JWCC budget to decrease at least 5 percent, and possibly more

John Wood Community College students, from left, Penny Rinehart, Tyler Dickens, Ben McCain and Daniel Doellman practice air layering, a form of vegetative propagation, on a rubber plant in the college greenhouse. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Apr. 8, 2013 8:16 am Updated: May. 6, 2013 8:29 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

John Wood Community College officials believe no staff or programs will be cut in a 5 percent reduction in the school's budget leading into the 2013-14 academic year.

However, if that figure goes higher -- which it could, if Gov. Pat Quinn's recommendation to further decrease funding to community colleges is carried out -- JWCC President John Letts said additional cutbacks will be needed.

The ongoing problem of delinquent payments from the state to the 48 community colleges in Illinois has forced a third straight year of restructuring budgets.

"There is no doubt, this is the toughest economic period I have seen in my tenure at the college," Letts said. "It is unprecedented."

Letts has been connected with John Wood for 25 years and was named president in January 2012.

Letts said a JWCC budget task force is working on presenting a balanced budget of about $15.2 million to the Board of Trustees, probably at the June 19 board meeting.

"It is still in flux," Letts said.

John Wood was due to receive $2.6 million from the state during the current fiscal year, which ends in May. It has received $413,000.

Reggie Coleman, a JWCC trustee since 1999 and president of the Illinois Community College Trustee Association, said the state is running about six to eight months behind in its payments to community colleges.

He sees no end in sight for the monetary dilemma.

"It took the state more than a year to go broke, and it will take more than a year to fix this," he said. "We're probably looking at about 10 years."

As of January, or about halfway through a community college's fiscal year, a report by The Peoria Journal Star said the 48 schools had received a combined $33.2 million of the $168.7 million they were due from the state -- or about 20 percent. At that point, the state's total unpaid obligations for all programs and services had reached $6.6 billion, according to the newspaper.

Quinn is asking for an additional $1.3 billion in cuts in general state aid to education to help make a dent in Illinois' red ink. Community colleges would receive a 6.1 to 10 percent decrease in state funds in his plan. Coleman said the ICCTA Board of Representatives learned of the plan at its March 9 meeting in Lombard.

Letts said if that plan is enacted, JWCC would try to avoid further staff cuts. More than 10 full- and part-time staff members have been let go in the past two years. Also cut was the landscaping and turf grass management program, which will cease at the end of the current school year.

Outside of the state money, Coleman said community colleges have two other sources of income -- local property taxes and tuition. Coleman said tuition fees have mandated limits tied to the cost of credit hours at each particular school. Letts said JWCC will try to avoid a tuition increase.

When the JWCC budget is finalized, which will likely depend on when/if Quinn's proposal for further cuts is enacted, it must be posted for 30 days for public scrutiny before it can be formally approved by the Board of Trustees.