September 9, 2004
04-120

Charles Harmon Director of University Relations

State budget cuts again place VSU in the eye of the storm

Layoffs, program cuts are real possibilities
Continuing cuts since 2001 total to almost $9 million

State of Georgia budget cuts, impacting the University System of Georgia during the current fiscal year, are forcing Valdosta State University to prepare for a $1.8 million reduction in its own budget, impacting overall programs and possibly resulting in some layoffs of personnel. VSU is caught in the eye of the latest budget storm, part of the requested $68.7 million cut within the University System of Georgia last month mandated by the Office of Planning and Budget. To date, the University System of Georgia's budget has been slashed by $382 million since late 2001. VSU's part of the overall cuts during the same period totals to almost $9 million, amounting to a 20 percent cut in state appropriations and coming at a time when enrollment grew by more than 18 percent. VSU's annual budget is about $106 million, including $41 million as a direct state allocation.

?The coming months may be very difficult times for Valdosta State University,? said VSU President Dr. Ronald M. Zaccari. ?Our campus survived a storm from the south when Hurricane Frances made its recent visit, but a financial storm is heading our way, this time from the north.?

Zaccari said the Office of Planning and Budget's order for the additional state budget cut of $179 million means the University System has been asked to bear 38 percent of the total cost.

?Additionally, the budget picture for FY06 appears to be worsening with the news that the longstanding formula funding for Georgia's higher education institutions will not receive full funding,? said Zaccari. ?As reported by Chancellor Meredith in his comments to the Board of Regents, the cuts, in part, are due to Georgia's hardest hit economic areas: transportation, technology, and tourism.?

?It is reassuring,? said Zaccari, ?that our strategic planning initiative has helped us sort out our budget priorities and initiatives that are required to meet our rapid growth. Frankly, thanks to the support and input of our faculty, staff, and students, we are better positioned to deal with impending cuts.?

Zaccari said the strategic planning process had allowed VSU's vice presidents to set priorities for their divisions based on campus input and that 34 percent of the new initiatives have been funded with reallocated resources. He praised the campus community for planning well under some very difficult circumstances. He said VSU faculty and staff have stayed focused on providing the best education and service possible for students and the region.

?We have just faced and are continuing to face state budget obstacles that have slowed our pace in meeting the needs of both our own infrastructure as well as the South Georgia community we serve.? said Zaccari. ?These obstacles will be overcome, but not without sacrifices that will require cooperation from every division of the university.?

Zaccari said VSU's strategic planning ?best practices,? which have been recognized nationally as well as by the Board of Regents, have helped the university ?make do with less.? He noted that faculty and staff, despite their increased productivity, have not been compensated adequately due to continuing budget cuts.

In remarks on September 8 to the Board of Regents, Chancellor Thomas C. Meredith said the University System works with four key assumptions that drive ?many of our current policy decisions.? He said the four assumptions are the level of state support, low tuition, broad access to the System for all Georgians, and labor intensive support functions.

?Teaching students doesn?t start or end with a professor in a classroom,? said Meredith. ?Providing a quality academic experience requires advising offices, admissions offices, counseling offices, registration offices, financial aid offices, business offices, bookstores, security and maintenance operations.?

Commenting on the ?labor intensive needs,? Meredith said, ?If attrition and retirements do not produce the required result (budget cuts), then layoffs are inevitable.?

Meredith said the long term strategy of the System is to increase ?tuition to manage a portion of the funding gap; adjusting student enrollment and admissions to our actual physical and financial capability to deliver high-quality instruction and research; continuing to find efficiencies and savings wherever possible; and cutting support-personnel costs to handle part of the shortfall.?

VSU officials state that personnel budget cuts at the university, the third largest employer in the area, could have a major impact on the local economy. They said that every effort would be made to keep the cuts to a minimum and to retain personnel to fulfill the university's important regional mission.

?Unfortunately we are being forced to look at potential personnel cuts, likely in non-faculty areas,? said Zaccari. ?We are also looking at programs that could be reduced or eliminated. Everyone will have to have a heightened sensitivity to the reality of these cuts. They will impact everyone.?

Zaccari said that while no definite decisions have been made, a variety of programs are being reviewed. He said some reductions could be made by eliminating vacant positions, placing a freeze on new hiring, reducing travel, and streamlining summer school course offerings.

?This is not a pleasant task,? said Zaccari. ?We do not mean to alarm our employees, students and community, but some major changes will have to be made.?

Zaccari concluded, ?We strive to be optimistic about the future of both VSU and the University System of Georgia for ultimately it will be bright,? said Zaccari. ?However we face some tough choices to keep the momentum moving forward.?