Northeastern Illinois University to cut about 180 jobs as state budget woes drag on

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The struggling Northeastern Illinois University will eliminate about 180 full-time jobs in coming weeks, the latest fallout from of a nearly two-year state budget impasse that has drastically reduced funding for state public universities, officials announced Tuesday.

About 130 civil service employees and 50 administrative professionals will receive layoff notices from the Chicago school within the next six to seven weeks, interim President Richard Helldobler said, cutting about one-fourth of the staffing in both categories.

Helldobler said the move is expected to save about $9 million through September, helping to reduce a $10.8 million shortfall.

The layoffs are the most draconian cut yet for the Northwest Side university, which has had to implement two campus shutdowns, expand furloughs and cut student jobs this year to try to continue operations through June, the end of the fiscal year.

NEIU serves about 10,000 students, many of them low-income and first-generation college students.

“We’ve been pushed to our limits,” Helldobler said at a news conference. “It has been devastating, and sadly today the devastation increases.”

Throughout the nearly two-year budget battle, Illinois’ public universities have received state funding only through two stop-gap bills endorsed last summer.

Together, those emergency measures provided universities around 80 percent of a typical year’s funding, but schools have had to try to stretch those dollars over 23 months.

Northeastern, for example, received about $30.2 million in state money for the past two years, compared with the $37 million it received in 2015, the most recent year for regular funding.

“If I had to give a grade to Springfield for the handling of our state’s budget, they’d get an ‘F,'” Helldobler said. “Northeastern is counting on lawmakers to do the right thing for our students, our state and our economy by passing a budget that includes adequate funding for higher education before it’s too late.”

State dollars typically make up about one-fourth of Northeastern’s income, so the absence of those dollars has taken its toll.

The campus was closed during spring break in March as nearly all employees were required to take five unpaid days off and university services were halted. Nearly 1,100 workers, including top administrators, were affected by that round of furloughs.

About 300 student workers were initially going to lose their state-funded campus jobs, owing to a new rule aimed to protect permanent employees from furloughs. The university later reversed that decision and essentially furloughed those workers during spring break before reinstating them.

Northeastern closed its campus again for three days in April and May and instituted the same furloughs for its workers.

Recognizing the escalating financial pressure, credit agencies downgraded the ratings for several state schools in April and warned of more such action. Both Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s bumped down Northeastern’s rating, citing the lack of critical state funding to support operations.

Illinois has been without a state budget since July 2015, as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislators have been unable to broker a compromise.

Among the sticking points, Rauner has insisted on a property tax freeze while Democrats contend such a move would hurt local school districts that rely heavily on those levies for their funding.

Recent maneuvering has failed to gain much traction in the waning days of the session. Senate Democrats passed a budget plan last week, but their counterparts in the House have been slow to get behind it. House Democrats approved bills on immigrant protections and penalties for repeat gun offenders over the holiday weekend but have yet to act on an annual budget.

Assembly members are scheduled to go home for the summer after Wednesday. A new budget year begins July 1.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

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May 30, 2017 at 07:12AM

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Northeastern Illinois University to cut about 180 jobs as state budget woes drag on

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