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Interim MSU president details potential cuts

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

MURRAY - Leaders at Murray State University continue to seek to balance the budget and compensate for a deficit that could bring staffing cuts and tuition increases.

Interim president Tim Miller held what he called an "open and transparent conversation" with a group of students, faculty, staff and community members Thursday afternoon in the Curris Center Theater. He presented a 2014-2015 budget worksheet that included projected expenditures, potential cuts and the remaining deficit.

"We don't know how all this is going to work out, but all recommendations we make are in the best interests of Murray State," Miller said. "I might just be a simple accountant, but my heart is here."

Miller said the ideas, gathered by three task force committees, will not be presented to regents during their meeting Wednesday because many factors remain in flux. Factors include next year's enrollment and the Legislature's approval of Gov. Steve Beshear's proposed budget. It would reduce the school's annual budget by 2.5 percent, or about $1.2 million.

One item that will be brought before the Board of Regents is the elimination of the College of Health and Human Services, which the Academic Council unanimously approved last week. The college will be reorganized, with students attending classes in other departments, saving just under $180,000. Full-time and student employees will be moved to vacant spots within the university, he said.

"We have to find ways to save money without cutting or hurting people ... that's our pledge at this point," he said.

Current proposed reductions would eliminate about $2.5 million from next school year's projected shortfall of about $5.27 million. The deficit reflects a 1 percent raise for all employees, at a cost of $833,000; $823,000 allocated to the new Paducah regional campus for staffing and academic programs; and yearly state-mandated increases. Other items include $630,000 in building maintenance for what Miller called "serious infrastructure problems"; $200,000 in upgrades and maintenance for technology; and $220,000 in contingency funds that would in part pay for the future president's salary, among many other items.

Miller emphasized that the recommendation doesn't include job losses or any reduction of student positions or wages. Employees and student workers who are displaced will be found other positions within the system.

Recommended reductions include $129,000 from the president's office, $125,000 from athletics, $521,000 from academic affairs, which includes cutting the College of Health and Human Services, $1.23 million from finance and administrative services, $138,000 from institutional advancement, $293,000 from student services and $71,000 from unallocated funds.

Proposed changes include increases in parking fees from $55 to $75 for students and from $35 to $45 for faculty and staff, the elimination of free parking tags for college employees with a tenure of more than 20 years, closing the cashier's office windows in Sparks Hall, potential cuts to the hours of the Wellness Center and Postal Service center, and a $1 increase for faculty tickets to non-athletic events.

Miller said he has met with all employees who would be displaced by these potential changes and told the school's human resources department to fill any vacant positions with them.

However, he did caution that if enrollment doesn't increase substantially and if the governor's proposed budget passes without amendment, additional means will have to be found to make up the remaining approximately $3.23 million deficit and that number could increase to $3.97 million if several additional expenditures are approved.

Those remedies could come in the form of cuts to non-faculty positions. Salaries comprise 78 percent of the budget. He also spoke about the chance for a tuition increase of up to 5 percent, with each 1 percent adding an additional $700,000 for the school. He emphasized that Murray State has the second lowest tuition of four-year institutions in the state at $7,044, behind Kentucky State University in Frankfort.

Miller said he will begin to evaluate university-wide staff positions to formulate a list to offer regents without a target amount of reductions until the situation is more concrete.

"A good enrollment and good mix of students would help solve our budget problems," he said. "We are trying to get our house in order, but students might have to help some so we can continue to offer the same quality programs at Murray."

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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