USM faculty proposes administration cuts, voluntary retirements in plan to save more than $5 million

Jerry LaSala, physics professor and chairman of the University of Southern Maine faculty senate, welcomes attendees to a Thursday afternoon meeting at the Portland campus. He is joined by vice chairwoman Tara Coste. The faculty panel unveiled its recommendations for budget cuts that could serve as alternatives to previously proposed layoffs.
Seth Koenig | BDN
Jerry LaSala, physics professor and chairman of the University of Southern Maine faculty senate, welcomes attendees to a Thursday afternoon meeting at the Portland campus. He is joined by vice chairwoman Tara Coste. The faculty panel unveiled its recommendations for budget cuts that could serve as alternatives to previously proposed layoffs. Buy Photo
Posted May 29, 2014, at 4:13 p.m.
Last modified May 29, 2014, at 10:10 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine faculty are proposing nearly $1.6 million in administrator compensation cuts or layoffs as part of a $5 million package of recommended budget reductions aimed, in part, at avoiding job cuts among their own ranks.

Members of a Faculty Senate committee unveiled their budget proposal at an afternoon meeting Thursday at the Portland campus. The plan was given unanimous approval by the 26 faculty members in attendance and forwarded to USM President Theodora Kalikow for consideration.

After the meeting, Kalikow was noncommittal about the faculty recommendations.

“We’ll study all that,” she told reporters about the proposed administration cuts.

In addition to the administration pay reductions, the faculty plan includes $2.1 million in voluntary early retirements and resignations among faculty members over the next two years — 11 of which, representing more than $1.1 million, will come before the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

“We want to express our appreciation for the faculty members who were willing to take retirements in order to save the jobs of the younger faculty who are the future of this institution,” said Faculty Senate vice chairwoman Tara Coste Thursday.

While a total of 19 additional faculty members agreed to early retirements or voluntary separations by August 2016, the faculty panel recommended cutting compensation for nonunion administrators making more than $80,000 by 20 percent. That move would save more than $1.2 million, according to the Faculty Senate.

The plan also calls for a 10 percent reduction in compensation for nonunion administrators making between $60,000 and $80,000, a sweeping cut which would save nearly another $400,000.

Members of the faculty panel on Thursday said the administration payroll cuts could be accomplished by laying off one out of every five higher-level administrators and one out of every 10 lower-level administrators, or by a combination of leaving vacancies unfilled and reducing annual salaries by lesser amounts.

“Our goal has been to make cuts that are least harmful to students,” said Faculty Senate chairman and USM physics professor Jerry LaSala Thursday.

Other myriad savings proposed by the faculty group included increased energy efficiencies across campus, worth about $20,000, and reductions in staff cellphone allocations and organization memberships, worth a combined $105,000.

Mark Lapping, a faculty member of USM’s Muskie School of Public Service and a former provost, said the school’s full cellphone budget is approximately $340,000.

“I pay for my cellphone. I suspect you do, too,” he said to his fellow Faculty Senate members. “I don’t expect any less from my deans and my administrators.”

The alternate plan committee of the USM Faculty Senate was tasked with eliminating at least $1.26 million from the university’s budget. Those cuts would serve as an alternative to the 12 faculty layoffs that Kalikow proposed in March.

The president’s proposed layoffs were part of an effort to cut $14 million — or about 10 percent — from the university’s budget. Kalikow and University of Maine System Chancellor James Page say the cuts are necessary because of flat funding from the state, a frozen in-state tuition rate and Maine’s declining student population, paired with increasing costs.

Less than a month after the 12 faculty members received notice that they would be laid off, which had triggered a series of protests on campus, Kalikow surprised the USM community by announcing that those layoffs would be reversed.

Kalikow asked the Faculty Senate to present an alternative plan by May 31.

“We really want President Kalikow to use the savings we found to save the faculty positions. Going forward, we really need a budget process that’s more transparent and more inclusive,” Coste said during the Thursday meeting. “If we’re going to be continually living in this state of budget trauma, and there need to be cuts, it’s really important that everybody understands what’s happening and why.”

The university started the 2013-14 school year with approximately 310 faculty members. With the departures announced prior to Kalikow’s since-rescinded layoffs, combined with the voluntary departures announced as part of the faculty plan, the faculty will number 281 for the coming school year.

Kalikow suggested after the meeting Thursday she was skeptical about how much money the voluntary retirements would save, as many of the positions would likely need to eventually be refilled, albeit by candidates potentially making less money.

But she said she looked forward to continuing to work with the faculty on the budget problem.

“There will be all sorts of opportunities for [financial] creativity in the future,” Kalikow told reporters. “This problem isn’t going away anytime soon.”

About $7 million of the $14 million USM is cutting will come from the system’s rainy day fund — a one-time source of funding that does not help resolve the system shortfall.

Another $4.5 million already has been saved through staff layoffs, cuts to departments and by not filling vacant positions, according to Judie O’Malley, USM’s assistant director of public affairs.

That leaves $2.5 million, $1.6 million of which the faculty was given the opportunity to weigh in on. Almost $1 million more is up to the president and her staff, O’Malley said.

The system office expects Kalikow to present a plan for closing the remaining $2.5 million by mid-June, according to O’Malley. Those budget cuts are coming against the backdrop of a university effort to rebrand USM — which has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston — as “Maine’s Metropolitan University,” promoting “flexible, adaptive and accessible” courses of study for busy, nontraditional urban students.

Though USM has made the largest cuts, each of the seven campuses in Maine’s university system have had to eliminate portions of their budgets.

Last week, the system’s trustees approved a budget that cuts about $22.7 million, leaving a $529 million budget. That’s far less than the $36 million Page originally said the system would eliminate, meaning more cuts are expected next year, according to the system’s chief financial officer, Rebecca Wyke.

 

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