University of Maine System ‘pleased’ with flat funding; tries to make cuts

Students walk across the mall at the University of Maine in Orono between classes.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Students walk across the mall at the University of Maine in Orono between classes. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 22, 2013, at 6:29 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System is pleased that its funding would remain steady under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget, according to a system official, but individual campuses still are trying to meet the governor’s call for $2.5 million in cuts under this year’s supplementary budget.

“We’ll be strongly supporting the governor’s recommendation in his biennial budget,” Ryan Low, executive director of governmental and external affairs for UMS, said Tuesday. “A lot of things can change between now and then, but it’s certainly a very promising first step.”

In January 2012, the UMS Board of Trustees bucked a long trend of rising tuition costs by freezing in-state student tuition for the current academic year. It had been 25 years since the last time in-state tuition rates held steady from one year to the next.

Later in the year, trustees vowed to extend that offer for two more years, with the caveat that the state maintain its funding in the next biennial budget.

The governor’s proposed budget held UMS funding flat. If the Legislature approves the flat funding, the trustees will be able to hold down tuition costs, accomplishing the first in a long list of goals and directives the board set early in 2012.

While the budget proposal holds steady funding for the fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the system’s universities are trying to find ways to cut back this year.

In late December, LePage ordered state agencies to make $35.5 million in temporary spending cuts in a push to balance the state’s budget — $2.5 million of that fell to the University of Maine System and its seven campuses. Those cuts will appear on this year’s supplemental budget, pending Legislative approval.

The University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono took the brunt of the burden — about $1.2 million — as it receives the most funding. The University of Southern Maine was told to come up with $587,000 in cuts, followed by System Wide Services with $185,000, University of Maine Augusta with $189,000, University of Maine Farmington with $138,000, University of Maine at Presque Isle with $85,000 and University of Maine at Fort Kent and University of Maine Machias with $57,500 each.

Each campus was given the directive of coming up with cuts while “eliminating any potential impact on students,” Low said.

Janet Waldron, senior vice president for administration and finance at the Orono campus, said the university hasn’t pinpointed what cuts it might make to reach the $1.2 million benchmark.

“We’re presently in the process of identifying where we’re going to be taking the reductions from,” Waldron said Tuesday. “While it’s still a work in progress, we’re going to minimize the impact on students.”

Waldron said most of the cuts would be made by leaving vacant positions empty and “as many of them as possible” would be nonacademic jobs.

The University of Southern Maine is in a similar position.

“Like in Orono, we have no final decisions on the specifics of where we’ll make that nearly $600,000 in cuts,” University of Southern Maine spokesman Bob Caswell said Tuesday afternoon.

Caswell said USM is looking at cutting back funding for travel to professional conferences, research initiatives, capital improvements on both academic and nonacademic buildings and equipment replacement.

Caswell said USM would “be saying no” to things it hadn’t in past years.

The USM spokesman also said he was pleased with the proposed flat funding for the university system, using the economic adage “flat is the new up.”

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