Friday, April 29, 2016 || Originally Published: Cook County Chronicle || 4/22/16 || By Bill Dwyer
Faced with a statewide higher education funding crisis fomented by the ongoing political stalemate in Springfield, the Triton College Board of Trustees is pressuring its teacher’s unions to give back millions in salary.
Triton is faced with an $8.1 million state funding shortfall for fiscal year 2016, with $1.2 million of that in state Monetary Award Program, or MAP, funding for some 1,100 financially needy Triton students.
Triton covered the $1.2 million for the current school year from its reserves, but will not do so for the next school year.
There have been two meetings so far between the school’s administration and its faculty. The faculty unions will meet April 26 to discuss the negotiations, then will hear a presentation by board chairman Mark Stephens on April 28.
Depending on which side you speak with, the negotiations are either cordial and fruitful, or rife with distrust.
The person most deeply involved in the process — Stephens — is not speaking publicly. He was absent from the April 19 board meeting, and did not return a message left with his secretary seeking comment to the Cook County Chronicle.
Noting Stephens’ absence Tuesday evening, board vice chair Donna Peluso said she wasn’t going to “get into the complicated reasons” Stephens wasn’t present. She concluded cryptically that Stephens “loves his son.”
Unconfirmed reports are that Stephens was attending his son’s college baseball game. A check of the Beloit College calendar showed that there was, in fact, a junior varsity baseball game scheduled for April 19.
On Thursday vice president for business Sean Sullivan phoned to discuss the situation. He noted that the budget crunch is a statewide college issue, one that only elected officials in Springfield can resolve.
“Somebody’s gotta come to the table and make decisions in Springfield,” he said. “It was virtually without warning. They just stopped the funding.”
On Friday that happened in part, after the state General Assembly approved some $600 million in MAP funding. Crain’s Chicago business reported that Gov. Bruce Rauner has signaled his intention to sign that legislation.
That would return the $1.2 million to Triton’s coffers, easing, but not solving, the problem.
Sullivan, who noted that there is a projected $6.85 million gap in FY2017, said the board and administration have met with the seven unionized college bargaining units, and two non-union employee groups.
Sullivan said that while the negotiations are still in process, “I personally have been very encouraged by the meetings. We’ve had some fruitful discussions.”
He characterized all the parties involved as being “committed to working together.”
Sullivan did not mention that, despite the severe budget crunch, Triton has hired the former president of the faculty union to fill a newly created position this fall, at a reported $185,000 annually.
On Tuesday night one public speaker at the board meeting noted to the board that Triton employs 50 administrators and just hired a person to fill the newly created administrative position of “Dean of Education.” The speaker called that move “fiscally irresponsible.”
Triton faculty union president Stu Sikora did not return numerous messages seeking comment, and adjunct faculty union president Bill Justiz was out of town until Monday.
However the Chronicle spoke with one Triton faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
“I am definitely concerned about my job due to what is going on at Triton,” the teacher said.
“The chairman has asked the faculty to give up our pay raise.” While noting that the give-back is purportedly temporary, the teacher added, “Nobody trusts that.”
The source also noted that the unions have been warned that in the absence of salary concessions, eight non-tenured Triton teachers will be fired.
Union leaders, the source said, haven’t been encouraging.
“They’ve been clear that there’s only one choice, and that’s to do what (Mark Stephens) wants.”
The source also was skeptical of Triton’s willingness to apply the same fiscal pain to the administration that it was demanding of teachers, citing Triton’s long practice of having a high number of administrators relative to teachers.
“Their salaries are huge but they have assistants,” the source said of the school’s administration.
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In honor of the late Lennel Grace, a tireless Maywood advocate for clean paths, sidewalks and streets, attend this year’s annual Illinois Prairie Path Cleanup, Saturday, April 30, 8:45 a.m. to 12 p.m., starting at 11th Avenue and Prairie Path, in Maywood. RSVP JoAnn Murphy, so she can plan accordingly.
Operation Uplift to host April 30 reunion kickoff/fundraiser, in lieu of annual luncheon
Operation Uplift, the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History and hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr., luncheon, has announced that it will be hosting a reunion kickoff to help support and bring awareness to its daily services in lieu of a luncheon this year.
“Please help us continue to provide more cultural awareness to our local community, stimulate individual growth, community pride, and educate the Proviso Township area about the collections of art, artifacts and significant historical materials we hold within our doors,” according to a recent release put out by the organization.
The reunion kickoff activities will include educational tours, an African attire fashion show, live entertainment and food.
It will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 1 PM to 4 PM, at Operation Uplift/West Town Museum, 104 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.
Donations or pledges of any amount are greatly appreciated. Those who give via checks should make them payable to: Operation Uplift, Inc.
For more information please call Jeri Stenson at 708-289-4955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. VFP