BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System’s board of trustees will attempt to add focus and accountability to their plan to close a budget gap that campuses have been grappling with for years.
“It is very focused,” said Trustee Sam Collins of a strategic plan that the board approved at a meeting in Bangor on Monday. “It has timetables and goals attached to it.”
Through the framework outlined in the four-page strategic plan, the seven universities and system office will attempt to close a projected $69 million structural gap over the next five years that was identified in a system-wide financial analysis.
“I think we have a road down which we can follow and really work towards the ultimate goal of education and impacting our state economically,” said Trustee Marjorie Medd.
Part of the plan is to reduce spending on academic programs by $18 million in four to five years. Administrators have not determined where the rest of the $69 million will come from.
A committee made up of representatives from each campus, who were chosen by UMaine president Susan Hunter when she was vice chancellor for academic affairs, will lead the effort to determine where these cuts will be made. They will be monitored by an oversight committee made up of administrators and faculty members.
“Without undertaking this very deliberate process, personnel reductions in silos throughout our System will lead to further enrollment declines and diminishment of academic quality and access,” said a document articulating how a review of the academic programs across the system will take place.
Hunter, who formerly chaired the oversight committee, stressed that the current plan does not dictate where the money will come from, but how the process will take place.
“We’re not far down the neck of the tunnel in terms of making decisions yet,” she said.
Many of the reductions will have to come from eliminating faculty and staff positions, said University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn Foster, who is now the chair of the oversight committee that will implement these changes.
The university system has undertaken similar review processes of its information technology system and procurement system, which has resulted in about $3 million in savings.
The trustees voted Monday to allocate $2.1 million of those funds to a “multi-year economic development initiative supporting Maine industries.” Almost all of the remainder will be split between the cooperative extension, a program for adult students and the University of Southern Maine’s effort to become a “metropolitan university.”
Also at the meeting, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Rebecca Wyke told the board of trustees that the system ended the fiscal year more than $11 million in the black.
This was due to “favorable market conditions for the operating fund, positive claims experience for our self-insured health plan; and one-time administrative savings in University Services,” Wyke said.
Wyke proposed putting $6 million of the savings into the system’s rainy day fund. That fund had dwindled after the system told trustees in May that $11.4 million of the $15 million fund would be pulled to help the campuses pass their fiscal year 2015 budgets.
The Trustees also approved the following actions on Monday:
– The creation of a bachelor’s degree program called Outdoor Recreation Business Administration at UMF.
– The creation of a bachelor’s degree program called Human Dimensions of Climate Change at the University of Maine.
– Cuts totaling $2.5 million at USM so the university could pass a balanced fiscal year 2015 budget.
– An upgrade of IT Telecommunications services at UMaine.
– A plan to lease a USM cell tower to Portland Cellular Partnership for an annual $30,000 fee.
– Science lab renovations at UMF for $1.4 million.
– An $11 million plan to build a central heating plant at UMF that uses natural gas.
– A plan to deliver compressed natural gas to the University of Maine at Machias.