City Colleges budget grows, but district braces for state funding cuts

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • July 09, 2009 @ 9:00 AM

Even as it girds for large cuts in state funding, the City Colleges of Chicago has released its biggest budget yet, more than $500 million to fund the district for the next year.

The draft budget is nine percent larger than last year’s $465 million budget, with much of the increased spending going toward higher personnel costs.

But it also includes the prospect of eliminating 54 positions and cutting back hours for part-time employees if state grants for adult education fall through.

“The Governor has also vetoed a critical portion of the preliminary budget approved by the legislators which include significant funding for the District,” Chancellor Wayne Watson wrote in the budget’s cover letter.

State funds make up 21 percent of the district’s annual budget. They include general grants the district can use however it wants, as well as restricted funds that have to be used on specific programs, such as adult education.

Throughout the City Colleges budget are reminders that the picture could get better – or worse – depending on how budget wrangling in Springfield turns out. The state legislature is expected to meet next week and pick up work on the budget.

“I am hopeful that a state higher education funding compromise will (emerge) that would allow the District to restore the programs and student services that are critical to the delivery of quality and affordable education,” Watson wrote in the budget.

District Spokeswoman Elsa Tullos says students should not notice many changes, even if deeper budget cuts are needed.

“We do want to assure our students that they are our No. 1 priority,” she says.

She declined to allow anyone in the district’s finance department to be interviewed, saying they are “knee-deep in budget matters right now.”

“City Colleges’ budget is a very cautious one and they can always increase it,” says Ellen Andres, the chief financial officer for the Illinois Community College Board.

She says two community colleges in the state have issued layoff notices, but most are waiting to see what action the legislature takes next week.

While the district expects to get $55.7 million in grants from the state, it’s also bracing to lose $15.5 million in funding for adult education. Unwilling to cut those programs, the draft budget calls for eliminating 54 positions, some of them vacant, across all seven college campuses to help make up the difference. The district would also cut travel and draw $1.5 million out of a rainy day fund kept by the Chancellor’s office.

Tullos could not immediately say what that fund was used for, nor was it listed by that name anywhere else in the budget.

Tullos says the district is considering “various scenarios” for other funding cuts, but declined to say what those cuts might be.

“That is information that I hope we can address in more detail at our public hearings, or next week or as time goes on,” Tullos says.

The budget isn’t all bad news, though.

The district’s board approved a tuition increase in December, and enrollment surged 10 percent last year. The district expects enrollment to climb at least as much this year.

That means the district is expecting to bring in $14 million in additional tuition and fees this year compared to last year.

With growing enrollment, the District’s budget says it would like to hire 300 new employees, many of them instructors, in the coming year. That would help reverse the trend of a shrinking workforce of teachers, the budget says.

The district cut 196 adjunct teaching positions last year by increasing teaching loads for the rest of the faculty. The year before, the district trimmed 840 staff positions as part of “diligent efforts to contain costs,” budget documents say.

The City Colleges has set up two public hearings for students and residents to comment on the proposed budget.

The first is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave. The second hearing is at 6 p.m. July 21 at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren St.

Additionally, residents can comment at the Board’s monthly meeting, which takes place at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district’s offices, 226 W. Jackson Boulevard. Commenters must sign up a day in advance to reserve a spot to speak at the board meeting by calling Regina Hawkins at 312-553-2515. Residents do not have to sign in advance to go to the two budget hearings.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.