BANGOR, Maine — Eight members of the University of Maine System trustees’ financial committee unanimously approved a proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 on Monday, even though the plan falls far short of resolving a $36 million shortfall.
The proposal accounts for only $22.7 million of the budget shortfall that the seven campuses have been working to address this year, according to the system’s vice chancellor for administration and finance, Rebecca Wyke. That means $13.3 million that the system had planned to cut will be put off for another year.
Wyke said after Monday’s meeting at the system office in Bangor that if nothing changes on the revenue side next year, the system will be looking at eliminating another $26.4 million in fiscal year 2016.
“As bad as FY 15 was, I think FY 16 is going to be worse,” Wyke told the finance, facilities and technology committee during the meeting.
The proposed budget will be voted on by the system’s entire board of trustees during its May 18-19 meeting.
Trustee Sam Collins said he hopes campuses will be able to attract more students next year so that the projected structural gap for fiscal year 2016 is not as large as system administrators are predicting now.
“Each campus will have a different brand as they try to attract Maine students,” he said, explaining that universities with a unique identity are better situated to grow enrollment.
Chancellor James Page said the system’s administrators will address how they approach the budget differently next year.
“We’re going to get people together earlier,” he said, adding that he will encourage campuses to look for ways that they can work together to reduce redundancies across the system.
“We’ll have to see how the ideas play out,” he said.
The trustees, system administrators and presidents of each of the seven universities spoke about the need to increase collaboration among the campuses in order to decrease costs to the system at the meeting on Monday.
“We don’t have a history within the system of cooperating and collaborating on a long-term basis,” said Sue Hunter, vice chancellor for academic affairs.
“We’ve got to stop competing with one another,” Hunter added. “We say we don’t, but in reality we have been in competition.”
Trustees praised the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Maine at Fort Kent for combining forces to offer a joint bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“We’re always interested in partnerships,” said UM-Augusta President Allyson Handley.
UM-Augusta is the only campus that will not dip into reserves to pass a balanced budget. The budget that trustees will vote on at the May 18-19 meeting proposes using $10 million of the system’s reserves to help the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Machias, the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the University of Southern Maine balance their budgets. Universities in Farmington and Presque Isle will pull funds from their own reserves.
Wyke said that using reserve funding to balance the budgets helps campuses pay their bills but does nothing to fix the fact that expenses are exceeding revenue.
USM will get $7 million from the system office, the largest portion of that reserve funding. After USM President Theodora Kalikow presented her fiscal year 2015 budget, which still does not account for $2.5 million, board members expressed concern.
“We need a strong, vibrant University of Southern Maine and I don’t see the FY 15 solution fixing FY 16 and that troubles me,” said trustee Karl Turner.
“I feel personally responsible for the fact that people complain to me daily [about] what’s going on at USM,” he said.