The Board of Trustees for the City Colleges of Chicago will vote again on a 10-percent tuition hike Thursday amid concerns that the public wasn’t properly notified when the board voted on the increase the first time around, in early December.
And the district has begun posting detailed meeting agendas on its Web site, as most other community college districts in the region have been doing for some time.
The tuition increase, if approved, would raise the cost of one credit to $79 from the current $72, starting with classes this summer.
Following December’s vote, the Daily News filed a complaint with the Illinois Office of the Attorney General. Last week, the Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the district outlining the complaint and giving the district until Feb. 17 to respond.
CCC spokeswoman Elsa Tullos sidestepped a question about whether the addition of the tuition increase on this week’s agenda was related to last week’s letter.
“To allay any concerns about the public notice of this resolution, we will exercise an abundance of caution and again submit this resolution for the Board’s consideration,” Tullos said in an e-mailed statement. “The CCC Board is committed to an open and transparent process.”
Legal experts and the Attorney General’s office were glad to see the City Colleges taking up the tuition increase again, this time with advance notice. The tuition increase appears on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting as a resolution “to set tuition, fees and charges for board programs.”
“In the event that they didn’t do this voluntarily, we would ask them to do that, put it on the agenda,” says Assistant Attorney General Heather Kimmons. “It sounds like they’re already planning on doing what we would ask them to do.”
But she added that the case isn’t necessarily closed.
Last year, the Daily News reported that CCC board meeting agendas were often vague and did not provide any details about what topics would actually be covered.
“I would however still be interested in getting their response on the agendas,” Kimmons says.
Assuming the board proceeds with the second tuition hike vote, which would clear up any problems with that particular issue, she says.
“The law allows for basically a do-over if a public body violates the notice requirements the first time,” says Sarah Klaper, a law instructor at DePaul University and formerly an attorney for the Citizens Advocacy Center.
Dawn Clark Netsch, an emertia law professor at Northwestern University and former state comptroller, says it would have been easy enough for the City Colleges to handle the tuition increase properly the first time around.
“The City Colleges are large enough that they ought to know the rules on that sort of a thing,” Netsch says. “Some of it may just be carelessness, some of it may be deliberate, but it sounds to me like they’ve learned their lesson.”
While the Attorney General’s office can issue advisory opinions and recommendations, those documents are not legally binding and can’t be used to force a government body to change its behavior, say Kimmons and Klaper.
“The Illinois Open Meetings Act is not very strong in the remedy department for citizens, so a citizen can file a complaint and go to court, however the Attorney General’s office does not have the right to step in,” Klaper says.
Kimmons says in cases like this, her office often recommends that officials sign up for training on the state’s Open Meetings Act; most of the time, they comply.
Even still, the issue points to room for reform in the state’s laws on public meetings, Klaper says.
“The general assembly has been working on the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act over the past several years and needs to be pushed to continue reforming those to make them more user-friendly,” Klaper says.
Thursday’s meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the District Office, 226 W. Jackson Boulevard. Tullos says residents who would like to comment at the meeting should contact assistant board secretary Regina Hawkins to sign up. The phone number to call is 312-553-2515.
Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist. He covers higher education for the Daily News.