Budget: Where we stand

On Tuesday, President Christopher Dahl and Vice President for Administration and Finance Ken Levison presented an overview of the college's budget at a packed All-College Meeting in Newton.

Dahl said that the administration is working to be "as open and transparent" as possible in dealing with the continuing cuts to the SUNY system and commended students, faculty and staff for continuing to excel despite compromising circumstances.

"[Gov. David Paterson] is dealing with a very difficult situation, the state is going to run out of cash sometime this month," Levison said.

Following is a summary of the major points addressed by the presentation:

Where We Were

Geneseo entered the fall semester facing a 2009-2010 budgetary gap of $3,251,254 - a cut representing 7.75 percent of the 2007-2008 operating budget. State support was cut by 18.48 percent of the 2007-2008 operating budget.

Although the $620 annual tuition increase brought in $3,465,900 million for New York State, 80 percent of this revenue was used for general state purposes.

Additional campus initiatives that broadened the gap included increases in funding for temp services, funding for adjunct faculty, extra money for support services and scholarships, replacement of library materials, and unfunded collective bargaining increases. These initiatives created a total funding gap of $4,379,845 prior to Paterson's mid-year cut of $90 million to the SUNY system at large. That gap was reduced to $3,708,462 after new funding and partially restored funding was added back in.

The college dealt with this $3.7 million funding gap partially by reducing personnel funding by 4 percent through keeping positions vacant and enacting a hiring freeze, holding selected positions vacant for at least a year before a search process to fill the position would begin. This saved the college $1,371,900.

In addition, the college reduced its other-than-personnel-services budget by 13 percent, which was manifested primarily through cuts to departmental budgets. Electricity costs were paid for using income fund reimbursable accounts rather than state support - IFR accounts consist of money collected for services such as athletics and the health center. Finally, academic OTPS accounts were paid for using cash instead of state support. Levison said that these were all one-time actions that will not be sustainable or practical in future years, presuming the state's fiscal crisis continues.

Mid-Year Cuts

On Oct. 9, Paterson mandated an additional $90 million cut to the SUNY system on top of previous cuts. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and an appointed budget task force - the first of its kind in SUNY history - allocated these cuts to the 64 SUNY campuses. Geneseo absorbed $890,200 of the $90 million, which was somewhat less than expected, but still a major obstacle for Geneseo's budget priorities committee to tackle.

Levison said that $74,500 of the $890,200 was accounted for by reducing student temp service. $26,400 came from cash reserves, $278,100 from long-term reserves and $200,000 from a reduction in oil utility lines. The remainder came out of OTPS accounts in academic affairs, administration and finance, admission, advancement, student and campus life, the president's office and campus-wide accounts.

Looking Forward

Last month, the SUNY Board of Trustees proposed a 2 percent tuition hike for the 2010-2011 academic year on top of the $310-per-semester increase that was implemented for Spring 2009. According to Levison, this will translate into $14 million for the SUNY system. SUNY is also working to retain 30 percent of tuition dollars for its campuses rather than 20 percent; this would result in an additional $16 million of increased revenue.

The $890,200 mid-year cut, however, will become $1,612,430 when annualized in upcoming years. Levison said that in a best-case scenario, the 2010-2011 budget will include a minimum of $1 million in additional reductions. This scenario assumes that all negotiated salary increases are covered with state support and that 100 percent of the proposed 2 percent tuition hike is retained by campuses and not sent to state coffers for allocation.

Levison said that Geneseo has more money in reserve than comparable institutions throughout the SUNY system - $11,693,800 was available for operational support as of June 30. Levison projects, however, that if these reserves are used to replace existing as well as potential future cuts that cannot be permanently restored or adjusted for, reserves will decline to $7,379,300 by the end of the 2009-2010 year and to just $2,563,200 by the end of the 2010-2011 year. The presentation's forecast for 2011-2012 was nothing more than a series of question marks, underscoring the urgency and uncertainty of the situation.

Our Options

"This is not the kind of situation where in a year or so we're going to bounce back," Levison said.

Short-term actions that are being taken include the permanent elimination of 17 non-instructional positions that are currently vacant or will become vacant at the end of the fall semester. Provost Carol Long is also exploring an option that give faculty the option of phasing out their retirements over a period of years whereby they would receive a reduced salary but have fewer obligations as they reach the end of their careers.

Levison said that the college is already stressed by large class sizes and that further increasing enrollment in an effort to increase profits "would only lead to a reduction in quality."

Geneseo cannot raise tuition unless the SUNY Board of Trustees permits it, and the state legislature must then vote to allow those funds to be spent. Dahl said that giving trustees the authority to raise tuition without legislative approval or allowing each campus to set its own tuition independently of the SUNY system might offer the type of systemic reform necessary to improve budget flexibility in the future.

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