Morehead State president blames furlough on pending budget cuts

President Wayne Andrews of Morehead State University is blaming budget cuts that have yet to be passed by the state legislature for a five-day unpaid furlough of school employees.

“As you know, the university is facing a significant budget challenge—both in the current fiscal year and in planning for the 2016-17 fiscal year—due to declining enrollment and to the proposed cuts to higher education that were included in the governor’s 2016-2018 budget,” Andrews writes in an email sent to faculty and staff Thursday.

According to the email, the Kentucky school already faces a budget shortfall of $2.6 million in 2016, and would have to come up with an additional $1.95 million if the 4.5 percent budget cut envisioned by Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is passed, for a total of just over $4.5 million.

“To address this cut, I plan to impose a five-day unpaid furlough for all unrestricted employees including faculty and staff,” Andrews states, adding that “the five-day furlough will be scheduled March 21 through March 25 while our students are on spring break to minimize the impact on instruction and student services.”

Andrews points out that the proposed budget would also impose a $3.9 million cut for the 2016-17 school year, compounding repeated cuts over the past eight years that have reduced funding for public colleges and universities in Kentucky by 15.6 percent, warning that the loss of resources could impact the school’s educational mission.

“These cuts, and the additional cuts proposed, strain our ability to provide affordable access to quality academic programs, to educate students for careers and jobs so important to the advancement of our great state, and to take care of our community,” he asserts. “Higher education is the solution, not the problem. Kentucky students, families, and taxpayers deserve more—much more—not less.”

MSU student Brandon Shankle told Campus Reform that when he found out about the furlough announcement from the school’s website, he immediately suspected that the budget cuts were merely a convenient excuse for the furlough.

Less than two years ago, he noted, the school’s Board of Regents approved a 4.9 percent tuition hike and a five percent increase in student housing costs while raising Andrews’ salary by 28 percent. At the same time, the school was in the midst of a three-year plan to raise faculty and staff salaries by $6 – 7 million, contributing to an overall budget increase of $9.2 million for the 2014-15 academic year.

“In my opinion, I think the furlough was already planned months ago,” Shankle asserted. “When you look at the fact that we have a $2.6 million deficit … Everything is planned ahead with budgets, and now that everything has come to a head with the Governor’s budget, it seems like a way to make Bevin a scapegoat.”

Beth Patrick, Chief Financial Officer and VP for Administration at MSU, disputed Shankle's characterization, telling Campus Reform that the school had already found the money to cover its existing deficit, but that the last-minute nature of the proposed cuts would preclude any solution except cutting personnel expenses.

"This speculation by the student in [sic] unfounded as we had already identified sufficient reductions in the current budget year to address the $2.6 million shortfall before the Governor announced his budget plan," she asserted, adding that "without warning, it is difficult to reduce $1.9 million for the operating budget late in the fiscal period as most of the discretionary budget has been spent or committed leaving primarily personnel budgets as a source to address the cuts."

She did acknowledge that MSU's operating deficit is due in part to "decreases in graduate enrollment and undergraduate retention rates," but denied that it reflects overspending, pointing out the salary increases underway in 2014 were intended only to bring employee pay, including the president's, back to market value after a multi-year salary freeze.

The day after Andrews announced the furlough, The Courier-Journal reported that Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo gave a statement to the press confidently predicting that Gov. Bevin’s cuts would not pass the House when the budget comes up for a vote Tuesday, saying, “I can almost assure you there will not be current year cuts in the House any of the universities.”

Stumbo went on to suggest that Andrews may have been a bit hasty with his furlough announcement, opining that “he may want to lift those furloughs after Tuesday,” but declining to “second-guess why Andrews did that.”

Later in the day, though, Gov. Bevin countered with a statement of his own pointing out that eliminating the cuts would require either extensive borrowing or drawing from an emergency fund for future pension debts, and pledging that “he will not support a budget that passes our financial problems onto future generations.”

Patrick told Campus Reform that the university had not changed its furlough plans in reaction to Stumbo's comments, saying, "we believe it is our fiduciary responsibility to plan for cuts in the event they are implemented as proposed," and adding that the furlough would give MSU additional flexibility to address its existing budget shortfall in the event that the cuts are not passed.

Shankle, though, vowed to fight the furlough if it is actually carried out, even if that means calling on Andrews to step down.

"The furloughs are next week, and we're talking about hourly employees in many cases, and this could just kill them," he explained. "Other people have started to get involved, and if the furlough happens, we're going to start a petition seeking to have President Andrews removed."

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