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NEIU Struggling To Keep Doors Open Amid State Budget Stalemate

By Patty Wetli | February 9, 2017 8:31am
 Illinois' budget stalemate is once again creating a funding crisis at Northeastern Illinois University.
Illinois' budget stalemate is once again creating a funding crisis at Northeastern Illinois University.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

NORTH PARK — Northeastern Illinois University students, faculty and staff converged on Springfield Wednesday along with their counterparts from across the state to rally at the capital for higher education funding.

A protracted budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature has translated into massive funding holes at Illinois' public universities.

"It has been 19 months since we have operated without a state spending plan, and as a result, Northeastern Illinois University is experiencing the worst budgetary climate ... in its history," Richard Helldobler, NEIU's interim president wrote in a note to staff last week.

"The university will complete the spring semester and hold the May commencement ceremony," he said. "However, without stopgap funding or an adequate appropriation, we must find ways to stay afloat beyond that."

Last year, as the state failed to release funds, NEIU was forced to dip into its reserves, furlough employees one day a week and implement a spending and hiring freeze.

The furloughs were suspended when state legislators passed a stopgap appropriation, which kept the university's doors open for the 2016-17 academic year, but the situation is once again dire, according to NEIU spokesman Mike Hines.

The state provided $36.7 million in funds to NEIU plus full funding of student grants (called MAP, for Monetary Award Program) in fiscal year 2015, Hines told DNAinfo via email.

In fiscal year 2016, the state provided $10.7 million plus MAP funds, resulting in a $26 million shortfall. Following the stopgap appropriation, the university was still left with a $17 million deficit for fiscal year 2017, Hines said.

NEIU is now laying the groundwork for another round of furloughs as "the most fair and least intrusive way for Northeastern to survive financially through the summer months until fall tuition dollars become available," Helldobler said.

The mandatory unpaid days would likely take effect in four to five weeks "to garner enough salary savings to remain solvent through the summer," he said.

"The only thing that will keep us from a salary-savings plan, or furlough program, is receiving adequate funding from the state," Helldobler said. "At the moment, that prospect looks grim."