COD board agrees to cut tuition, taxes

College of DuPage trustees have approved a budget that will reduce tuition by $5 per credit hour and cut the school's property tax levy by roughly 5 percent.

The board voted 4-1 Monday night to adopt the $314.1 million spending plan after postponing the vote for several months.

An earlier draft of the budget was slated to be approved before COD's fiscal year started July 1. But with trustees working to implement various changes in the wake of controversies at the Glen Ellyn-based community college, the decision was made to re-examine the document.

As a result, board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton said there was more public involvement in the budget process, which helped move the college in the right direction.

"This budget puts students first by cutting $5 per credit hour," Hamilton said. "This budget respects taxpayers. It cuts the property tax levy by almost $4.2 million, or approximately 5 percent."

Starting in the spring, tuition will drop to $135 per credit hour for in-district students. That amount includes fees. Illinois students coming from outside the district will pay $322 per credit hour.

The reduction of the property tax levy, meanwhile, is expected to save the owner of a $300,000 home about $11 a year. This year, DuPage residents with homes valued at $300,000 paid about $297 in taxes to the college, according to the county clerk's office.

Before the April election, where three Hamilton-backed candidates shifted the balance of power on the seven-member board, the previous board voted to keep tuition and fees flat. But after reviewing the budget, a committee found COD could reduce tuition and taxes and still balance the budget.

In fact, Hamilton said previous boards dating back to fiscal 2011 collected tens of millions of dollars beyond what the college needed to operate. During that time, the amount of cash COD had in the bank grew to more than $200 million, Hamilton said.

"The fund balance grew and grew with taxpayer dollars we should never have collected in the first place," she said, "or tuition dollars that we never should have charged."

The operating portion of the budget - which pays for salaries, supplies and other day-to-day expenses - lists $181.4 million in projected expenses. Still, that fund is expected to end the fiscal year with a $1 million surplus, officials said.

Hamilton said the budget recognizes the college's professors, adjuncts and staff members by funding nearly 3 percent annual raises.

She said the budget also marks the end of the taxpayer-funded parties and wining and dining by administrators that took place at the Waterleaf restaurant, which was closed recently after losing almost $2.2 million in a four-year span.

"The April version of this budget actually assumed continued losses at Waterleaf," Hamilton said. "But this board closed Waterleaf. So those losses will not happen, and those dollars will go into education."

Hamilton said the cuts made to the budget "are not huge - but they are indicative."

Support for the new budget came from Hamilton and her board allies, Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano. Joseph Wozniak cast the only dissenting vote, and board members Erin Birt and Dianne McGuire were absent.

Hamilton said next year's budget will be a product of the new board from beginning to end.

"I am excited by the prospect, and I anticipate the results," Hamilton said.

"This budget is a major improvement over where we began," she said. "And it points the way to many more improvements to come."

  COD Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton says the school's new budget "puts students first" and "respects taxpayers" by cutting both tuition and the school's property tax levy. Daniel White/
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