SF Supervisors OK $9M for free City College but mayor may have different plan

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- Protesters gathered Tuesday at San Francisco City Hall to lobby for free tuition at City College but demonstrators didn't carry picket signs and bullhorns -- they traded those in for singing and sheet music.

The singing "protest" happened before the The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to appropriate $9 million for a fund intended to make City College of San Francisco tuition free for all city residents in the coming school year.

Students and families should not bank on the tuition subsidy just yet, however, as Mayor Ed Lee has said he does not plan to spend all of the money the board has allocated. 

In a budget realignment plan released last week Lee proposed to spend $500,000 on setting up the program in the current fiscal year and then $4.25 million in the next two fiscal years, for a total of $9 million over three years. 

And while the legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim and approved by the board calls for the subsidy to be available to all city residents, the mayor's proposal suggests a more limited program.

The protesters aimed to encourage supervisors to support Kim's proposal. Dozens of people knocked on the doors of Board of Supervisors while spreading holiday cheer along with their politically motivated message for free tuition.

The protest group, which included Hollywood actor and activist Danny Glover, wants the city to give struggling students a chance to attend college.

"I had to finish high school but going to City College opened up another world to me," said Glover, who supports Supervisor Jane Kim's mission. She has advocating taking funds generated from Prop W, a real estate transfer tax, and using them to provide free classes at City College.

"It needs protecting, enhancing and preserving," said Conny Ford, a City College graduate, who sang "make it free, make it free, make it free!" to the tune of the holiday classic "let it snow."

Ford said she's angry that Mayor Ed Lee wants to use Prop W funds for other municipal funding needs.

"We're saying a promise is a promise Mr. Mayor!" Ford said.

Said Supervisor Kim: "We're not asking the city for a handout but we also didn't pass Proposition W to solve the city's other budgetary woes. We really campaigned and fought for it because we thought community college should be free for everyone."

City Hall officials insist, however, that funds from Prop W weren't legally earmarked for City College.

The money is earmarked for transportation, the library preservation fund, children services and other needs.

"The mayor believes that cost should never be a barrier to higher education and he supports the supplemental that's moving through the board, but he supports spending it over a longer period of time," said "Ellen Canale, a spokesperson for Mayor Lee.

City Hall insiders say recent scandals at City College, including financial problems and accreditation woes, aren't helping the protesters' cause.

Mayor Lee has a convened a review panel which will meet over the next 90 days to decide on the issue.

Kim called on the mayor to fully fund the program, arguing it is a  concrete way the city can make higher education more affordable for its lower and middle class residents and give residents a chance at economic equality. 

Supervisor Mark Farrell was the lone vote against the appropriation today, arguing that the board should not be approving the funds in the absence of a larger discussion about funding for homelessness and other services.

By KTVU reporter Tara Moriarty.