Fallout from the state budget crisis is hitting home hard at Triton College.
Triton, which started the 2010 fiscal year with a budget already $6,231,866 short on the operating side, is struggling to absorb a $4 million shortfall in state operational funding. That threatens Triton’s Adult Education programs, likely to soon be cut entirely, and, in a worst-case scenario, could mean the River Grove college itself would be forced to close at the end of the 2011 school year.
The college’s chief financial officer, Sean Sullivan, confirmed that the state will not be forwarding the third and fourth of four annual operating grants to the school. He said the state has told Triton that at least two, and possibly all four, of next year’s operations grants will also be canceled. That translates into an estimated $3.7 to $4.2 million shortfall this fiscal year, with a total projected shortfall through the next fiscal year of at least $8.4 million, and possibly more.
“I’ve not heard from any state legislator who’s been overly optimistic,” Sullivan said.
In recent weeks, the college’s union presidents were notified to prepare for severe fiscal belt tightening. An e-mail went out to all staff about steps the college was taking to respond.
Among the steps being taken is a hiring freeze and suspension of spending on all items not deemed essential.
“We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” Sullivan said.
State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) acknowledged the state’s three- to six-month lag in paying bills was “creating a huge burden for our vendors,” including Triton. He said the budget crisis stems from “a systemic problem” resulting in part from “a real evaporation in state revenue.”
“Tax revenues are way down,” said Harmon, who added that he doesn’t have much that’s positive to offer at the moment. “We’ve been hunkering down at the state. We’ve been trying to make do, and that has consequences.”
Among those consequences are all but certain programming and personnel cuts at Triton and other two- and four-year schools.
Documents obtained by Wednesday Journal indicate that Triton has the reserves to survive the current budget shortfall, but will have to end its Adult Education programming “immediately.” In order to keep those programs going through June, an unsigned memo from President Patti Granados states, the college will require more than $900,000.
“The college will need to re-evaluate its current mission for FY 2011,” the memo states. “The result of the expected deficit next year will be program cuts and personnel cuts to make up for the shortfall.”
Like the state, Sullivan said, Triton doesn’t seem to have many options. Anticipated reserves are expected to fall from slightly more than $9 million to about $3.4 million. “Our tax dollars are maxed,” Sullivan said. “Our tuition is maxed.”
Sullivan said the situation could get far worse. “This is just the operating grant,” he said, referring to what’s not coming. Other state grants are linked to federal grants that require state matching dollars. Without those matching dollars, the federal money will not be released. “That’s when it starts rippling out,” Sullivan said.
On Jan. 6, officials from eight schools in southern Illinois met with Illinois Community College Board officials and state legislators at a legislative breakfast at John A. Logan College in Carterville to discuss their concerns.
At that breakfast, ICCB Chairman Guy Alongi said the state owes $850 million in payments to universities and community colleges. The result, he acknowledged, was colleges having trouble making payrolls, and being forced to “consider closing enrollments, cutting classes and furloughing workers.”
One recommendation that came out of the Logan College meeting, which could resonate with Triton and other area colleges, is a proposed legislative change in the multiplier (from 75 percent to 150 percent) that would increase the amount of working cash fund bonds community colleges can legally issue.