- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - State records show Chicago State University paid out $2.2 million in severance and unused vacation payments after mass layoffs amid a budget crisis.

The school paid $1.6 million in severance to about 50 administrators, an amount equal to salaries they would have received if they hadn’t been terminated, the Chicago Tribune reported (https://trib.in/2afBiK3 ). The school spent another $650,000 to pay about 130 administrators and civilian service employees for unused vacation time. The newspaper obtained the records via a public information request.

The state university has let go of nearly 400 employees since the beginning of the year, or about 40 percent of its staff. The severance and vacation pay outs were necessary because of a long-standing school policy requiring up to a year’s notice of being terminated or a payout for the time.

Records show the school had about $7.3 million in cash at the end of April. The university depends on state money for about 30 percent of its operational budget. It was hit hard due to the recent state budget stalemate, which left it with no state money for most of last year. A stopgap state budget signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on June 30 will give Chicago State about $13 million. That’s expected to last through December.

The 150-year-old public university served about 4,500 students last year. President Thomas Calhoun Jr. said it has cut its budget for the coming year by about 30 percent, to $70 million. Calhoun said the university has done much to shore itself up financially, including layoffs.

“We are confident that we are in good shape,” he said.

Renee Mitchell, Chicago State’s associate vice president for human resources, said she knows the layoffs had a cost but they will result in savings in the long run. One example, she said, is that the laid off employees aren’t receiving benefits.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat and vice chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said the severance is “probably a little rich to afford right now given the financial challenges higher education is facing in Illinois.”

The university didn’t pay severance to 10 faculty members laid off last month. It said the policy didn’t apply because the school made a declaration of financial exigency due to the state budget stalemate.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com

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