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San Francisco County, CA November 5, 2002 Election
Smart Voter

Open letter to the Students, Faculty, and Staff of City College:

By Abel Mouton

Candidate for Community College Board; County of San Francisco

This information is provided by the candidate
My main qualifications are my platform, and the fact that as a democratic socialist, I am not beholden to the Democratic Party political machine. This gives me the independence to actually say what I think and try to carry out what really needs to be done.
To the Students, Faculty, and Staff of City College:

This is my second time running for the Community College Board. I am running because, although City College is a great civic resource, the structure of its administration, starting with the college board, prevents this institution from standing up to its full height. Add the fact that the Willie Brown/John Burton political machine controls the board, and the situation gets worse.

My main qualifications are my platform, and the fact that as a democratic socialist, I am not beholden to the Democratic Party political machine. This gives me the independence to actually say what I think and try to carry out what really needs to be done. I have also been a part-time student at CCSF for the past two years. At the very least, I can guarantee that as a member of the College Board, I can greatly demystify the functioning of this shadowy body, which disappears from sight in between elections. The existing bodies for student and faculty input into CCSF policies ("shared governance," they call it) are only advisory bodies, and have seen their recommendations repeatedly rejected by the Board of Trustees.

Think about it: 100,000 students at City College. A huge section of the student body is immigrants who can't vote in local elections. Many others live outside of SF and can't vote in SF elections. Yet these students have decisions that directly affect their futures made by a seven-member board elected Citywide, with their victories directly dependent on all the financial nastiness that the Democratic Party clubs can supply.

It is true that CCSF is where the Bay Area's socially and economically disadvantaged go to get the skills necessary to move up a rung on the ladder of living standards. However, it is also a badly distorted image of the potential of the institution.

Besides the critical task of empowering these students to improve their living standards, CCSF also has another critical responsibility: empowering students to transform reality through democratic process. Students must be empowered to develop the curriculum that suits them, and it must be done sensitively, flexibly, and on a case-by-case basis, especially when so many of CCSF's students are poor and even homeless. Teachers must be given the latitude to do their jobs the best way that they can. This means more control over budget and curriculum.

When no one is looking, the Board spends a lot of money hiring contractors and consultants as political rewards and perks to friends when there are faculty members capable of performing the same functions. These faculty members are also more qualified to carry out many of the functions performed by high-paid administrators. In fact, CCSF faculty are more likely to do what needs to be done cheaper and more effectively than these administrators, who are promoted or demoted according to their ability to conform to Democratic Party politics. Students, teachers and staff are those most affected by the Board's policies. That's why they are the ones who best know what needs to be done and how to implement it.

Faculty members should be granted release time or relieved from some of their duties at full pay in order to do some of the administrative functions, assuming, of course, that they are willing to do so. This would open up job opportunities for faculty members, and allow part-time teachers to be promoted to full time, as well as easing the burden of overhead paid to high administrative salaries.

Eventually, I am for replacing the existing board with an elected board of faculty, staff and students with full control over policy and budget. Steps on this path might include district elections for Board of Trustees, increasing the number of seats on the board, increasing the number of student trustees, giving them full votes, and creating faculty and staff trustees as well. Also, all of the administrative positions should be elected positions, and administrators should be paid no more than the average teacher. This proposal is inspired by the autonomous educational institutions of Latin America, which receive 100% state funding but are administered by elected committees of students, faculties and staff. Following this example, CCSF can become not only a democratic educational institution, but also an institution of education in democracy.

Followers of local politics will remember how Mayor Willie Brown dealt with the budget crisis at the City level: he demanded that City workers give back a year's worth of contributions to their retirement plan or get laid off. When the unions representing these raised some token complaints, Mayor Brown laid off some of the City's lowest paid workers, the laundry workers at Laguna Honda Hospital. The existing College Board replicated Mayor Brown's budget-crisis remedy at CCSF. They told CCSF's teachers, many of whom already cannot afford to live in San Francisco, that they must either give back their Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for a year, or some of them would certainly have to be laid off.

It is suicidal, in my view, for CCSF to continue funding CCSF projects with bonds, which basically translate to a tax on CCSF's students before too long. CCSF got $195 million in bonds last November, and the Board is rumored to be preparing another such measure for an upcoming ballot. The problem with this is that the increased rents and property taxes place the burden for paying off these bonds on CCSF's students, students from the Bay Area's most oppressed communities.

I think the Board of Trustees ought to be demanding structural changes in California's educational funding methods to try to get our schools out of the boom-and-bust funding cycle. (Of course, the schools only ever experience the busts.) This would include things like demanding the repeal of Prop 13, while also advocating for progressive taxation on big business. Since the more students CCSF has, the more money the state pitches in, I think that an aggressive recruitment drive into the Bay Area's working class and poor communities, carried out by student employees paid a living wage, is another approach.

Some of the candidates like the idea of outreach to SF's "corporate citizens" to get them to provide internships and job opportunities to CCSF students. I have also repeatedly heard the idea of campaigning among the corporations for donations of equipment and cash for training programs. And from these "Public-Private Partnerships," the corporations get cheap labor and still more tax breaks.

I am against these proposals. First, corporations have recently received hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks at the expense of schools. Second, why give these organizations, which already have our education system in a social death grip, any control over curriculum? It seems a little nutty to me...

As an alternative, I am promoting the idea of "Public-Public Partnerships," in which the City and the State tax the corporations every way that they can, and use that money to develop a combination of education/public works programs in which students from CCSF and SFUSD (and other schools statewide, of course) receive a living wage for working on community improvement projects, whether environmental cleanup in the Bayview (which CCSF students already are working on), homeless services, Department of Parks and Recreation, student mentoring at SFUSD, etc.

These are the more important proposals that I will fight for when I am elected to the Board of Trustees. But I also want to emphasize that there is very little I can promise. If I win, I will be one member of a seven-member board, the other six of which think with one mind. I will likely be out-voted consistently. But we can change that around by mobilizing the entire student body and workforce at all 11 CCSF campuses. I can promise two things: 1) transparency at the College Board level. A lot of things that take place behind the scenes will be revealed; and 2) My office will be, first and foremost, a platform for the education, organization and mobilization of students, union members and communities of color to make the changes we need in our school system. To this end, I will immediately establish an office on campus where I will be available three days a week to help organize on campus. This will not be a complaint office, but a tool to organize CCSF students, faculty, and staff. I'm for a big coalition of all students, teachers, and workers on all of CCSF's 11 campuses to fight for full and complete autonomy for CCSF, a must-have for any modern educational institution. I will discuss building this coalition with all student organizations, all unions representing CCSF workers, and all unorganized students and workers at all CCSF campuses. Thanks for your consideration. I hope I can count on your support, not only at the ballot box, but also in the day-to-day struggle to make quality education available to all who need it.


Abel Mouton

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