/Hyperbole on Page 9 – The final paragraph of the Executive Summary says, “Under this organizational and cultural model there is no responsibility or accountability because it is often unclear how or by whom decisions have been made. This has resulted in operational dysfunction, which in turn has contributed to fiscal deficiencies.”
The above statement is again contradicted by evidence and findings in the Evaluation Report. For example on page 59 it reports “City College of San Francisco has established clearly written policies that delineate the roles and responsibilities of all constituents in the decision-making process.”
If CCSF was actually dysfunctional, they would not be consistently serving tens of thousands of students with general satisfaction. It appears the statements in the FCMAT report about dysfunction and lack of accountability are either untrue or severe exaggerations.
Gross Error on P26 – Perhaps the most damaging error in the FCMAT report is on page 26 where it says, “The above table shows that regular faculty salaries have increased 25% during this period, while FTES have decreased and revenues have increased by less than 10%”. Presumably the author meant to say that regular faculty COSTS had increased by 25%. Unfortunately that is not what is written and the error had huge ramifications.
The SF Chronicle featured the above exaggerations and false statement prominently in its initial article on the FCMAT report. The error was compounded as that newspaper story based on the FCMAT error was picked up and broadcast by others. The FCMAT error and exaggerations made their way up to Sacramento and the Little Hoover Commission when lobbyist Robert Shireman presented a report copying your characterization of CCSF and with prominent reference to the newspaper article containing the misinformation.
2. QUESTIONS and CONCERNS about BIAS
a) Why does the FCMAT report never use the number of ACTUAL students when making comparisons?
It is reasonable to use the “full time equivalent student” (FTES) as a data point for many comparisons. (Three students each taking one 5 semester unit class = One full time equivalent student.) However isn’t it necessary to sometimes look at the number of actual students not just the “full time equivalent”? Page 40 of the FCMAT report shows Foothill-DeAnza College District with 35.5 thousands FTES compared to 35.8 thousand at CCSF. That statistic is useful for many comparisons but not all. For example, counseling and many other student services need to be available to ALL students, not just “full time equivalent”. With many thousands more actual students at CCSF in comparison with Foothill-DeAnza, it is clearly not objective or accurate to only consider the FTES when making comparisons in “efficiency” between two colleges.
b) Are the CCSF financial problems exaggerated in the report? It appears so.
On page 51 the FCMAT report states “CCSF is facing potential insolvency, which could end the organization’s existence.” This statement, following one of the erroneous statements referenced above, is an example of hyperbole. Elsewhere in the report, the statements are more factual. For example the actual financial situation is summarized on page 13: “Fiscal year 2010-11 was not a deficit spending year ….. However fiscal year 2011-12 had an unacceptably high level of deficit spending. It was addressed by using fund balance and one-time spending reductions including wage concessions.” (P13) So the financial deficit was only for the last year and was addressed. While it’s not good habit to use the reserve funds, isn’t that what a reserve fund is for? And if the college administration and faculty were able to adapt to the financial problems in 2011-12 doesn’t that suggest an ability to adapt in future?
It is not in the FCMAT report but seems worth pointing out that CCSF was not alone in having financial issues. The Fall 2011 newsletter of the accrediting commission reported that due to fiscal stress on institutions: “18 ACCJC member colleges reported reserves of less than 5% of the annual unrestricted
expenditures, as required by the ACCJC. A comparison of AFR 2009 to FY 2010 revealed that the number of colleges with low ending balances (less than $1.5 million) increased from 67 to 70.”
c) Are the claims and fears about “unfunded liability” exaggerated in the report? It appears so.
FCMAT references to “unfunded liability for retiree health benefits” (eg P12) raise concern and worry, partly because many people do not know what an “unfunded liability” is. It is easy to create fear or shock where there is ignorance. In fact concerns and changes regarding pension liability are widespread.
The Contra Costa Sanitary District recently addressed the question in their newsletter:
Question: What is an Unfunded Liability?
Answer: “The unfunded liability is the amount of money owed by the District for employee benefits, which include pension costs, retiree medical benefits, and the cost of accrued vacation and sick leave which is paid when an employee leaves the District It’s called an unfunded liability because there are not sufficient assets on hand today to meet projected pension and medical benefit payments payments promised for the next 50+ years. This is not at all unusual for a pension system.” (underline added)
Less than two years ago University of California made changes to its pension funding because of the UC “unfunded liability”. Probably CCSF needs-to address this issue more aggressively as you suggest, but the situation does not seem as unusual or extreme as the FCMAT report implies.
The Financial Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) provides an important-service for California public schools and colleges in clarifying and helping correct financial problems. However it must be objective and accurate.
Unfortunately, the FCMAT report on CCSF contains several errors, exaggerations and misleading statements as documented above. Following on the heels of the ACCJC sanction, and with mainstream media sensationalism, this has contributed to considerable public misinformation.
I request that you acknowledge this complaint and consider where and how appropriate changes or corrections can be properly made.
I look forward to your response.
PS. I am a member of the concerned public that supports our community colleges As a retiree from University of California I notice that the CCSF benefits which FCMAT -criticizes so harshly are about the same at UC.
TOTAL STUDENT POPULATIONS AT CCSF, FOOTHILL-DEANZA AND -MT. SAN ANTONIO COMMUNITY COLLEGES – –
My previous letter criticized the exclusive use of FTES (full tithe equivalent student) population when FCMAT compared college staffing levels, counseling services, etc.. As I pointed out, there are some services which require consideration of the ACTUAL number of real people not just “full time equivalent”. – – –
The following data shows the TOTAL STUDENT POPULATION for Academic Year 201 1L2012 at the most significant comparison colleges used in the FCMAT report. –
The data includes part-time, full-time, credit and noncredit students. This data comes from the very useful and user-friendly “Datamart” service at the California Community Colleges Chancellors Office. See for yourself at http://datamart.cccco.edu/Students/Default.aspx
Note that because the noncredit student population is so large at CCSF, that segment is presented separately as “San Francisco Ctrs”. At the other colleges there are a relatively small number of noncredit students and classes and those students are included in the numbers presented.
California Community colleges Chancellors Office
Enrollment Status Summary Report:
|Mt. San Antonio
|San Francisco Ctrs
Report Run Date As of 5/20/2013 11:06:25 PM
TOTAL STUDENT COUNTS 2011-2012
Foothill-DeAnza ………… 64,961
Mt San Antonio ………….. 52,954
CCSF ……………………….. 90,352
As shown, “San Francisco” (CCSF) in 2011-12 had 39% more total students than Foothill-DeAnza and 70% more than Mt San Antonio.
How can a comparison of staffing, counseling and other college services be fair and objective if it equates colleges with such different total student populations? Yet that is what the FCMAT report did.
Note to readers:
If, after reading this critique, you wish to do something positive and easy, here is a suggestion:
* phone Joel Montero, CEO at FCMAT (661) 636-4308 and ask when they are going to issue correction to their errors and exaggerations.
* phone California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris (916) 445-8752 and ask if he is aware of false information and bias in the FCMAT report. Why is he repeating it?
**********************************Filed under: Archive