University employees still waiting for governor to sign budget

By Gus Bode

Employees concerned as they wait to find out how they will be affected by pending cuts

Members of the SIUC administration are ready to tackle the 8.25-percent cut Gov. Rod Blagojevich is prepared to throw in their direction. But before they can do anything, the governor must first put the ball into play.

Two days after the 2004 fiscal year began, SIUC employees are still waiting for the final approval on the cut that would set the school budget back almost $20 million. In the meantime, they are doing their best to construct their game plan.

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“Both campuses and their leaders are continuing to plan and do the best we can knowing the preliminary numbers,” said spokesman for SIU Steve Binder, who like many SIU employees said he has no idea why the budget signing has taken this long, and is, like many, awaiting its approval.

Vice Chancellor for Administration Glenn Poshard is also among those concerned with the current budget situation. He is still uncertain as to when the governor will sign the budget and finalize the amount of money the University will have this fiscal year.

“I don’t know when he’s going to sign,” Poshard said. “In 25 years of dealing with the government, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the governor sign the budget after the fiscal year.”

Poshard said he is almost certain Blagojevich will approve the proposed state budget within the next few days.

Other SIUC employees seem hopeful that the governor will not reduce the 8.25-percent cut the state has handed SIUC. In fact, they have even begun treating their wounds and preparing to deal with the impact the deduction will have. However, they would still like to know for certain before they make any definite decisions.

Although nothing is set in stone, there is reasonable concern that cuts to the budget will mean a cut in SIUC staff. And although Chancellor Walter Wendler cannot give out any exact figures at this time, he was able to confirm that approval of pending cuts would mean some layoffs.

President for the Association of Civil Service Employees Ruth Pommier said she understands there will be some repercussions as a result of the overwhelming cut. However, as a spokeswoman for civil service workers, she worries that members of her union would be the first to be dismissed. In her opinion, when it comes to layoffs, administration positions are always much safer than those of civil service employees.

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Poshard said he is aware of many individuals’ opinions that members of the administration are immune to budget cuts. However, he said this theory is simply inaccurate.

He has three pages of information that shows the process that has saved more than $4 million in cost from his department’s annual spending.

“I think many people are under the perception that administration doesn’t get cut; that’s simply not true,” Poshard said. “After looking at these figures, I don’t think anyone could say we’ve just left administration in place. We only cut the blue-collar positions we have to cut.”

Poshard has constructed a listing of more than 30 changes made that are responsible for these savings. They include such decisions as eliminating several high-level positions such as director of accounts payable, combining some positions that dealt with Shryock and the SIU Arena and even eliminating certain offices altogether.

He also reiterated that the elimination of his position following his retirement at the end of July, will deposit $175,000 back into the University account. This amount, according to him, will aid in saving as many University positions as possible.

Poshard has done his best to make concerned individuals aware of these efforts to save money. Pommier said that following the meeting where she was provided with this information, she feels slightly more comforted about the possible cuts.

“It’s a very important first step,” Pommier said. “It’s vital that administration be open with all sectors, and I appreciate [Poshard’s ] candor and real efforts to cut from civil service and administration.”

Although she said she is pleased with the changes she has seen, she would like to analyze the information she was given before forming a final opinion. She also said that there is concern on the part of union employees that certain workers were not eliminated, but merely reassigned to different positions with the same salary.

Poshard could not be reached for response to this comment, but emphasizes in a statement that follows information of recent University savings that this reduction in costs is a result of “reorganization and elimination of significant administrative positions.”

As employees across campus and universities across the state wait for the signature that would confirm the status of their budget, Poshard said he is confident that the University will continue to make the decisions that are most appropriate and beneficial to SIUC.

“Anytime you’re hit with a $19 million cut, it affects quality somewhat,” Poshard said. “To say there will be no effect just isn’t true. The best thing we can do is to try our best to minimize this.

“This University has probably been hit, in the last two years, with the largest cutbacks in its history. I think the chancellor has been very fair and made things as balanced as they could be.

“The last thing we’re going to do is be unfair to anyone.”

The weight of these cuts guarantee that SIUC is in for a hard hit; but until then, all the University can do is plan its recovery.

Reporter Jessica Yorama can be reached at [email protected]

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