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Mike Nowatzki, Published July 29 2009

MSUM dodges layoffs

Layoffs won’t be part of Minnesota State University Moorhead’s solution to a $9 million budget gap over the next two years, President Edna Szymanski announced Tuesday.

Instead, the approach will include offering early retirement incentives, reorganizing classes, cutting operating budgets and launching a new “banded tuition” structure that officials hope will entice students to take more credits and thus boost MSUM’s share of the state budget.

MSUM is already down 43 positions, or 5 percent, after a hiring freeze last fall, which was a “godsend” that helped to ease budget pressure, said Jean Hollaar, budget director. Ten people also took early retirement last spring.

The university’s maintenance staff is spread thin and will remain so for now, Szymanski said.

“I know it’s been a hardship, and I hope to be able to get you some help after we know what our revenue projections are in the fall, but there’s no guarantee,” she told about 30 staff and administrators during one of three town hall budget meetings on campus.

Groundskeeper Gary Lacher, who led the group in a round of applause after the presentation, said he’s been through three layoffs or shutdowns in his career and knows firsthand the stress that comes with trying to find another job.

“I’m very satisfied with what’s going on,” he said. “There’s an increased workload, but people can deal with that for a while until things get a little better.”

Students can expect to see larger class sizes and less-frequent offerings of low-enrollment classes, Szymanski said. For example, some classes may be offered every other semester or every third semester.

“If we pull together, we will get through this, and we will preserve the affordable excellence of this really wonderful place,” she said.

Federal stimulus dollars and other one-time monies will fund the early retirements, which should shave $1 million off MSUM’s base budget, Szymanski said.

The number of employees who receive the incentive will depend on the sizes of the salaries of those who accept the offer, she said.

Starting this week, the incentive will be offered in four tiers, with the first covering eligible staff, middle managers and professional employees. The other three tiers – if necessary – will cover faculty union members.

Those who accept early retirement generally won’t be replaced except for some high-paid faculty members who will be replaced with junior faculty members, Szymanski said.

MSUM also will dedicate more resources to marketing the school and raising scholarship funds to attract students and boost tuition revenue, she said.

Students will see a 5 percent tuition hike this fall, but federal stimulus dollars will cover 2 percent of the increase.

A summary of the budget plan, which includes how MSUM also plans to address a projected revenue shortfall in the 2012 biennium, was to be posted on the university’s Web site.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528