College reacts to state budget cuts

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September 7, 2007

4:41 AM

__State budget cuts could cost College $3.6 million__

The College placed a temporary freeze on hiring in response to Gov. Tim Kaine’s request that the College cut 7.5 percent of its state funding allocation. The College is required to submit a proposal by Sept. 10 to the state detailing a plan of how to make the proposed cuts.

p. “We put a temporary freeze in place to ensure maximum flexibility between now and Sept. 10,” the College’s Vice President of the Finance Office, Sam Jones said. “No decision has been made as to if this freeze will continue post Sept. 10, and if continued, in what form.”

p. To help counteract a predicted $641 million state budget deficit, Kaine has requested that the College, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, the three state universities with increased independence from the state, cut 7.5 percent of their state funding. All other government agencies have been asked to cut 5 percent.

p. According to Jones, the small amount of time existing between Kaine’s request and the Sept. 10 deadline has not allowed the College to decide what specific programs are going to be affected by the cut.

p. “Given the short turnaround, our plan is likely to be a series of general categories (free or limit hiring, limit equipment purchases, defer or slow action on selected projects and the like),” he said.
Jones estimated that the 7.5 percent loss will end up being about $3.6 million. He added that since the school year has already begun, the College’s ability to respond is limited and will probably translate to some impact on services.

p. Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ’09, who was asked to sit in on a meeting with the Faculty Priorities Committee, said that currently administrators are trying to formulate specific plans to deal with the cuts.

p. Documents handed out at the meeting indicating parameters for the cuts suggest “‘spread[ing] the pain’ but do not make across the board cuts” and taking action that focuses on the current year, not long-term reductions. They also stress that they want to pass as little of the budget problem on to students as possible.

p. Instead of cuts across the board, faculty at the meeting suggested cutting funds to auxiliary services that do not receive any state funding, such as dining services, or cutting back on various services at the College, including IT and decreasing hours at Swem Library. Other programs suggested to incur cuts were various athletic programs and the semester in Washington, D.C. program.

p. The other main suggestion was a surcharge between $300 and $500 to be added to student bills next semester.

p. The hiring freeze was proposed as an immediate, short-term response until a more permanent plan is formed.

p. “It’s worth pointing out that the whole budget gap [wouldn’t exist] if Richmond passed the gas tax, but now students may have to pay $500 to keep the library open,” Pilchen said.

p. According to Kathleen Kincheloe, assistant director of communications for the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia, all the state universities have a contingency plan that they have submitted to the state responding to various funding scenarios. She said that she had faith in the good contingency plans and stressed that the College would still receive more than 90 percent of state its funding.

p. Pilchen said that the College did discuss the “rainy day fund” at the meeting, but as of now, no decision has been made about how the College will make up for the $3.6 million dollar loss. All discussion is still in the preliminary stages.

p. Pilchen said at the meeting that he stressed the importance of making sure the cuts do not affect financial aid programs or student activities. He said that the SA and FUPC were interested in ensuring that the student body has input on the decisions being made.

p. SA Vice President Valerie Hopkins said she hopes that students will be actively involved in communicating their issues to the administration for the best possible outcome.

p. “What’s sad is this shows where the governor’s priorities really are,” she said.

p. Until more news is handed down about the nature of the budget cuts, specific information about program cuts will be unavailable.

p. “We have been warned that some level of reduction may become permanent,” Jones said. “Dealing with a longer term, more permanent reduction will require additional planning and campus discussion.”

p. Jones said that based on what they have heard from the secretary of education, the College is assuming that the cuts will carry into future years.

p. Kincheloe said that if permanent budget cuts do take place, there is a strong chance that there will be an increase in tuition and fees at state universities.

p. Last year, across all state universities, tuition and mandatory fees increased 6.5 percent for in-state students.

p. She stressed that all state agencies would have to shoulder some of the burden from the budget deficit.

p. “Nothing is set in stone yet,” she said. “[This] is probably the last thing the Gov. wants to do.”

p. She added that legislators often view higher education as in a better position to respond to cuts than other state organizations that do not have the ability to fundraise.

p. “One of the things that is sadly true [is that] when legislators have to make these decisions, higher education is in a position to make more money,” she said.

p. Jones and Kincheloe both stressed that no permanent decisions have been made as of yet.

p. “Our highest priority is to protect the classroom experience, particularly if the proposed reduction is permanent,” Jones said.

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