Regents discuss effects of state budget cuts

The South Dakota Board of Regents had no trouble in agreeing that public universities and special schools in the state are bearing substantially more than a fair share of revenue cuts following the last session of the Legislature.

The cuts may result in a rallying cry across South Dakota, inspired by members of the board, to make a spirited attempt to stop any further erosion in the amount of funding allocated to Regental institutions.

The Regents began two days of meetings on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion Thursday morning.

The cuts became necessary after the Legislature in March cut $6.5 million from the higher education budget. On April 15, Regents approved an average 4.6 percent increase in tuition and mandatory fees, which will replace about $2.1 million of those cuts. The board said it intended to have the public university system absorb the remainder of the cuts by reducing services or eliminating programs.

Regents President Terry Baloun noted that the $6.5 million cut "was around 65 percent of those direct cuts that we felt that the entire state had."

In April, he said, Regents made across-the-board cuts throughout the higher education system to meet that budget shortfall. Approximately one-third of those cuts were "provided back through our student fees. The remaining 68 percent of those cuts actually does remain in place, and that's what you are seeing here today," Baloun said.

"What we ended up covering with tuition and fee increases is 36.6 percent of university cuts," said Monte Kramer, the Regents' director of finance and administration, "and the number of total cuts that we covered, because we don't cover cuts to the special schools through tuition, is 32.6 percent of total cuts.

"Of the $5.8 million to university budget cuts, $2.1 million is being replaced," he said.

System-wide reductions include about $170,000 from the state's distance-learning consortium, $500,000 in performance funds, and $270,000 gained from a 35 percent reduction in the Student Technology Fellows program, which provides high-level technology support to university faculty. The legislature also targeted a half-million dollars in cuts to the Cooperative Extension Service and the Agricultural Experiment Station, and $660,000 from the School for the Deaf.

As a result of across-the-board cuts at the institutional level, reductions totaling nearly $2.3 million came from a variety of programs and services at each institution.

"Obviously, some very hard decisions had to be made about how each campus is going to operate in the future – what they are going to do with research, how they are going to support students, and services to students," Kramer told the Regents as he reviewed a list that summarized the cuts to each Regental institution.

"These cuts to higher education mean losses of jobs, losses of service, loss of a little bit of our future in the sense that we've been focused on research during the current administration," he said. "We're going to have to give a little bit of that up here, I think that's disheartening for everybody."

On April 30, USD President James Abbott informed faculty and staff of the methods that will be used at the university to deal with nearly a $1.2 million cut in its $150 million budget.

The reduction in funding made it necessary to eliminate three positions, specifically two faculty positions and one CSA (Career Service Act) position.

Nine positions at USD, specifically five faculty, two CSA and two non-faculty exempt (NFE), will experience reductions in contracts.

Seventeen vacant positions will be eliminated next year. Those positions include five CSA, eight faculty, and four NFE.

Eleven new positions will be created: seven faculty, two CSA and two NFE.

A net of 10 graduate assistant positions will be eliminated, however, specifically two in the school of medicine Ph.D program, two in the computer science Ph.D program, and one in the president's office.

Regent Harvey Jewett, Aberdeen, expressed a belief that higher education in South Dakota is bearing more than 64 percent of the cuts made in the state budget.

"Most of the rest of those 'cuts' aren't cuts," he said, referring to what has been described as areas that have been trimmed from the state budget. "There are omissions to the state; they over fund Medicaid, and then they had to remit the overpayment. That's not a cut. They (the Legislature) did that in several instances; the tech schools got a 3 percent raise, and then they cut it in half. That's a raise in my opinion.

"I think the numbers were dummied up," he said, "so that we essentially paid everything, really … we're the only ones that really got cut," he said.

"I think the fact that we are physically cutting programs in our institutions and the media has covered it pretty well, has resonated with the public more than the shell game that's being played in Pierre every Legislative session," said Regent James Hansen of Pierre. "When they see and hear and read about the fact that we're actually just cutting programs and their students aren't going to have the opportunity to enter a program they might want as a result of cuts, I think that resonates more than anything in this atmosphere."

"What makes it even more difficult for us is we've actually been taking cuts for the last 15 years," said Regents President Terry Baloun. "We've been implementing efficiencies for that entire time, and so this is adding on to it, and we have nothing left to look at other than our programming."

"I haven't seen a news article where any other department in state government actually let someone go or closed a program or really made a difficult decision because of these cuts," Jewett said. "They over fund Medicaid, and give the over funding back. It's not that hard to do.

"If this continues into next year, it will really be an absolute disaster," he said.

"I'm concerned about our message. I'm not sure that they (state lawmakers) understand our message," Hansen said. "We're going to have a lot more support from the universities, from the alumni, from the foundations, so that next year, they can understand what these cuts mean. If we have to go through it again, it's going to be even worse."

"None of us help the process if we take this and put in a drawer and say, 'so be it.' We have to, in a very professional manner, let people know actually what happened this year," Baloun said.

"What we're doing here is limiting opportunities for students," Jewett said.

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