University of Maine System budget proposes 157 position cuts, takes $11.4 million from reserves

Posted April 29, 2014, at 6:46 p.m.
Rebecca Wyke
Michael C. York | BDN
Rebecca Wyke

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System will cut 157 positions across its seven campuses and central office and dip deep into its rainy day fund if a budget plan it released Tuesday is passed by the system’s board of trustees next month.

The proposed budget features eight fewer positions lost than what system Chancellor James Page warned could be cut in March when he addressed the state Legislature.

The proposed budget was posted to the system’s website on Tuesday and will be reviewed and considered by the trustees’ Finance, Facilities and Technology Committee on Monday. The entire board will vote on the budget at a May 18-19 meeting.

Also included in the proposed budget was a breakdown of how the system will spend $11.4 million of its $15 million rainy day fund. This fund has been built up since 2010 and campuses will dip into it for the first time this year, according to Rebecca Wyke, the system’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.

The University of Southern Maine will get $7 million from the system’s rainy day fund, the University of Maine at Fort Kent will get $1.3 million, the University of Maine would get $900,000, and the University of Maine at Machias will get $797,000. The universities in Farmington and Presque Isle will dip into their own reserve funds.

The system has been criticized for holding too much money in reserve. At a rally at USM, economics professor Susan Feiner told protesters that the economic crisis is fabricated and the cuts are not needed.

UMS has $183 million in what accountants call “unrestricted net assets,” meaning they are not legally bound to spend the money. But system officials say that money is allocated for important causes and the true rainy day fund only amounts to $15 million.

The proposed budget states that the amount the system holds in reserve is the benchmark for public institutions of higher education and points out that the system now will spend about two-thirds of its rainy day fund.

“We can’t deficit spend much more,” Wyke said on Tuesday.

“This really is a time that if we want to preserve our services for our students and for the state of Maine, we are going to have to become more integrative and collaborative,” she said.

Of the 157 full-time equivalent positions proposed for elimination, USM will see the largest reduction at 50. UMaine will lose 37 positions and the system office will lose 22.

Campuses have been grappling with how to manage these cuts since November when Wyke told the board of trustees that the universities would need to cut $36 million, or about 6.6 percent of the system’s budget, in order to pass a balanced budget in fiscal year 2015.

For months, each of the seven universities that make up the system have been looking for places to make cuts.

The University of Southern Maine was tasked with finding $14 million, or about 10 percent of its budget. USM President Theodora Kalikow proposed eliminating three programs — American and New England studies, geosciences, and arts and humanities at the school’s Lewiston-Auburn College facility. Twelve professors received notice in March that they would be laid off, but those layoffs since have been taken off the table and faculty have been asked to weigh in on where they think cuts should be made.

Wyke said Tuesday that USM still has to figure out where it will find $2.5 million. If the board of trustees approves this budget, it will do so without knowing where that $2.5 million will come from. Once USM finds the funds, officials will go to the board to approve those cuts at a later date.

The University of Maine announced last month that it would cut $9.7 million, or about 3.5 percent of its budget, by dipping into its savings, letting 61 positions go vacant next year through attrition and between seven and nine nonfaculty layoffs.

Less than two weeks before UMaine’s announcement, University of Maine at Augusta President Allyson Handley announced the elimination of 24 full- and part-time positions, 10 of which were layoffs. In addition, 33 staff members will see their hours reduced.

And in February, University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn Foster announced that 18 positions have been eliminated as part of a 9 percent campus spending reduction in fiscal year 2015. Fifteen of those positions already were vacant.

Wyke said Tuesday that more cuts are inevitable in coming years because the financial problems are systemic.

“We have about 2,000 fewer students than we did in 2007,” she said, referring to full-time equivalent students. “We really do have to question whether we need the same number of people to serve a smaller number of students.”

 

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