Harper, CLC lay off employees in wake of state budget stalemate

Local colleges have announced layoffs as a result of the state's ongoing budget impasse that has left them without state funding since July of last year.

Palatine's Harper College and College of Lake County in Grayslake both said Thursday they'll eliminate 20 or more positions at each school, while Elgin Community College officials say they are still assessing the situation.

At Harper College, 29 full-time and part-time employees learned this week they will be out of a job come June 30.

Harper officials say the layoffs are, in part, a response to Illinois' ongoing budget impasse. The college has also seen a decline in enrollment during the past few years after experiencing an enrollment surge with the declining economy after 2007.

"Enrollment has gone back to the 2007 numbers, and now positions and employment levels are following," Harper President Ken Ender said.

Layoffs are expected to save the college $3.5 million, and Harper expects to save an additional $1.5 million by reducing travel, supplies and printing spending.

Ender said the layoffs will not directly affect teachers or students.

"All programs will continue running, and the faculty will continue to teach," he said.

While 19 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees have been told they will be laid off, Harper is eliminating a total of 62 full-time and part-time positions through voluntary employee reductions, department realignments and the elimination of vacant positions. Ender said the college looked at positions that were vacant to determine whether they needed to be filled.

"Then we looked at positions that were redundant, and that's where a number of the positions we cut came from," he explained.

The college is offering voluntary early retirement to eligible faculty members. Ender said about five to 10 faculty members seem to be interested in retiring early.

Harper has $54 million in its reserve fund, which is about 48 percent of the school's 2015-16 operating budget of $113 million. Ender said board policy requires the reserve fund be 40 percent to 60 percent of the school's operating budget.

"We've not considered using reserve funds," Ender said. "You can only do that for a certain period of time, and we're saving the reserves for bigger emergency situations."

Illinois owes Harper $8 million in state aid and $1.5 million in Monetary Award Program grants that help low-income students, according to a college news release.

"In the scheme of things, this is a small amount of money, but they're prepping and getting ready in case there continues to be no budget, which I think is the responsible thing to do," said State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat.

There are other agencies that have been affected more, Crespo said. Mental health centers, for example "have been hurting for a long time, and they've had to make drastic changes," he said.

At the same time, Gov. Bruce Rauner "could have signed the budget for higher education when he signed the budgets for elementary and secondary education," Crespo said. "Now kids are getting out of high school and can't go to a community college without MAP money."

At College of Lake County, 20 full-time positions have been eliminated, officials said Thursday. Of those, 15 were vacant.

The college has used reserve funds this year to cover $8 million not received from the state, plus $800,000 to cover the state's MAP grants for 818 students, officials said.

"Even if we had received our usual state funding, we would still face challenges in building the budget because of the lack of growth in our major revenue sources," President Jerry Weber said in a statement.

A continued budget impasse could lead to more layoffs in the future, Weber said.

"If this budget impasse continues and no state funding is forthcoming, we may need to look at laying off a large number of employees, maybe 40 or more, and halting some programs and services," he said.

At Elgin Community College, officials continue to assess their financial situation, but they've not announced any layoffs, said Sharon Konny, Elgin Community College vice president of business and finance.

"As we move through the budgeting process for next fiscal year, we will continue to assess and review all expenditures including salary and benefits. At this time, no positions have been identified for elimination," she said.

Gilbert R. Boucher II / gboucher@dailyheraldEntrance sign on Washington Street for College of Lake County.
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