News Local/State

State Budget Impasse Dominates Talk At Parkland Trustees Debate

Candidates for Parkland College's Board of Trustees gather in the Student Union cafeteria for Monday's debate.

Candidates for Parkland College's Board of Trustees gather in the Student Union cafeteria for Monday's debate. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Some of the candidates seeking seats on the Parkland College Board of Trustees admit further budget cuts may have to be considered amid a nearly two-year state budget impasse. Tuition hikes, the future of Parkland's sports programs, and the viability of having some four-year degree programs were also among the topics discussed among the community college's ten Board of Trustees candidates Monday night. 

Incumbent Dana Trimble of Newman admits Parkland has made some tough decisions, like leaving 60 jobs unfilled, and cutting eight non-tenured faculty at the end of the school year, but says more budget reviews may be needed.

“We may not be to the end of the road on those tough decisions," he said. "Because until the state of Illinois can decide exactly how we’re going to proceed, we have to look at reality.”

Candidate Rochelle Harden of Champaign has taught English at Parkland for 13 years. She says the community college is "cut to the bone" and the focus should solely be on boosting enrollment.

"Bringing in more revenue, bringing in businesses and communities in order to help Parkland grow," she said. "Because this, essentially, is a turning point for us.”

Trimble and Harden are two of six candidates seeking three six-year terms in the April 4th election. Four others are running for a single two-year term.

None of the board candidates said they favored cutting sports.

Parkland recently hiked tuition by about four-and a half percent for classes starting this summer. But candidates for its board of trustees say the state budget standoff may mean another isn’t far behind.

Candidate Becky Densmore of Champaign, one of those seeking the two-year term, says the likelihood of more tuition increases at Parkland should mean reaching out to prospective students in K thru 12 systems.

“Start having the conversations with their guidance counselors," she said. "Start working with those students, letting them know, and helping them find different scholarship opportunities. So start sooner rather than later, start working with your guidance counselors in your high schools, because tuition raises, that’s just reality of the economic world we’re living in right now.”

Harden says every tuition increase means more student loans for the low-income, who may have to work more hours to pay bills, meaning it takes longer to complete their degree.

"I honestly think we should do something really crazy," she said. "I think we should lower tuition. I think it would do a wonderful job of bringing in students."

Nancy Willamon, an assistant to Parkland President Tom Ramage, confirms that Harden is the community college's first-ever African-American Trustee candidate.

Some candidates for the board would consider the idea of four-year bachelor's degrees, in areas like nursing.

Six-year Candidate Richard Taylor of Champaign appealed to the audience in Monday night’s debate.

He suggests the 2018 elections could bring changes in Springfield, saying the state “owes its residents public education.”

"And in two years, we are going to have some changes," he said. "And when these changes happen, this would be a good time to start exploring other opportunities, like having four-year curriculums.”

Incumbent and former Champaign County Board member Greg Knott says he’d back the nursing idea, but is reluctant to support other areas of study with the lack of funding now.

Other six-year candidates are Rabel Burdge of Urbana and E.J. Donaghey of Savoy.  Others seeking the two-year term are Bianca Green of Champaign, John Howell of Urbana, and Kathleen Robbins of Champaign.

About 40 attended Monday’s debate at the Parkland student union cafeteria.