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NEIU slashing 180 jobs to close massive budget shortfall

Northeastern University will eliminate about 180 full-time employees this summer in the latest cost-cutting measure taken by the Northwest Side school to close a budget shortfall of nearly $11 million. | Provided photo

Northeastern University will eliminate about 180 full-time employees this summer in the latest cost-cutting measure taken by the Northwest Side school to close a budget shortfall of nearly $11 million.

NEIU interim president Richard Helldobler announced the layoffs on the 700th day that Illinois has been without a budget. The school hasn’t received its full appropriation from the state since fiscal year 2015.

“Northeastern has endured financial starvation from Springfield for the past two years, yet we remain committed to staying open so that we can continue to serve our students and confer degrees of value,” Helldobler said in a written statement. “Our people are Northeastern’s most valuable asset, so having to say goodbye to so many people is heartbreaking.”

The layoffs will affect about 130 civil service employees and 50 administrative positions, saving the school about $9 million to keep its doors open over the summer and fall. That still leaves a shortfall of $1.8 million, which officials hope to meet with continued freezes on spending and hiring.

State funding accounted for about 40 percent of the school’s $92 million budget in 2015. NEIU had to dip into its reserve funds to make ends meet as the budget impasse dragged on through 2016. After lawmakers passed a second stopgap funding bill last summer, NEIU was left with a $17 million budget gap for the 2017 fiscal year.

To help fill that hole, officials canceled three days of classes and implemented a weeklong furlough program over spring break this year.

In 2016, NEIU began requiring employees to take an unpaid furlough day once every six weeks, and in 2015 it eliminated 65 non-teaching positions to brace for a cut in state funds. The school also has put a hold on hiring, travel budgets and maintenance projects.

“It has been devastating and sadly, today the devastation increases,” Helldobler said.

State lawmakers have wrangled for weeks over the budget, but have shown little progress ahead of Wednesday night’s legislative deadline. The next budget year begins July 1.

About 10,000 students attend NEIU, with minorities making up up more than half of the student body.

“Northeastern is counting on lawmakers to do the right thing for our students, our state and our economy by passing a budget that includes adequate funding for higher education before it’s too late,” Helldobler said.

The cash-strapped school caught flak this spring when the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that officials agreed to pay Valerie Jarrett $30,000 to speak at their commencement, the latest in a series of high-priced speakers hired by the school. Jarrett later returned most of her speaking fee to the school.