June 28, 2017

CARTERVILLE — Sometimes there are more questions than answers.

Such is the case with the future of Illinois as the state approaches entering its third year without a budget.

It’s something that no other state has gone through so there is no history lesson to look back on to learn what to prepare for. “It’s a giant question mark, about as big of a question mark as anyone could make right now,” says retired JALC associate professor of finance David England, the College’s only two-time Faculty of the Year recipient. “We are in a surreal situation that no one has ever experienced before.”

Because of the question mark factor, it’s no wonder that the state’s budget and financial stress caused to Logan — and other institutions that rely on state funding — continues to be topic of concern each month when the College’s board of trustees meet.

With questions — and few answers — comes concerns, such concerns as voiced by Della Fulk, a retired JALC instructor.

“My biggest concern is the College’s reliance on state funding,” Fulk said.

With state funding dwindling in the past and a question mark hovering over future state funding as state leaders continue to haggle over a budget deal, it’s basically the same concern held by everyone attending the June 27 John A. Logan College Board of Trustees meeting.

But at this point, what does the College do?

Board of Trustees member Jacob “Jake” Rendleman, who also serves on the Illinois Community College Board, says the College must steer fearlessly into the storm.

“John A. Logan College was created to serve the people of our district and I don’t believe in giving up on that mission,” Rendleman said. “We must continue to go in that direction and hold our state leaders feet to the fire as we do so. If we do let up, we are letting the governor and our legislators off the hook.”

Much of Tuesday night’s conversation took place during a comment period associated with the presentation of a proposed College budget. There was no intent to pass the proposed budget Tuesday night, only give individuals an opportunity to look at it and ask questions.

The proposed budget calls for no tuition increase, but over the past two years — as the State of Illinois has struggled with no budget for itself — the College has been forced to cut $12 million in spending. Those reductions have been painful, noted Brad McCormick, vice-president of business services and college facilities.

The most painful included faculty layoffs, many of which have now been restored, including recalling three tenured faculty Tuesday night.

Molly Alter, art instructor; David Evans, English instructor; and Jennifer Watkins, mathematics instructor, were all recalled during last night’s meeting. For the College to be able to recall these and other faculty members is a great victory at the moment for the College, but there is still much concern for the future.

For the state budget impasse to come to an end, board member Dr. Ray Hancock said that some legislators are going to have to “vote against their (political) party. All of this has been a circle with two very powerful (political) people who won’t give (Governor Bruce Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan),” Hancock noted. “We may be in for a worse time, yet” if the impasse continues into its third year.

In the meanwhile, the College has held its ground with its financial rating and has made a number of moves to save money and prepare for an unknown future with state funding. Dr. Ron House, the College’s president, also noted during last month’s board meeting that the College has excelled in many areas despite the financial stress caused by the budget impasse.

But as the July 1 date nears for a budget deal to be reached, the future is concerning.

“There’s no doubt these are desperate times in the State of Illinois,” said board of trustees member Becky Borgsmiller. “The question is how do we survive in this environment?”

In the meanwhile, the College’s summer enrollment is strong and the summer semester is “off to a great start,” said Melanie Pecord, vice-president for instructional and student services.

The College’s Foundation is $7 million strong and the Foundation is planning for its annual August golf fundraiser. The Foundation will also benefit from the Toby Keith concert held at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson.

Board of Trustees member Mandy Little discussed the recent meeting of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association and noted that while discussions held about the state’s budget impasse were “dreadful,” discussions and learning sessions about College programs were “really good.”

As Tuesday’s meeting progressed, a number of consent agenda items were passed including a resource allocation and management plan (RAMP) projects for fiscal year 2019. As concerns for financing the projects were discussed, Hancock noted that “we will know more as things come along. And money (from the state) is the thing that needs to come along.”