Colleges worry about spring semester if budget feud continues

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan's budget dispute has some community colleges concerned.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan's budget dispute has some community colleges concerned. Associated Press File Photo

 
 
Updated 10/9/2015 3:47 PM

State officials say some community colleges have expressed concern about having to cut back class and program offerings for the spring semester if the ongoing budget feud in Springfield drags on into next year.

Local community colleges aren't getting state money via court orders like many programs are, so any money owed to them since July 1 hasn't been sent.

 

"We are hearing from some of our colleges that they are worried about the spring semester," Illinois Community College Board spokesman Matthew Berry said.

In remarks this week, Gov. Bruce Rauner publicly raised the idea that the outcome of Illinois not having a budget could be even more severe.

"Universities and community colleges will not receive state funding, causing some to wonder whether they will be open for the second semester. Outrageous. Should not happen," Rauner said.

No local community colleges are talking publicly about drastic action, and how individual colleges will fare as the state budget impasse drags on could "vary widely," Berry said. Community colleges get a large share of their income from property taxes, and suburban districts tend to have higher property values than colleges elsewhere in the state. So the effects might be less serious in the suburbs.

Oakton Community College spokesman Paul Palian said he doesn't know of any class-cutting plans, but he said schools are "preparing to tighten our belts even further."

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Palian said a main concern for students is whether colleges will be able to keep floating the need-based state-funded scholarships. Most Illinois colleges and universities are covering the cost of the Monetary Award Program for its students that qualify, counting on the state to come through and pay eventually.

That could get harder to do if the battle between Rauner and Democratic leaders lasts much longer.

"We're monitoring the situation in Springfield very closely," Palian said.

Harper College identified those scholarships as one of its concerns, too, saying in a statement "the college is committed to funding these expenses for the time being."

An Elgin Community College leader said future issues could be "difficult to predict."

"In the past, when the state has made late payments or missed payments, we have been forced to use funds from other areas to continue programs like adult education, (general education development), or (English as a second language)," Sharon Konny, the college's vice president of business and finance, said in a statement. "But if this impasse continues, it will certainly limit our ability to offer high quality educational and training opportunities to our district residents."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton didn't signal any problems ahead.

"We have cut our property tax levy, tuition, and our deficit while raising salaries by three percent," she said. "This shows that it's possible for community colleges to tighten their belts."

Rauner this week again tried to push Democrats to either help adopt his pro-business proposals or approve a budget without Republican support. Democrats, though, say it's the governor who had the chance to avoid the budget struggle.

"There is no question all of the disruption caused by the current impasse is due to the governor's decision to veto the spending plan approved by the legislature," House Speaker Michael Madigan said.

Lawmakers are due back in Springfield Oct. 20.

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