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$9.2 million budget cut at MSUM could mean potential layoffs for university

Faculty and staff at Minnesota State University Moorhead are bracing for potential layoffs due to a projected $9.2 million budget cut.

President Edna Szymanski told employees Friday layoffs are possible as the university copes with the 14.2 percent budget reduction projected for the next few years.

"We may lose people through this," Szymanski told a crowded room at Comstock Memorial Union. "But we're going to take care of our people, and we're going to be very transparent about this."

A reduction in state funding is the main reason for the projected budget cuts. MSUM's full-time enrollment also decreased this fall, translating into a 1 percent decline in tuition revenue.

Szymanski said university officials will do everything they can to minimize the number of jobs affected. Strategies officials are exploring include early retirement packages and outsourcing some auxiliary services, such as the bookstore and the university motor pool.

"We're trying to see how much base funding we can lose before we have to go to layoffs," Szymanski said.

MSUM implemented a hiring freeze last fall in anticipation of a budget shortfall.

But Friday's news was significantly worse than what Szymanski, in her first year as president, shared with employees about the budget in September.

"This hurts," she said. "A lot of people are angry about it, they're depressed about it."

Leaders of two of the largest employee unions at MSUM said they appreciate Szymanski keeping them informed about the budget.

"It's serious, but I don't think it's anything we can't handle," said professor Cindy Phillips, faculty representative for the Inter Faculty Organization union.

Maintaining the quality of education is the No. 1 priority, Szymanski said. The main effects students may notice are slightly larger classes or a class that's offered once a year instead of twice.

MSUM's budget projections are built around a 4 percent tuition increase for next fall.

Laura Zeiher, student body president, said she's confident administrators are taking every option seriously.

There are many unknowns right now, including what lawmakers will do, how enrollment will be affected and the national economy.

The university will review all programs this spring and meet with union representatives to set priorities.

It will likely be May or June before officials know whether layoffs are necessary, Szymanski said.

About 22 positions are now vacant, which has already caused people in some departments to work long hours, Szymanski said.

MSUM faced a similar situation in 1995. President Roland Barden was in his first year when the campus faced $3.7 million in budget cuts.

The percentage of that shortfall is almost the same as the one facing MSUM today, said business manager Mark Rice.

Barden eliminated the equivalent of 73 full-time positions, according to Forum archives. The cuts were a combination of 48 layoffs and voluntary retirements.

A $13 million construction project at Lommen Hall will proceed this spring, but that's funded through a bonding bill state legislators approved last year. By law, MSUM can't use that money for another purpose.

Some good news did arrive during Friday's meeting.

The preliminary head count for spring is 6,500 students, or 168 more than last year.

The economy may even present some advantages to MSUM.

Anecdotally, officials have noticed more students transferring there from more expensive private colleges, Szymanski said.

"Sometimes in adversity there is opportunity," she said.