SIU President Randy Dunn said he plans to spend the next few months telling the story of the university system -- back home and in the state capital.
He hopes to encourage a “hue and cry” from Southern Illinois residents in response to deep budget cuts – in excess of 31 percent in state spending – proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to public higher education.
In Rauner’s budget proposal released Wednesday, the SIU system, which includes the Carbondale, Edwardsville and the SIU School of Medicine, would face a combined $62 million cut, Dunn said.
The majority of that would come from a $44 million cut to the Carbondale campus and associated School of Medicine, he said.
Dunn said Rauner’s budget proposal would set SIU back to funding levels of the 1985-86 school year.
But noting that the governor’s budget address largely signals just a starting point for budget talks in Springfield, Dunn said he’s hesitant to “get into numbers at this point” regarding specific campus-level cuts.
“Part of this will change as the legislative process unfolds, and we’re going to have to look at what revenue enhancements are possible,” he said.
That could include tuition increases, though Dunn said there’s only so far the school can responsibly stretch the pocketbooks of students and parents.
It could also mean staffing reductions. Calling education a “human capital business,” Dunn said that a “large chunk of our operating expenses is people.”
While acknowledging the numbers could turn out a little better for SIU as the budget makes its way though the legislative process, Dunn said it doesn’t bode well for higher education that the new Republican governor kicked off that conversation suggesting such drastic spending reductions.
As university presidents across the state spoke out against the spending plan, Rauner’s staff downplayed the significance of the cuts.
In a document titled “Key Policy Points” explaining the so-called “Illinois Turnaround” budget, the governor’s staff says that the proposed cuts are less than 6 percent of the universities’ total budgets.
That’s when other revenue sources are considered, such as tuition, private donations and sports ticket sales.
Dunn said that’s not the case for SIU.
He said it would account for close a 15 percent cut of total revenue for the SIU system, which has a total budget in excess of $900 million.
Just shy of 25 percent of the SIU system’s revenue comes from state support, Dunn said. He suggested the revenue picture for the University of Illinois could be skewing that percentage.
Rauner’s team also says that universities have endowments totaling more than $2.5 billion.
“Illinois is the 5th most populous state in the country, but No. 4 in support for higher education,” the document reads. “That remains true after these savings.”
As for tapping endowments, Dunn said donations are almost always earmarked for a specific usage, and cannot be folded into operational expenditures.
Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, whose district covers part of SIU, said that before “we start to panic” it’s important to keep in mind that the governor’s budget address is a “starting point.”
Facing a budget deficit in excess of $6 billion in fiscal 2016, Bryant said “we have to, just like we would in a family, learn to live within our budget.”
“It’s obvious people are going to have to make cuts,” Bryant said. “Hopefully they don’t have to be as deep as this proposal looks.”
When it comes to community colleges, though, John A. Logan College President Mike Dreith said he was pleasantly surprised by the governor’s proposal for level funding.
“Level funding is still a far cry from what the community colleges need, but given what happened to other portions of state government, I feel as though we were treated very fairly,” he said.
Still, Dreith said it’s not like John A. Logan and other two-year schools are flush with cash. He said that the Illinois community college system’s funding has been reduced by $50 million since 2002.
Largely because of falling enrollment, John A. Logan is facing a $2 million deficit. The school’s board is considering a controversial proposal to cut its nationally recognized golf team, for an expected net savings of $94,600. Other cost-cutting proposals are expected to follow.
In other education areas, according to Rauner’s staff, the governor is calling for an additional $25 million for early childhood education. He also would like to pump $300 million more into K-12 classrooms, claiming this would be the “most money for educational general state aid in Illinois history.”