The head of the University of Maine System said Friday that further state budget cuts could force the system to shed 95 jobs, on top of its plan to eliminate 165 in the next budget year.
Chancellor James Page told a legislative committee that the funding cut being considered by lawmakers as part of a supplemental state budget could also endanger a long-term transformation designed to position the university system to operate within its means.
Page said the potential funding cut of nearly $10 million – part of an across-the-board spending reduction to cover a state revenue shortfall – could force the system to eliminate another 95 jobs in the year that starts July 1.
He said the system’s seven campuses are already considering ways to cut 165 jobs, largely because of a structural deficit of $36 million caused by flat state funding and two years of tuition freezes.
Page said that transformation must continue so the university system doesn’t continually face budget crises and is able to make higher education affordable for Maine students.
“We really do have to change the basic model so we can make sure that in the years to come, we’re not constantly making these changes,” Page said in an interview Friday night.
He said any additional reductions caused by cuts in the supplemental budget “will inevitably threaten programs, services and, indeed, our entire transformational effort.”
Page did not specify where the cuts for next year will be made, but he said they are part of the effort to reduce costs to keep tuition stable for a third straight year. Trustees are concerned that increases could put higher education out of reach for many Mainers.
The seven campuses are expected to submit budgets next month specifying where cuts will be made. For instance, the University of Southern Maine appointed a committee last fall to recommend job and other budget cuts.
The committee is expected to hear next week from school President Theodora J. Kalikow, who will respond to proposals that include encouraging early retirement, selling underused buildings and reducing the amount of leased space.
Each campus’ plan will be forwarded to Page’s office, which will prepare a system-wide budget. The system’s trustees are expected to adopt the 2014-15 budget in May.
Adding more job cuts at this point could upend careful planning, Page said.
“We don’t want to go there because these transitions are difficult to make and they’re not across-the board (cuts). We’re doing it strategically,” he said.
“We need to cut and re-balance throughout the system to reflect current needs. You can do it smart or you can do it in other ways.”
Faculty members are worried about the impact of more cuts on top of those already planned, and Page noted that about 500 jobs have been cut in the university system since 2007.
He told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Friday that the system could have to cut more than 300 positions by 2019, beyond those already planned for 2014-15, based on current five-year budget projections.
Jerry LaSala, chairman of USM’s Faculty Senate, said job cuts on top of those already in the works would be “devastating.”
“Campuses have already cut to the bone,” he said. “It’s difficult to imagine how the system could continue to operate.”
With more cuts likely in the future, even if supplemental budget cuts don’t hit the university system this year, LaSala said, Mainers “need to talk about whether there’s a future for higher education in Maine.”
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: