Bureaucrats Back Off After Baker's Story Gets Out

The San Francisco Baking Institute was in danger of closing after 16 years in business, but it appears a last minute compromise was reached with state bureaucrats after word spread to several media outlets including Breitbart News.

Michel Suas is the owner and co-founder of the Baking Institute which trains about 350 students a year, mostly people in the food industry, how to bake artisan bread. The Institute is a labor of love for Suas who takes no salary for running it but employs a total of 26 people including 3 teachers, paid interns, reception staff, maintenance workers and a store associated with the school.

The school was founded in 1996 and since 2001 was registered with the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education which is a part of California's Bureau of Consumer Affairs. Every year the Institute paid about $1,500 into a fund designed to protect student tuition in case a school is shut down.

But the Bureau officially dissolved in 2007. It was re-chartered under Governor Schwarzenegger and began operation again in 2009-2010. The new bureau sent letters to all post-secondary schools within the state requiring them to re-apply for approval to offer classes even if they had been previously approved under the old bureau. Apparently SFBI and over 100 other institutions in the state did not respond.

This eventually led to another letter ordering the school to shut down unless it could get its application paperwork in order, which meant demonstrating compliance with obscure state regulations having to do with everything from courses offered to the school's printed catalog.

Owner Michel Suas says he had no idea what the demands meant or what it would cost him to comply with them. He expected he would be forced to hire an administrator just to complete the paperwork which would mean raising tuition or increasing the number of students in each class.

Even then, approval would still mean a long delay. Michel was told by phone that once all his paperwork was in he could expect to wait 2-3 months for a decision whether or not he could remain open. A delay of that magnitude would mean refunding money for students already signed up for classes beginning in January. Michel thought he might lose as much as $150,000. At that point, unable to pay rent on his facilities, he would be forced to consider closing the school for good.

But something changed between December 21st when Michel received the shut down letter and yesterday afternoon. When I spoke to Michel around noon pacific time Thursday he was clearly worried that his Institute was on the verge of closing. A short time later I left a message for Russ Heimrich who handles media inquires for the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education to get their side of the story. Russ called back around 4pm. He was polite and professional and assured me that the Bureau had no interest in shutting down the baking school. On the contrary, he wanted me to know that his office had contacted the school that afternoon and was working closely with them to get the situation resolved.

This seemed like such a sudden and dramatic change of tone from what I'd heard via Michel. At first I wasn't sure what to make of it. I asked Russ about the previous call telling Michel it would take 2-3 months for an answer about the fate of his school. Russ informed me that was a generic timetable which was never intended to apply to Michel. In fact the baking school was "first on the runway" and he thought that, once the paperwork was complete, it could be approved in 2-3 days rather than months.

Before I hung up with Russ, he mentioned that he had two other media outlets waiting to talk to him including the San Francisco Chronicle. It was at this point that everything fell into place. The bureau really did threaten to shut Michel's school down and it also told him he might wait months to learn if he could reopen. But then a groundswell of support from current and former students got reporters making calls. According to a defensive article published by the Chronicle today, the entire problem has been resolved. The 2-3 month approval process only took one day. For a state bureaucracy that classifies as a Christmas miracle.

As Michel told me during our call "Even though we are a small school, we have very strong support in the industry." It's not at all clear that the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education would have been nearly this responsive if not for that support, but thanks to Michel's former students his story has a happy ending.


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