Budget cuts leave setbacks on campus

Keene State College is facing another year of tight spending and budget cuts, following last year’s unexpected low first-year enrollment.

Multiple faculty, staff and members of administration have confirmed that there has been a 15 percent reduction in department budgets across campus, following additional cuts which occurred last year. According to Interim Vice President for Finance and Planning Dr. Daniel Petree, the financial situation the college is facing is largely due to multiple factors. These include low enrollment in the 2015-2016 academic year, coupled with low figures in the college’s reserve fund to help supplement for the lack of revenue.

“Last year, we had an enrollment surprise, and it wasn’t a good surprise,” Petree said. He later said, “I think it would also be fair to say that the college, perhaps over time, had become too dependent on committing all of its anticipated revenues rather than building an operating reserve cushion just in case there’s a surprise like that.”

Petree later added that the college would likely feel this enrollment shock for the coming years until the current sophomore class graduates in 2019. According to Petree, as of now, the college has no budgeted reserves for this fiscal year to supplement the lack of revenue. “That’s not a position we would like to continue,” Petree said.

Petree said that he would like to see the college allocate at least one percent of the college’s revenue to its reserves to help provide that cushion in case of any future financial slumps or to fund any projects the college might pursue.  For now though, department budgets are still being reviewed for approval, but departments are feeling the effects of the strained financial situation they find themselves in.  For instance, the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Department Chair and Professor Dr. Paul Vincent said that after over three decades at KSC he is retiring at the end of this year. It is unlikely that the school will be able to hire a faculty member to replace him, cutting the only Holocaust and Genocide Studies undergraduate program in the country down from four faculty to three.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

“Somehow, we have to answer that without hiring a tenure-track faculty member,” Vincent said.

According to Technology, Design and Safety Chair Dr. Larry McDonald, operating budgets for lab-intensive programs such as Safety and Occupational Health Sciences may also face problems with maintenance and repair of equipment .

“They title it as supply and non-capital equipment budget, and that means any equipment that you buy that costs less than $3,000,” McDonald said.

There are classes in the safety program which rely on the use of lab equipment. The chemistry program, industrial hygiene classes and senior capstone classes are some of the courses in this department that could be effected the most by these cuts.

Different majors, such as American Studies, may have to go without different kinds of opportunities for their students, such as less speakers coming to present at the college or less availability of potential internships.

For adjuncts, the budget cuts could mean a cutback in course load, which, for them, means a cut in pay or a layoff from work at the college.

Communications lecturer Michael McCarthy expressed his concerns about the situation and what it could mean for himself and fellow adjuncts, as well as students.

“For someone like me that taught full course-loads for 10 or 12 years in a row, it’s meant a cutback in sections, so a cutback in course load. So I’ve seen my pay go down about by a third,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy added that the reduction in workload for adjuncts could lead to a decrease in student success by not having as much faculty support, as well as support for other resources that they and the courses they teach can provide.

According to Keene State College Staff Association (KSCSA) President Kim Schmidl-Gagne, staff members have also been affected by the cuts. Schmidl-Gagne, who also works in the Diversity and Multiculturalism Department, said the cuts have left many departments around campus short-staffed and have increased the workload of those currently working at KSC.

“As president, I’m hearing from a lot of staff that they are taking on additional responsibilities, working longer hours [and] needing to learn things that somebody else had done in the past. People are trying to pitch in and do the best they can,” Schmidl-Gagne said.

“We have had one staff member that we believe was a reduction in force. We have a second staff member who has been told that a year from now their position would be eliminated.”

The KSCSA president also said that staff members leaving for different reasons, such as retirement or relocation, have not been replaced.

However, Schmidl-Gagne, who is also the secretary for the college’s Senate, said that despite the budget, the Senate tries not to take finances into consideration when trying to put policies in place to better the student experience at KSC. “It tries not to make decisions with finances in mind,” she said.

However, finances are a factor for people in positions like Vice President Daniel Petree, who outlined the plan to get the school back on track. Petree said that the University System of New Hampshire has given a certain degree of freedom to KSC in order to figure out the best course of action.

He added that the University System of N.H. is not holding the college to the usual three percent minimum annual operating margin for this year or next year, which will allow the school to allocate money to where the college feels it is most needed.

According to Petree, while he doesn’t have current numbers outlining the school’s current finances yet, he believes the school is on course to resolve the issues of the College’s budget by 2020.

In the meantime, Petree said that KSC will have to make choices of where to cut money while still moving forward with KSC’s strategic plan.

“We recognize that we are going to have to make decisions…they have to be decisions that are taken in the context that we don’t have unlimited funds,” Petree said.

The budgets for departments across campus will be finalized within the next couple of weeks. Staff and and faculty remain optimistic that the college will recover from this, but they do realize that these cuts have penetrated deeply.

“I always felt that we’re cut to the bone almost in what we are capable of doing. This is the first year that we’ve kind of entered the bone and we’re dealing with the marrow,” Vincent said.

After being contacted repeatedly, KSC President Anne Huot was unavailable for comment for this story. Updates on the college’s financial standing will be made when more information is available.

Jacob Barrett can be contacted at jbarrett@kscequinox.com 

This article was corrected to say that President Anne Huot was unavailable for comment, she did not decline comment.

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