State budget crunch could cost MSU millions of dollars

The state giveth and the state might taketh away.

Montana State University may have to send back to the state treasury anywhere from $1.25
million to $4 million from the next academic year’s budget, according to Craig Roloff, MSU’s
acting vice president for finance.

By GAIL SCHONTZLER Chronicle Staff Writer

The governor’s budget office has directed all state agencies, including the University System,
to come up with contingency plans by May 10 for returning 3 to 10 percent of their state
general fund money. The state surplus has fallen to a level that may trigger the need for
budget cuts.

For MSU faculty, students and staff, this could mean that instead of having $2 million for hiring
new professors and other priorities next year, there might be $1 million. Or, in the worst case,
MSU could face $2 million in budget cuts.

"People in Helena feel like there is at least a 50-50 chance some level of reversion will be
necessary," Roloff said Thursday. "Obviously, it would be a step backward, regardless of if it’s 1
percent or 10 percent. It would be some level of setback."

The news from Helena adds a note of uncertainty to the public forum on MSU’s proposed
2002-2003 budget scheduled for this Thursday. The 21-member University Planning, Budget
and Analysis Committee, created by President Geoff Gamble to make MSU’s money decisions
more open to the public, has been working on drafting the budget since January.

The committee has based its decisions on the assumption that MSU will have an additional $2
million next year to spend on high-priority needs, thanks to a 13 percent tuition hike and rising
student applications for next year.

Topping the priority list is hiring more adjunct professors to teach additional sections in classes
with high student demand.

Other priorities include hiring more professors for high-demand majors like business finance,
boosting salaries for the lowest-paid faculty and spending more on MSU’s perennially
underfunded computer services and building maintenance.

At Wednesday’s Montana Board of Regents special meeting, some regents said if state funding
is cut, they should raise tuition. Others argued for eliminating programs, Roloff said.

The regents made no decision, but asked Commissioner of Higher Education Dick Crofts to
submit a proposal by the end of next week.

"Folks were a bit discouraged," Roloff said.

Jim McMillan, dean of Letters and Sciences, MSU’s largest college, said to absorb any more
cuts would certainly make it more difficult to maintain the level of teaching and MSU’s
"world-class faculty."

This year his college had to trim $170,000, which meant not filling three faculty vacancies in
order to cover other shortfalls.

"It’s a bit of a shell game," McMillan said. "It causes me to go through lots of Rolaids."

MSU had been expecting to have $88 million in next year’s general operating budget.
Highlights of the spending plan include a $600,000 emergency fund and $3.3 million for a 4
percent pay raise for employees plus benefits.

To pay for past mistakes, $500,000 is earmarked for paying off a $2.3 million shortfall in
uncollected student tuition, and $120,000 for the athletics deficit. Some $675,000 would cover
inflation in utilities and library purchases.

There would be more money for psychological counselors for students, and a new student
mentoring program. New professors would be hired in civil engineering, Spanish, cell biology,
art and education. Agriculture would get enough for half a professor’s pay.

Jerry Bancroft, College of Arts and Architecture dean, said he supports many of the budget
committee’s priorities. But if decisions are to be driven by data, as Gamble has called for, the
committee should consider the 30 percent increase in art and media majors in the last five
years, Bancroft said.

"You have two choices — let the dollars follow students and maintain quality, or else … quality
has to be diminished," Bancroft said.

Thursday’s public forum is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. in the Strand Union Building.

Posted in:

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.