Six months after the City College of San Francisco vowed to restore Cantonese classes it cut to balance the budget, the school has yet to lay out a plan to preserve courses teaching the language primarily used by the city’s sizable Chinese immigrant population.
Now, a new ballot measure that would raise $45 million a year for the local community college might bring some hope. The 20-year tax hike targets residential and non-residential properties, and the money will focus on keeping social justice studies, English language and workforce classes for immigrants.
Alan Wong—a lead advocate of the measure and author of a January resolution to bring back the Chinese-language courses—said revenue from the tax hike would offer a lifeline to the imperiled curriculum. And the benefits, he added, would extend far beyond just the classes in question.
“If we have more funding,” he said, “it would help support all of our programs at City College.”
Money from the measure, if approved by voters this fall, will “ease the burden” on the school’s tight budget and allow more room for investment in Cantonese classes.
Faced with intractable financial strain, City College has had to slash costs by laying people off and prioritizing certain classes—specifically, those with credits under a certificate program or those that are transferable to a university for a degree.
Because Cantonese classes don’t belong to any certificate programs and are not credited, they’re left on the chopping block.
While the school is trying to save Cantonese classes, Wong said the effort has run into a number of obstacles.
After January’s resolution, the administration developed a potential certificate program for Cantonese education. But it never got off the ground because no department wanted to take over the new responsibility with such limited resources.
Wong said it normally takes about two years to establish a new certificate program, but he’ll ask staff to update the board about its efforts next month.
Julia Quon, a Chinese American San Francisco native and student leader of the school’s Save Cantonese campaign, told The Standard she had a “horrible feeling” about the lack of progress. She said she’s deeply disappointed that no departments have stepped up to take ownership of the Cantonese certificate program.
“It’s devastating,” she said, “especially for a language used by so many victims and survivors of anti-AAPI hate—and the college doesn’t care.”
On Monday, activists rallied in front of City Hall and submitted over 20,000 signatures to the San Francisco Department of Elections, trying to qualify the funding measure for the November ballot.
Supervisor Myrna Melgar, an immigrant from El Salvador, attended the rally, where she emphasized how important City College is to the immigrant community.
“All of the things that people do to get ahead in this country are exemplified by City College,” she said. “[It] allows somebody like me to eventually get into an Ivy League school, to become supervisor, to learn to speak English.”
Election officials will now work on verifying the signatures.
The measure, which is a citizens' initiative, will require a simple majority of over 50% of voters' support to pass, the City Attorney's Office confirmed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the percentage of the vote the measure would need to pass.