Year in Review 2016: A Critical Year for Chicago State, CTU

Defender Contributing Writer, Erick Johnson

Chicago State University is limping its way through the school year as the predominantly Black school faces a year-end deficit that may force officials to slash expenses to keep the school afloat.

The latest development in CSU’s financial woes caps a year of serious challenges and uncertainty in the school’s 149-year history. While 2016 was a tough for CSU, it was a victorious one for nearly 25,000 teachers in the Chicago Teachers Union, which finally signed a new contract after a year and a half of contentious negotiations, protests and threats to strike.

 It was also a good year for Dyett High School, which opened as an arts enrollment school this past fall, thanks to activists who went on a 19-day hunger strike in 2015 to keep the 44-year-old school in Washington Park open. The fruits of their efforts resulted in Dyett opening as an arts enrollment school this past fall.



While the achievements provide fresh hope for CTU and Dyett High School, an uncertain future remains for Chicago State as the state’s budget crisis drags on and enters a record second year. The Legislature’s Democratic majority and Gov. Bruce Rauner remain deadlocked over a spending plan as the state’s $7.8 billion budget deficit lingers and threatens to grow. Since the budget crisis began in 2015, many social programs have been hit with layoffs and budget cuts, and some have been forced to close as the state faces a $10 billion backlog of unpaid bills. An emergency stop-gap measure that was passed by the state in July expires on Dec. 31.

To keep its doors open, CSU received $32.5 million from two stop-gap budgets over a year and half. Despite the relief, the school’s trustees were forced to declare a state of financial emergency in February as the school laid off 40 percent of its employees, cut spending and travel plans and shortened library hours.

Although the state of emergency was lifted in early December, school administrators see a tough road ahead for CSU. According to news reports, the school is expected to burn through its cash reserves before the end of the school year, and may force officials to make additional cuts to keep the school afloat.

News reports say CSU could exhaust its $26 million cash reserves by May as the school stands to miss one month’s payroll of $3.5 million.

Adding to CSU’s problems in 2016 was the abrupt departure of the school’s president, Thomas Calhoun Jr., who left in September after just nine months on the job. Calhoun was paid $600,000 — equivalent to his salary for two years — as part of a separation agreement approved by the school’s trustees despite heavy opposition and outcry from students, faculty and staff.

Chicago Teachers Union President-Karen Lewis

Chicago Teachers Union President-Karen Lewis

Chicago Public Schools

The year was better for Chicago Public Schools. The district narrowly averted a major strike when the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS agreed to a new contract on Oct, 11 after intense negotiations that continued late into the night. In the end, the union signed a four-year contract that many say was not a win for either side.
Under the terms of the contract, CPS will continue paying the 7 percentage points required for their pension contribution. New teachers who are hired after Jan. 1 will not receive the benefit. To make up for the loss, new hires will get boosts in pay raises. In the last two years of the contract, current teachers will receive pay hikes of 2 and 2.5 percent, based on their level of experience and education. Union members will also begin paying higher health costs in 2019.

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Year in Review 2016: A Critical Year for Chicago State, CTU

Calling for WIU to Demonstrate a United Front against the State’s Inaction

The state of Illinois has gone 18 months without a budget.  And the stop gap spending plan is about to expire with no new deal in sight.

So Bill Thompson, head of the University Professionals of Illinois chapter at Western Illinois University, said higher education must collaboratively push for change by pressuring politicians to come up with a budget. 

“We’re asking you to work with us. Not against us. Not around us. But with us,” Thompson said during remarks given at the WIU Board of Trustees meeting in December.

“We have repeatedly asked the administration in the past to lobby with us in Springfield. The administration has chosen to go its own way. That’s their right. But this is a time when we need to be united and work together. And the Board of Trustees needs to be part of that. I believe you need to be out front and center.”

The board neither accepted nor declined Thompson’s invitation.

But Chairwoman Cathy Early said she sees no consensus building between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature.  She said the two sides are firmly entrenched, leaving higher education — along with other agencies and services — caught in the middle.

And that, she said, is frustrating.

Holding the Line on Tuition; Covering MAP Grants

During its meeting, the BoT agreed to keep tuition rates the same for next year’s incoming freshmen as this year’s class.

“We want to make sure that we continue to be that public institution that is affordable,” said University President Jack Thomas.

“I often say that if it had not been for public institutions like Western Illinois University, many of us wouldn’t be here today, including myself.”

Western and other public universities in Illinois lock in the tuition rate for four years.  But WIU is the only state school that also locks in student fees and room and board rates. 

Trustees will set those costs at their next meeting in March.

A year ago Western reduced tuition by 3% for new students.  Budget Director Matt Bierman said Western cannot afford to do that again because of the uncertainty of state funding.

The uncertain state funding also means WIU will cover the cost of the Monetary Award Program, known as MAP grants, for the spring semester, just as did in the fall, and hope the state will eventually reimburse it for the cost.

The grants help students from lower income families pay for college.

Dr. Thomas said it’s important for the university to front the money because many of its students come from low socio-economic backgrounds.

“If many of them do not receive the MAP funding they will not be able to attend college,” Thomas said.

Western should have received around $5.5 million dollars from the state to pay for the grants in the fall. The program will cost a similar amount in the spring.

Western also went through much of last school year without receiving the MAP grant funding before the state finally came through late in its fiscal year. 

Calling for WIU to Demonstrate a United Front against the State’s Inaction

Editorial: Make colleges a sanctuary from deportation threat

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A nationwide movement to declare university campuses “sanctuary” spaces for students who are undocumented immigrants has arrived on the doorstep of Southern Illinois University.

SIU students have asked the university’s administration to protect those among them who are undocumented if  and when federal immigration officials attempt to identify them — or to question, arrest or detain them — after Donald Trump becomes president Jan. 20.

Universities have an obligation to stand up for their students — all of them. Almost all of these young people on college campuses who fear deportation were brought to this country as babies or small children. They are Americans in every way except for that official citizenship paper. They are the so-called Dreamers. This is their home, the only one they have ever known.

To our thinking, all Illinois universities and colleges, public and private, should declare themselves places of sanctuary, just as cities such as Chicago and New York and counties such as Cook have done. They would send a signal to Trump, who campaigned on an indiscriminate promise to get tough on undocumented immigrants, that Americans are better than that — at least when it comes to Dreamers.


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More than 740,000 Dreamers have temporary protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, implemented by executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. But their futures are up in the air.

On one hand, Trump has promised to rescind all of Obama’s executive actions, memorandums and orders. He has said they are unconstitutional. During the campaign, he promised to deport all undocumented immigrants from the U.S. — about 11 million.

On the other hand, Trump has softened some of his rhetoric and no longer seems hell-bent on expelling all of them. In an interview with Time, Trump said of those with DACA, “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.”

Nevertheless, some of Trump’s advisers are hard-liners on immigration. Between that and his unpredictable nature, immigrants understandably remain worried.

And it’s not just undocumented immigrants who are afraid. International students from the Middle East worry Trump’s administration will make it more difficult for them to continue studying in the U.S. They, too, want to know universities’ administrations will advocate for them.

Schools should spell out policies and protections, stating them clearly to students, campus police, faculty and staff. It’s not asking too much.

Whether or not administrators label a university a “sanctuary” campus is not the central issue here. The word is largely symbolic. The American Council on Education points out that it has no clear meaning. Policy is what counts.

“Sanctuary” has become an incendiary term that riles some conservatives. Sanctuary cities and counties across America have incurred the wrath of Republicans in Congress. Part of Trump’s 100-day action plan is to eliminate all federal funding to sanctuary cities. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed that Chicago will continue to be a sanctuary city despite Trump’s promise. Other cities also are refusing to back down.

In a letter to student groups pushing for Southern Illinois University Carbondale to designate itself a sanctuary campus, Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell cited potential loss of federal student aid as a concern, according to the Southern Illinoisan.

Earlier this month in a letter to faculty, staff and students, University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen and other university officials said, “We cannot declare our campuses as sanctuaries, as the concept is not well specified and may actually jeopardize our institution.” They vowed to work within the law to help.

These universities need to grow stronger backbones and stand firm that they will protect their students — at any cost. Trump has no mandate to go after undocumented immigrants. Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support their legalization, with a path to citizenship.

University presidents from this state joined hundreds of others in expressing support for DACA. That was a good starting point. Some universities, such as the University of Connecticut, have let students know that campus police will not work with federal agencies to arrest or remove students for deportation. Connecticut’s policy is stated clearly on a university website.

Illinois universities must adopt similar transparent policies and stick to them. The best way to counter inhumanity is to stand together.

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Editorial: Make colleges a sanctuary from deportation threat

MAP to nowhere?

Many Illinois colleges and universities will continue to credit student accounts for state-financed tuition assistance. But others are showing a lack of trust in Springfield.

Attending college is an act of faith. Students spend thousands of dollars today on tuition and housing, in the hope of landing a good-paying job later.

Some of those students — the ones receiving grants from Illinois’ Monetary Award Program — are taking even bigger leaps. They are counting on the state reimbursing their colleges or universities a portion of their tuition. If the state were to fail to fund the program or provide only a partial appropriation, the schools could ask students — whose families have low or modest incomes — to make up the difference.

With $10.9 billion in unpaid bills, the state of Illinois is hard to trust.

That lack of trust is reflected in a recent survey conducted by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the agency that awards the income-based MAP grants to the state’s college students. About 51 schools told ISAC that for the upcoming spring semester, they will credit student accounts for MAP grants.

The troubling news is, a handful of schools that honored MAP grants last fall are apparently not doing so this spring. And that number could grow. About three dozen schools didn’t even respond to the survey.

According to an Associated Press report earlier this month, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois universities will continue to guarantee MAP grants. Likewise, University of Illinois interim Provost Ed Feser said last fall that the Urbana campus is committed to covering MAP grants.

But The AP also reported that a third of the public universities that covered grants last fall have not made a commitment for the spring.

Like other agencies and vendors across the state, colleges and universities are hoping the governor and the Legislature will reach a budget agreement soon for the current fiscal year. Last summer, Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders reached a so-called stop-gap budget that provided a year’s worth of spending authority for public K-12 education and a half year’s spending authority for other agencies. The measure also included money to cover MAP grant expenses for the 2015-16 academic year, but nothing for the current year.

Even if Rauner and the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate can put aside their political battle early next month and reach a budget agreement, can the state’s public universities realistically expect full MAP funding in addition to robust support for their educational and research missions?

Sadly, no.

If and when Springfield settles up its MAP debts to the state’s public and private colleges and universities, chances are that funding will come at the expense of general state aid to higher education. Financially, public higher education is bound to get the short end of the deal.

MAP to nowhere?

Illinois’ State Budget Impasse Will Likely Stretch Into 2017

With budget negotiations halted in Springfield, it seems unlikely that Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state’s top legislative leaders will be able to reach a new deal before the current stopgap spending plan expires at the end of the year.

Rauner has made it clear that he won’t consider a new temporary budget unless it includes reforms from his turnaround agenda, like term limits and a property tax freeze. The governor halted negotiations earlier this month after House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Democrats failed to put forth a budget proposal.

“The Governor and Republican leaders remain ready to negotiate on a balanced budget with reforms to grow jobs, lower property taxes, improve schools and implement term limits,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement earlier this month. “However, Democratic leaders continue to discuss internally whether they are prepared to present a budget proposal, so we will schedule the next Four Leaders meeting when we receive confirmation that they are ready.”

On Tuesday, Madigan’s office claimed the onus is on Rauner to put forth a budget proposal.

“[Rauner’s] indicated he’s gotten some idea, that while he’s the guy who is spending the money and will determine how much he wants to spend, that somebody else should give him a plan,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told Ward Room Tuesday. “That’s totally illogical, but that’s all that’s been happening.”

While it is Rauner’s constitutional duty to submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly by the third Wednesday in February, the legislature has the power to make decisions on appropriations and taxes. However, Brown claimed the two sides haven’t discussed revenue increases, like a potential income tax hike.

“The speaker’s said for nearly two years, it needs to be a balance between cuts and revenue, but we’ve never gotten beyond that,” Brown said. “And don’t plan to, frankly, at this point.”

Brown also reiterated Democrats’ desire to reestablish working groups, something Rauner has opposed. Brown said working groups were needed on a series of matters, including workers’ compensation and government consolidation. 

During a Facebook Live event earlier this month, Rauner claimed Madigan and Illinois Democrats were stalling to create a statewide crisis in order to force another stopgap funding compromise without reforms.

“My sense is, they’re delaying, they’re stalling, they’re using tactics to get into January, February and create a crisis, meltdown of our human services and our important social service agencies and then try to force a stopgap plan or a tax hike with no reforms,” Rauner said.

Although a good portion of the state’s spending will continue to be covered through court orders and consent decrees, health and human services and higher education will likely continue to suffer without a budget.

In April, Chicago State University was forced to lay off more than 300 employees as a result of the state’s budget crisis. The school faces a year-end deficit and could be forced to make further cuts, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Funding for Monetary Award Program Grants expires at the end of the year, which could result in students losing tuition assistance.

In addition, Lutheran Social Services, the state’s largest provider of social services, announced they would cut 30 programs and 750 jobs as a result of the impasse. Other groups, like Catholic Charities, have also been affected by the ongoing stalemate.

“The speaker has said consistently that the budget is the number one problem, the number one issue in the state of Illinois,” Brown said. “So we’ll continue to work to get a full budget.”

“That’s always been something we’ve been trying to do.”

Published at 3:43 PM CST on Dec 27, 2016 | Updated at 4:49 PM CST on Dec 27, 2016
Illinois’ State Budget Impasse Will Likely Stretch Into 2017

Chicago State University faces year-end deficit, needs to slash expenses

In messages to prospective students and the public, Chicago State University officials are promising an optimistic future — one that might someday even include a school football team.

In documents submitted to state officials responsible for funding, however, the same administrators are painting a picture of financial distress. They describe how the university will burn through its cash reserves before the end of the school year and be forced to make additional cuts unless more money comes from Springfield.

This is the fine line that Chicago State officials have walked as they create a sense of financial urgency, while, in the face of declining enrollment, also try to assure current and prospective students that the nearly 150-year-old university’s future is strong.

“We are adequately reserved for any contingencies we may have,” Cecil B. Lucy, the university’s interim president, said in an interview earlier this month. “What you have to realize is that if you look historically we have never gone without an appropriation of some sort from the state.”

For the past 18 months, throughout a protracted state budget stalemate, those appropriations have been irregular, at best. There are currently no plans for state dollars to flow to Chicago State — or to any other public college or university — next year.

Documents obtained by the Tribune through a public records request show the university could exhaust its $26 million of cash reserves by May and end the academic year short $3.5 million — about one month’s payroll. The financial projections were submitted to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which approved just more than $3 million in emergency funding for Chicago State last month.

Of all the public universities in Illinois, Chicago State has been among the hardest hit by the budget gridlock that has cut off regular appropriations for higher education, social services and other areas. The school receives about one-third of its funding from the state.

Through two stopgap budgets, Chicago State has received about $32.5 million during the past year and a half. That compares with the $36.1 million it received from the state during 2014-15, the last year of full state funding.

In response, Chicago State trustees declared a state of financial exigency, or emergency, in February. The university laid off about 40 percent of its employees in the spring, reduced library hours and shaved spending on travel and campus supplies.

The trustees voted earlier this month to lift the emergency designation in a resolution stating Chicago State was in a stronger financial position. However, there was no discussion and no financial documents presented to support that assertion.

It’s been a difficult year in other ways for the Far South Side university, which serves mostly a minority population from Chicago. A new president arrived in January only to resign nine months later. Enrollment dropped this fall to under 3,600 students, less than half of what it was six years ago. There were fewer than 90 new full-time freshmen when school started in September.

The fiscal problems also led to the university being sanctioned by its accrediting body; the Higher Learning Commission will visit the campus in January to determine whether the sanction can be lifted or if other penalties are needed.

To analyze the university’s finances, the Tribune obtained various financial documents through public records requests, including those submitted to the higher education board last month to qualify for the $3 million in emergency funding.

IBHE provided Chicago State, along with Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University, with the equivalent of one month’s payroll. Western received about $8.4 million and Eastern about $5.6 million.

Without further state funding this school year, Eastern would spend $19 million from its cash reserves, while Western would burn through $16 million of unrestricted cash and begin spending restricted funds set aside under bond covenants, according to documents submitted to the IBHE.

None of the universities will have reserves of this magnitude next year and will need to find new sources of funding to continue operations for another school year.

Even after receiving the state funds in late November, Chicago State is projected to still be in the red by $3.5 million, according to the cash flow statements the university submitted to the state.

Chicago State will receive tuition revenue throughout the remainder of the year, but the amount is not enough to offset the projected deficit. As the school’s enrollment has declined, so has its tuition revenue. Last year, the school billed $26.5 million for classes and fees and this year only expects to bring in $20.6 million. Fall enrollment was down 25 percent.

Lucy disputed the contention that the university is financially vulnerable. He said the university’s forecast to IBHE included some “wish list” items and about $4 million earmarked for emergency repairs that could be eliminated to make ends meet.

Administrators later gave the Tribune an amended list labeled “possible cost levers to reduce spending.” The document included more than $9.6 million of construction projects and program reductions that administrators could cut to eliminate the potential deficit.

But those same items are ones that administrators said were “critical unfunded needs to rebuild CSU” in documents submitted to the higher education board. The cuts, which totaled $26.9 million, would come in areas that school leaders are trying to emphasize in their efforts to revitalize Chicago State.

The reductions would include $6.6 million in maintenance projects, including fixing emergency generators instead of replacing them and canceling library roof repairs.

Rather than $1 million originally planned for marketing — deemed a critical component to drive enrollment — the department would only be allotted $200,000. A $1.5 million software update for the enrollment management department would be postponed. A $750,000 plan to expand on-campus child care provided to students, teacher and staff would be tabled.

If all the cost savings were successful, the belt-tightening combined with the emergency funding would leave Chicago State with a surplus of about $6 million rather than a deficit of $3.5 million, officials said. There are no plans for further staff layoffs, Lucy said.

Michael LaFargue, a Chicago State alum who sits on an advisory council to the school, said such sacrifices would not be ideal but may be unavoidable.

“You always want to maintain the integrity of your property,” LaFargue said of the proposed changes to maintenance spending. “But in this situation, it’s a reality that the state has financial problems. This is what has to be done.”

But instead of focusing on possible cuts, Chicago State officials are making big plans for the future.

In a letter sent to the campus community last week, Lucy said the university is “rebuilding” and encouraged everyone to “spread the word widely that CSU is alive and well,” including by encouraging students to apply for admission.

“Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and work even harder to build on the legacy of quality education for our students,” Lucy wrote.

At a board meeting on Dec. 9, when trustees declared an end to the school’s financial emergency, school leaders outlined plans to move the school ahead.

The plans include advertising in Chicago’s northern suburbs and several nearby states to attract new students. There was talk about purchasing space on billboards and sending direct mailings. Administrators and trustees discussed the idea of creating a football team with an accompanying marching band and cheerleading squad as a potential enrollment booster.

There was no talk, however, of management’s plan to slash spending in all of those areas in order to make it through the school year.

Darren Martin, student government president, said students will be watching. He said Lucy and Provost Angela Henderson have improved community outreach but said more transparency would improve the student experience, restore confidence in the leadership and reassure students that administrators are doing everything they can to help Chicago State prosper.

“For students, they’ve lost faith in the Legislature and the governor to actually come up with a budget. Now they’re looking to Chicago State to solve the problem internally and externally,” Martin said. “They want the school to respect them as students and they’re willing to do what it takes to help Chicago State succeed. But Chicago State has to help them succeed in the same way.”

Ann Kuzdale, an associate professor who has taught at the university for 20 years, said that at a recent faculty meeting, administrators did not mention further reductions for the current year or a broader solution to the fiscal crisis.

“If there’s a plan I don’t know it. It seems like they have their finger in the dam, but there’s not a lot of big thinking going on to come up with creative solutions,” Kuzdale said. “There’s not a culture of shared governance in place at Chicago State, so if there is a plan — God love them, but my feeling is they are just flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Chicago State University faces year-end deficit, needs to slash expenses

Universities prepare to fund MAP grants themselves isu rec centerIllinois State University one college preparing to fund MAP grants for students. (WJBC File Photo)

By Illinois Radio Network

SPRINGFIELD – As the budget impasse for Illinois continues, colleges and universities around the state are preparing to fund MAP grants themselves.

Funding Monetary Award Program grants, or MAP grants, has been difficult for the state due to the ongoing budget impasse. Director of Media Relations at Illinois State University Eric Jome explained the students who apply for the grants expect the financial aid to be provided.

“They apply for these awards and have an expectation that the award will be paid,” said Jome. “So it’s through no fault of their own if the state is unable to supply that money.”

Jome also explained while universities may be funding MAP grants for the time being, he expects the state to eventually follow through on funding.

“We are covering that cost with the expectation that eventually budget situations will be clarified in the state of Illinois,” said Jome.

Jome believes continuing the education of the students is necessary. He explained keeping students in school is beneficial for the community and taxpayers.

Universities prepare to fund MAP grants themselves