SEMO budget solution a one-year deal, university president says

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A budget with no pay raises and no increases in revenue will work for a year but is not sustainable, Southeast Missouri State University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said Friday.

Speaking after the university board of regents approved the $96.9 million budget for the year beginning July 1, Dobbins said the bargain he and other university presidents made with Gov. Jay Nixon for sustained state funding with no student fee increases was a one-year deal.

To make the budget balance in the face of an expected $833,000 increase in health-care costs and $287,000 for pay increases tied to faculty promotions, the university cut 15 jobs. Most were vacant, he said. Administrative departments cut their budgets by 3 percent and instructional departments were reduced by 2 percent.

"We are pleased we don't have to cut a large number of jobs," Dobbins said.

The state maintained stable funding by including $5.4 million in federal stimulus act funding in the university's $47.2 million appropriation. Even if the university receives the same amount next year, Dobbins said, student fees would have to increase.

"For faculty, we compete in the national marketplace," Dobbins said, "We have to have salaries for faculty and administrative jobs that are competitive."

And for support jobs ranging from housekeepers to electricians, Dobbins said the university must remain competitive with other local employers. "If we can't increase salaries from time to time, we are not going to get quality folks."

The regents also approved two major spending requests for the next round of state budgeting -- $37 million to update and construct new applied science laboratories on campus and $32.8 million for major campus repairs and renovations. Both are important to maintaining the university's educational quality, Dobbins said.

The three buildings housing science labs now -- Magill, Rhodes and Johnson halls -- are 25 to 50 years old. "Labs in some of the high schools are better than what we have," Dobbins said.

The science lab building and upgrades have been the university's No. 1 priority for construction since the River Campus was funded. The maintenance and renovation money represents items too big for the university due to the state funding crunch. State appropriations peaked in 2001 and have not yet been returned to those levels.

"What we are looking at here is major deferred maintenance," Kathy Mangels, vice president for finance and administration, told the regents as she explained the requests.

The requests now go to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. A renewed push for a state bond issue to fund campus construction projects is a promising development, Dobbins said.

New animal policy

In other action, the regents approved a new policy banning animals in university buildings except for service animals and lab specimens.

They also heard that the university will accelerate parking development at Pacific Street and Broadway. Previously, the plan had called for adding 82 spaces on the northwest corner where Howard's Sporting Goods stood. Because bids came in below estimates, Mangels told the regents, the plans for the northeast corner can be added immediately instead of waiting two or three years. Even with the addition, she said, the total cost of creating the parking spaces was cut from $2.05 million to $1.8 million.

As a result, the savings will be put back into residence hall projects, Mangels said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

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