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Letter: Proposed JJC Spending a Disservice to Students, Taxpayers

Joliet Junior College's board could vote on a $43 million City Center Campus to expand the culinary and hospitality programs.

  • By Brad Baber, former candidate for the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees.

At Joliet Junior College's May 10 board meeting there was much heated discussion. The board voted to table the vote to move forward with the $43 million City Center project until their next workshop meeting, which is May 31. During heated debate, three board members took issue with the plan doubling the size of the culinary and hospitality programs, when no studies or statistics are available to show what the success rate is of current graduates. 

While many schools track the success of their graduates in these programs, and track employment as a measure of this success, JJC has not. Therefore, the level of expansion of these programs, and this spending of taxpayer money is not justified in any practical way. 

This expansion level was based solely on perceived course demand an input of those departments. Additionally, there were objections by several board members to allocating $400,ooo-plus for the Sheridan Hotel, which is planned to be torn down shortly after the new building is built. Two board members also wanted to see an additional floor added to the new building, which would cost an estimated additional $8 million. 

Although the board voted to table this vote to allow for additional discussion on minor tweaks like the $400K+ for the hotel, it was made clear in the discussion that at least five of the board members are in favor of the overall plan. Three board members were also concerned that JJC does not have the state portion of the money in hand—$23.8 million, yet a majority of board members still seem intent on pushing forward. 

They will likely vote on and pass the plan either at the May 31 workshop meeting or the June 14 board meeting. On an additional note, JJC President, Dr. Proulx commented on the quick email survey of the current culinary graduates. Only 17 out of 120 or so responded to the survey. She indicated that the results did now show a high level of success. She did try to find a silver lining however saying that comments from these 17 respondents were positive in that "they would not be where they are today without the culinary program."

One department head of Culinary who was present cited a few successful graduates who work up in Chicago at prestigious locals (outside of our district). Dr. Proulx also indicated that 65 percent of people living in Will County commute outside of Will County for employment. She confirmed that there is a lack of good paying culinary jobs in the JJC district and most have to go outside of district for good employment. 

So given this, why should taxpayers of our district pay $43 million for an unjustified program expansion which doesn't have jobs to fill in district?  The college may be doing our youth a disservice (doubling the size of the program) by encouraging them to enter a degree which may actually show little or no significant opportunity for long term employment. Are they also doing our taxpayers a disservice when all indicators show little to no return for the district?

Mark Batinick May 14, 2011 at 05:56 PM
This is not about spending taxpayer money. It is about spending taxpayer money wisely. It is clear that the board and administration do not have the data to back a $43M expansion. I greatly appreciate Brad Baber's efforts on behalf of the taxpayers and students. We need more citizens like him.
JackieC May 16, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I agree with Brad Baber and also with Mark Batinick's comment. I think more imput on WHY this money should be spent is in order. JJC Board, please don't pass this $43M expansion just because you CAN! Taxpayers are tired of seeing their $$ spent on things like programs and buildings that may not be necessary of even logical in these times. Remember that the voters are getting more involved with what is going on and the future elections results will attest to that.
JJC Grad May 26, 2011 at 03:33 AM
If the math is done correctly on this the State portion is $23.8 million. The referendum that was passed in a previous election included $15 Million for the Hospitality/Culinary Arts building. That actually puts this within $5 million of the proposed total. Also keep in mind that other areas will be in this building. It is not strictly Culinary and Hospitality. It is always easy to speak in a loud volume about some of the facts. Mr Baber and friends this is not the first time you have done this. Get ALL the facts so you you can inform the public of the truth. Not just picking and choosing what you feel will keep the spotlight on you. If the new facility is not needed, you should try and take Culinary or Hospitality course, but that would be hard since the classes are all full. If the community and it's students want to take culinary and hospitality classes should we send them elsewhere? Maybe it would be preferred if we sent them to Moraine Valley and have JJC pick up the out of district charges. If the students in the district want to make a career of culinary or hospitality should they be stopped from wanting to better themselves? If the district is not educated on food, it will be difficult to expand the offerings of restaurants. I know I am in a better place because of the education JJC provided me, and I am back in the district
Brad Baber May 27, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Dear anonymous JJC Grad, I have no problem with them using the $15M from the original referendum to revamp the existing program. I would like to see, and I think it is their responsibility to the taxpayers, to justify that spending via a proper needs analysis, surveying the jobs situation and economic situation in the district as well as additional due diligence. But they have not done this. Would it be ok with you if they purchased a luxury yacht and held yacht maintenance courses? It doesn't make sense for our community. Maybe in Florida, the East coast or California... To not hold their feet to the fire to make them justify the plans and spending of $43M of our tax dollars is irresponsible on both their and our part. Yes, their are other Culinary programs around if they cannot get into the JJC program, and they cost more. Students are welcome to pursue those, but we should not have to subsidize them when there will be no benefit for our community. The cost of current culinary grads is much more expensive than the tuition they are paying (acc. to board and admin comments at the last board meeting). If they haven't properly justified the existing program - not tracked success or lack of, and have no appropriate basis for this new plan, which doubles the size of the programs, then it is obviously inappropriate to do. Apparently you don't believe in holding government accountable for their spending of our tax dollars?
Brad Baber May 27, 2011 at 04:10 PM
"If the district is not educated on food, it will be difficult to expand the offerings of restaurants. " So you think we don't have more higher end restaurants because we dont' have enough culinary grads? And did you get that from the survey JJC did? Oh wait, they didn't do any such survey. I've talked to a number of restaurant owners myself and this is not a problem they've spoken of. Having more culinary grads doesn't create jobs. It does create more competition for the same jobs. If you are a culinary grad in the district and know how tough the market is for good paying culinary jobs, do you want twice as much competition for those jobs? Won't that drive down wages or at least make it very easy for employers to replace you or lay you off? The number of restaurants, especially good restaurants that can pay a good wage to a head chef, is based far more on the market and business climate and how willing owners are to take risk in that environment.

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