6.4% education cut hurts University priority budgets

Chris Wilcox
Staff writer

After proposed budget cuts and a possible raise in tuition, administrators this week are struggling to compile priority budget items for the 2012-13 fiscal year in a cash-strapped education environment.

Each academic department and non-academic unit turns in priority budget items annually.

Administrative departments include Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Institutional Advancement and Finance and Administrative Services.

Priority budget items comprise resources that fall beyond the unit’s normal operating budget. These resources include utilities, maintenance contracts, health insurance, retirement benefits and a variety of academic needs. Some of the academic needs could be the need for new faculty or equipment.

The Council on Postsecondary Education will also play a large role this year as far as budgets are concerned. The CPE does not directly influence the budget for Murray State but does determine the percentage amount that tuition may be raised. The percentage of allowed increase will be determined on April 20. Schools will then set their new rates and send them to the CPE for approval on June 21.

Universities across the state are all working on their own compilations pressured by a 6.4 percent budget cut Gov. Steve Beshear proposed on Jan. 17. With that potential cut, universities will balance necessary tuition raises and establish final budgets after June 21.

Following the CPE announcement of the tuition increase, the Board of Regents will make final decisions on priority budget items.

“Given the loss of $3.2 million, there’s not going to be much money to do new things,” President Randy Dunn said.

Don Robertson, vice president of Student Affairs, said with tight budgets it will be difficult to add many extra expenditures.

“Tuition increase and student enrollment will give us the budget we’re going to have to work with,” he said.

Tom Denton, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services, said the academic departments and non-academic units have not officially discussed these budget items with President Randy Dunn or with the vice presidents.

The Board of Regents will meet Friday to begin discussions on priority budget items. They will need the official budget, which can only be determined after the tuition increase is calculated.

“We’re in a situation at a time when there are a lot of unknown variables,” Denton said. “Few decisions have been officially made so far.”

He said every year the departments request more than can be provided. The rigorous process involves several entities, including a student forum, the CPE, the president and the Board of Regents.

With cuts to education, he said, it will be hard to determine what will be possible until the budget is established.

The budgeted lists being developed can only contain the requests that are most needed.

“Priority budgets are important,” Terry Strieter, chair of the department of history, said. “They force departments to list out their needs in a systematic and organized way; these budgets force all of us to make difficult choices.”

Strieter said many departments are hoping to maintain the present level of funding but are afraid that will not be possible in the upcoming year.

In previous years the University has followed a “bloc budget” process to assign funds coming from the state. This method involved the president allotting the deans a bulk of the money, who then passed the money to their departments, which had a good deal of flexibility in allocating funds.

Strieter said a new model is being proposed where upper administration will keep the funds and the various colleges and departments will be required to request funds as needs arise.

“This (new method) is not only slow but cumbersome and often pits one college against another and departments against each other,” Strieter said.

With the upcoming cuts to state funds, less money will be provided to each of the four administrative departments.