An overview of the budget crisis of 2017


Bisma Zafar

employees take in the news of this year’s layoff process

Sarahy Lopez, News Editor

After a two-year budget stalemate, Interim President Richard Helldobler announced in July that NEIU will receive a budget. However, controversy still surrounds NEIU about the saving strategies used before getting an appropriation for the fiscal year.

NEIU implemented furlough days to save money during the budget crisis this year.

Faculty and staff received seven weeks of 20 percent furloughs last year, losing the equivalent of a week’s worth of pay to be spread out over a month. The five days of spring break, April 11 and 12, and May 1st were furloughed days. Classes were canceled and employees were suspended for another week’s worth of pay and work.

“The university will pause the furlough program as soon as it is financially able to do so,” Helldobler said during the Board of Trustees meeting in April. “The university’s end of January national analysis demonstrated the need to save about $8.2 million in order to process general operations and payroll to the end of the fiscal year on June 30 (and) an additional $16.7 million to do so until Sept. 30, unless additional state funding is provided.”

NEIU and other public university students, faculty and staff rallied at Springfield on April 27 to protest Rauner’s lack of a budget plan and called on Rauner to fund higher education.

Democratic officials running for governor also attended and spoke out. J.B. Pritzker insisted that “There’s only one state worker I want to put out of work and that’s Bruce Rauner!”

State Senator Daniel Biss asked, “Who thinks Bruce Rauner is doing a great job? I can tell you who. Universities in Wisconsin, and Iowa, and Indiana, and Missouri, they think Bruce Rauner is doing a great job – sending our young people out of Illinois.” Student retention rates in Illinois were at an all time low, due to the budget crisis and the uncertainty of schools remaining open for the next semester.

Furlough days continued long after the rally, as officials in Springfield failed to pass a state budget Illinois public universities. Administrative, professional and civil service staff at NEIU had one furlough day each week, and student aides did not work on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The lack of a state budget forced the school to fire 180 employees in May.

Helldobler announced the layoffs on day 700 that Illinois has been without a budget. The school hasn’t received its full appropriation from the state since the fiscal year 2015, and layoffs ensued, closing 130 civil services and 50 administrative jobs.

The layoffs saved NEIU about $9 million, which was necessary to stay open during summer and fall, according to Helldobler and VP of Finance Michael Pierick.

“Having to say goodbye to so many people is heartbreaking,” Helldobler said. “This is one more result of this 700-day-old budget crisis — a crisis not of our making.”

Helldobler’s first priority was to stay open no matter the costs. In order to continue offering students affordable education, his fear being that they will not attend college at all if NEIU were to close.

During the town hall budget meeting on July 13, Helldobler announced that a budget plan was approved by the state providing the university about $33.2 million. MAP grants were also to be fully funded and will allow the school to stay open until the fiscal year 2018.

During this array of good news, former employees from the university spoke out during the budget town hall meeting, asking whether the layoffs will be rescinded. Michael Pierick said they had no plans to rehire any of the people that were laid off, and said that layoffs will continue despite the budget. Currently, the university is still unsure of its future concerning the fiscal year of 2019, and as far as they know, NEIU does not have a budget plan after 2018.

A protest ensued on NEIU’s campus Aug. 9, accompanied by a musical chairs game played by current and former employees to dramatize the layoff and “bumping” process caused by the closed positions and continuing layoffs.

In a statement from the president Ellen M. Larrimore of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) she said, “We are devastated by the loss of so many of our co-workers. The huge disruptions caused by the bumping process will have long-term effects on the processes of the university and on the kind of service to students we’ve always prided ourselves on. The opening of the fall semester will definitely be bumpy, and we can only hope that students will bear with us as we attempt to get up to speed on processes and procedures we may or may not be familiar with or trained on.”

The AFSCME bargaining unit formerly included about 230 civil service employees. From this group, 41 people were laid off and at least another 43 were transferred to other offices or other areas on campus.

“This is sad time for us as workers who have always dedicated ourselves to and believed in the mission of the university,” Larrimore said.  “But we must continue to do our jobs to serve the students we care so deeply about who come to NEIU to get an education and earn degrees that will help them support themselves and their families in the future.”

Linda Loew, an employee for six years, received a layoff notice about a week ago. She mentioned loving NEIU and the students in a letter addressed to the Independent, saying that she is mostly angry at Governor Rauner for “allowing public education to be held hostage” and how that harmed millions of people and families.

“I also disagree with, and am disappointed in, our university administration that went ahead with these layoffs despite the passage of a budget that so many of us were in the forefront of fighting for,” Loew wrote in her letter. “We worked hard to demonstrate the absolute necessity for these funds to be released because we understood the extraordinary harm that the absence of these funds was causing.

“I, and all my union sisters and brothers in AFSCME, and many more among the staff at NEIU, believe it is wrong that our positions, and the critical services they provide, are still being axed in light of the budget victory. I fervently believe that there was, and remains, a better way forward, better for our students and our ability to serve them,” she said.