Regents approve Western’s budget cuts

Shawntaye Hopkins

Western’s chunk of a $64 million cut to higher education is not just a number anymore.

The questions about how have been answered.

The plan for cutting $5.6 million from Western’s budget was approved on Friday with few changes in a special Board of Regents meeting.

“I feel that this budget reduction plan will help us to be a more efficient and effective university in the future,” President Gary Ransdell said.

Departments are being asked to make some cuts and measures are being taken to reduce utility costs.

Western is also making several policy changes.

No filled positions, programs or departments were eliminated.

Ransdell said he didn’t expect the cuts to be made without cutting jobs of individuals on campus.

The bulk of the cut money comes from $1.4 million in unbudgeted tuition and $1.2 million from Western’s emergency reserve fund.

Students will pay $20 for dropping and adding courses after the sixth day of each term, starting in the summer. They will also pay more for transcripts, graduation and for taking more than 18 hours.

Students who withdraw from Western will no longer be able to get a 25 percent refund at the end of eight weeks. They will get a 50 percent refund after two weeks and a 25 percent refund after three weeks.

This policy is similar to those at other Kentucky universities, Ransdell said in an e-mail sent to faculty and staff on Thursday.

Other policy changes were made on topics concerning the allocation of carry-forward money, employee benefits and self-insured medical insurance.

A change in a medical insurance plan policy will not affect employees unless Western experiences several catastrophic events, such as an unusual increase in the number of surgeries, Ransdell said.

Western will not deposit $190 per employee this semester into the self-insured medical insurance fund.

The cut will generate a one-time amount of $385,000.

Ransdell said the insurance program is currently stable and there is a sufficient reserve fund.

He said premium rates and insurance coverage will not be affected.

The entire budget reduction plan, including the policy changes, will be reviewed in two years, Ransdell said.

That decision came when John Bradley, president of the Student Government Association, suggested during the meeting that a time limit be placed on several of the policy changes.

“I say this in hope that we all know that five years from now, four years from now, we’re not going to have this same problem,” Bradley said. “I’m hopeful that we won’t.”

Western could face recurring problems if more state funding becomes available in the future, Bradley said.

Ransdell said he did not want to set time limits, but agreed to review the plan.

Faculty Regent Robert Dietle had several concerns about policies affecting academics.

All divisions, except revenue-dependent and grant/contract accounts, will forfeit 50 percent of their carry-forward funds from the previous fiscal year.

The money will be deposited into the university’s central account for priority needs.

Some departments may decide not to save money if they know half of it will be forfeited to the university in the following year, Dietle said.

Ransdell said money needed for specific projects will be considered.

Revenue-dependent departments will begin paying a service fee of three percent of their total revenue this fiscal year.

“All revenue-dependent programs benefit from their affiliation with the university,” Ransdell said in the faculty and staff e-mail.

They benefit by using facilities, sharing university employees and by just being affiliated with the university, he said.

Dietle motioned to remove a policy that would delay the start of benefits for new employees, but the motion was denied.

Employees will receive full benefits on the first day of their first calendar month.

Dietle said several faculty members arrive on Western’s campus in mid-August and are expected to teach classes.

He said it isn’t right to welcome them, but tell them they won’t be full members for several weeks.

“It’s a small step, but I see it as a potentially damaging one,” he said.

Regent Cornelius Martin said it is normal for schools to have faculty wait 90 days before gaining full benefits.

The policy will generate a continuing amount of $80,000. Ransdell said he was not prepared to suggest a replacement for the policy.

But Dietle withdrew his motion and a motion was approved to have departments pay the benefits of new staff during the first month of employment. Departments will also gain more flexibility in employee start dates.

Staff Regent Pat Jordan said the policy should be looked at on an individual basis. Staff may not come from backgrounds where they already have benefits.

Staff Council Chair Elizabeth Paris said the policy will probably affect faculty more because they have less flexible start dates.

The number of vacation days an employee can have carried over from year to year has also changed. Employees will be able to have a maximum of 20 days, instead of 24, carried into the next year. The remaining days will be turned into sick days.

Paris said some staff don’t understand that days aren’t being taken away from them.

“It’s possible they could have said if you don’t take all your days they’ll start over,” Paris said. “Some companies do that.”

Paris said staff members have also shown concerns about other policy changes.

No faculty or staff member will get discounts on athletic tickets, and part-time faculty and staff will not be able to take classes at discounted rates unless given a scholarship at the department’s expense.

All departments are being asked to reduce costs in printing, postage, subscription services, food and departmental dining, wireless telephone usage and advertising for vacant positions.

All departments will also have to reduce overtime. Overtime hours will only be used for emergencies or tasks that must take place immediately. All overtime budgets are being reduced by one-third and departments will begin paying overtime charges.

Some changes will allow Western to save money on utilities. Unnecessary lighting, gas and water usage will be reduced.

Ransdell said he is working the Campus Safety Task Force to make those changes safely.

“We’re not going to jeopardize the safety conditions of our campus to save a few dollars,” Ransdell said.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]