University of Maine System campuses grapple with $36 million budget shortfall

Posted March 10, 2014, at 6:36 p.m.
James Page
James Page

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System’s seven campuses and the system office are each working to close their share of a $36 million budget gap for fiscal year 2015 and are at varying stages of the painful process.

Much of the gap will be filled by cutting employees. On Friday, UMS Chancellor James Page told the Legislature that up to 165 positions will be eliminated, plus an extra 95 positions if the Legislature moves ahead with proposed cuts.

“When you have flat funding and rising costs, these gaps appear,” Page said in an interview last week. The UMS board of trustees has kept tuition flat for two years and the system has not asked the state for more money for next year.

UMS public relations manager Peggy Leonard provided estimates Monday for how much money each campus will have to come up with in order to pass a balanced budget for fiscal year 2015.

Of the $36 million that the system has to find, the University of Southern Maine has the largest share with close to $14 million. Since November, a team made up of 31 faculty, staff, external community members and the USM student body president has met weekly to figure out where to find the money, according to USM spokesperson Bob Caswell.

USM president Theodora Kalikow and faculty senate chair Jerry LaSala are co-chairs of the group, which will present recommendations to the faculty senate on Friday.

The University of Maine is responsible for coming up with $12 million of the budget shortfall. UMaine spokesperson Margaret Nagle said the Orono campus is at an early stage of figuring out where the money will come from. She said university president Paul Ferguson will likely be visiting individual colleges within the campus next week in an effort to determine where cuts will be made.

In February, Ferguson sent a letter to faculty and staff, urging them to brace themselves for the future cuts.

“The majority of cost savings for FY 15 will come from not filling vacant faculty and staff positions, and downsizing or eliminating a number of administrative programs,” the letter said.

Eighteen positions have already been eliminated at the University of Maine at Farmington, though all but three of those positions were vacant. UMF will save $1.65 million via the cuts and will come up with another $1.34 million by reducing services and supplies budgets and postponing capital investments in order to balance their 2014-2015 budget.

The University of Maine at Augusta must find between $1.6 million to $2.5 million. Spokesman Bob Stein said university officials are still figuring out where cuts will be made.

“Staff that will be affected will hear over the next 10 days,” he said Monday. “They’re all valued employees and deserve to hear this first.”

University of Maine at Presque Isle spokeswoman Rachel Rice said the university plans to find the $1.7 million that they must cut without losing any faculty or staff. The university will save on administrative costs by coordinating with other campuses and expects enrollment to grow next year.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent’s portion of the shortfall is $1.8 million. A UMFK spokesperson could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The University of Maine at Machias, the campus with the smallest population, must come up with $500,000 in savings. UMM eliminated 6.5 administrative positions last fall, which will help the university balance a budget for next year, according to spokesman Erik Smith. Like UMPI, the Washington County campus expects increased enrollment will offset some of the budget shortfall.

An additional $1.4 million must come from the system office, according to Leonard, who said Monday that she did not know whether that would result in staff cuts. Page will work with Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Rebecca Wyke and other administrators to decide where the cuts will come from, Leonard said.

Final budgets from each school will be presented to the UMS board of trustees in May.

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