UMS furloughs off the table; some cuts made, layoffs in mix

Posted Feb. 13, 2009, at 10:05 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System and its employee representatives say furlough days have been dropped as an ingredient in budget-balancing efforts.

System officials and employee bargaining agents issued a joint statement Friday announcing the mutual agreement.

According to the statement, a financial shortfall associated with state support levels and investment losses has largely been addressed for six of the seven universities through other cost reductions.

“We knew from the beginning that it was a last resort if they weren’t able to make the cuts that were needed to balance the budget,” said Ron Mosley, a professor at the University of Maine at Machias and president of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine.

Other labor groups that signed onto the joint statement were the Associated C.O.L.T. (Clerical, Office, Laboratory and Technical) Staff of the Universities of Maine, the Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association, and Teamsters Local 340, which represents security and maintenance workers through separate contracts.

Rebecca M. Wyke, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the system and its seven campuses needed to find about $15.1 million in budget cuts to the current year’s budget, which runs through the end of June. The campuses and their labor groups were able to sidestep the furloughs by making cuts in other areas, which varied by campus.

The amount each campus had to cut from its current budget follows:

— University of Southern Maine, $2.7 million.

— University of Maine (Orono), $5.4 million.

— University of Maine at Augusta, $862,000.

— University of Maine at Fort Kent, $112,000.

— University of Maine at Machias, $236,000.

— University of Maine at Presque Isle, $343,000.

— University of Maine at Farmington, $634,000.

The university system contributed a combination of cuts and reserves to offset an additional $4.8 million, she said.

“Every campus put in place spending controls,” she said. “It really runs the gamut,” she said, listing a range of cost-cutting measures that included setting thermostats lower and restricting travel and other expenses to deferred maintenance and a series of “one-time” budget cuts.

Though she did not have numbers at hand when reached at home Friday night, Wyke did say that layoffs have been part of the mix and that more layoffs are likely during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“It does vary by campus,” she said.

In the meantime, university officials are working to restructure as part of a longer-range solution.

According to Wyke, the University of Maine campuses in Orono, Machias, Augusta, Farmington, Presque Isle and Fort Kent have been able to absorb the budget cuts they were required to make to offset losses in state funding and money from investments, which took a hit when the stock market crashed last fall.

Matters were more difficult at the University of Southern Maine, which already was experiencing financial difficulties when the current crises struck, Wyke said.

USM, which initially expected substantial layoffs to address its share of the shortfall, continues to pursue aggressive cost-cutting measures in the hope of minimizing the impact on employees, Wyke said.

“The university system is greatly thankful for the understanding and consideration demonstrated by our unions,” Chancellor Richard Pattenaude said in the statement. “There has been a clear demonstration of their desire to assist the university during very difficult financial times,” he said.

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