PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Maine System will likely dip into its rainy day fund to help the University of Southern Maine make up about half of its budget shortfall, system officials confirmed.
“The chancellor is prepared to recommend to the Board of Trustees that the system provide maximum, one-time funding of $7 million toward that remaining gap of $9.5 million,” USM president Theodora Kalikow said in an email sent to faculty and staff on Thursday. “The $7 million in bridge funding is contingent, however, upon us finding the additional $2.5 million in savings.”
The University of Maine System’s director of public relations confirmed on Friday that Kalikow’s statement is correct.
The system’s vice chancellor for administration and finance, Rebecca Wyke, has said that the system office has about $15 million in a rainy day fund, which could be used to help campuses balance their budgets.
USM has been tasked with cutting $14 million or 10 percent of its budget for fiscal year 2015. The cuts are part of a $36 million budget shortfall across the system’s seven campuses that administrators have said is caused by flat funding from the state and frozen tuition rates, paired with rising costs and a shrinking student population.
In March, Kalikow announced that 20 to 30 faculty jobs would be cut and four academic programs would be eliminated to resolve the budget shortfall. A week later, 12 faculty members received notice that they would be laid off, prompting protests and a student walkout.
But two weeks ago Kalikow reversed course, saying the 12 faculty members would be reinstated and inviting faculty members to come up with an alternative to the layoffs.
In the email sent out on Thursday, Kalikow reiterated that an alternative plan needs to be presented by May 31 and further explained the task at hand.
“As of today, we have booked $4.5 million in savings toward the FY 2015 gap of $14 million, leaving a shortfall between revenues and expenses of $9.5 million,” she said in the email. That $9.5 million becomes $2.5 million when the money from the system office is taken into account, she explained.
Kalikow said in a phone interview on Friday afternoon that the university has been able to find $4.5 million in savings by leaving vacant positions open and not increasing the amount the university will put into deferred maintenance and because 26 staff members have been laid off since July.
USM director of communications Bob Caswell told the Bangor Daily News two weeks ago that about $1 million would be saved through the elimination of three academic programs — American and New England studies, geosciences and arts and humanities on the Lewiston-Auburn campus. The fourth program that was originally proposed for elimination, Recreation and Leisure Studies, has since been taken off the chopping block.
Kalikow also said in her email that the 12 faculty layoffs, which have since been rescinded, amounted to $1.26 million in savings. The Senate Faculty leadership must come up with comparable cuts in academic programs, meaning they cannot propose to make up for those savings by cutting administrative costs.
Kalikow said the savings could come from retirements or by reducing the support staff, but at this point no decisions have been made.
“They’re closest to the programs,” she said of the faculty. “They ought to know where things can be done that can save us some money and serve the students.”
In an email, Jeannine Uzzi, an associate professor of classics and member of the USM Faculty Senate, confirmed that no decisions have been made.
“Everyone is in work mode,” she said in an email.
The 12 faculty layoffs prompted the formation of a student movement, called Students for #USMfuture, that opposes the university administration’s decision to find the savings in academic programs. The group organized rallies and engaged lawmakers in an effort to stop the retrenchments.
Another rally was planned at 11:30 a.m. Friday on the USM Portland campus.
A press release announcing the event stated that the rally was being held “in protest of recent staff firings, which along with faculty ‘retrenchments’ and academic program cuts, have not been satisfactorily explained or justified.”