WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Robert Ritschel - May 4

Canton, IL – It would be a waste of time to elaborate on the failure of the state to fulfill its financial obligations to agencies that provide needed services to so many residents. Because of this deplorable situation, public schools and colleges across the state are being forced to lay off staff and faculty as a last resort to balance their budgets.

Spoon River College is not immune to this condition, and you need to know some of the measures we have taken to deal with this funding crisis.

In simple economic terms: we had to increase income and reduce expenses. In early February, we created an Efficiency Task Force comprised of representatives from all of our employment groups. Through the suggestions offered by our employees and the difficult work of this task force, 97 recommendations for reducing expenditures and 18 for increasing revenue were compiled. Many have been implemented, and we will always be open to more suggestions.

The state continues to fail in its obligation to support community colleges - whose mission is often regarded as the key to economic recovery - by steadily reducing financial support year after year.

The Board of Trustees, finding no alternative for increasing operational funds, was forced to approve a tuition increase for students enrolling this fall. At the April meeting of the Board, approval was also given to obtain a $3.5 million general obligation bond to assist the college in meeting payroll and paying bills because there is little assurance that the state will meet their financial commitments.

We have also reduced our staff. Make no mistake - the college has been extremely prudent with taxpayer funds - but because so much of our expense is consumed by salary and benefits, there simply was no other area to make significant cuts. We have already reduced our budget by nearly a half-million dollars for next year, but more reductions are sure to be made.

We were forced to dismiss 15 salaried employees whose contracts will end on June 30, 2010. We also asked our bargaining units to consider a modest reduction in their scheduled salary increases.

In spite of this situation, there is reason to be optimistic about the future. Our five-year plan for offering additional courses leading to new certificates and degrees remains intact. We have seen an increase in enrollment at all of our sites, and early registration for summer and fall classes is promising.

We are also submitting grant applications to various funding agencies at every opportunity.

The college will continue to serve the citizens of our district and provide you with a broad range of educational programs, cultural activities, and economic development opportunities - this is our mission, and we will do everything we can to fulfill its promise.

Robert Ritschel is President of Spoon River College, which has campuses in Canton, Macomb, Rushville, and Havana