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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 26 2013

ND Senate passes higher ed budget with some changes

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s Senate made some changes to the higher education budget before giving it approval Tuesday.

“It’s a bill that does embody and support change,” said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Maybe not as much change as some would like, maybe more change.”

Chancellor Hamid Shirvani said he was grateful the Senate passed the $1.1 billion general fund appropriation for the 11 public campuses and University System office for the 2013-15 biennium, despite the amendments.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s proposal for seven full-time equivalent positions, worth $3 million, for the University System office were taken out, but $1.3 million was added for system governance with the state Board of Higher Education able to specify the purpose of the money. The amendments also removed $1 million for the University System to develop a master plan and space utilization study.

Also cut was $1.5 million for new and expanding programs around the state.

Holmberg said campuses should prioritize what they have rather than dipping into state funding for new programs.

The bill addresses the University System information technology building on the University of North Dakota campus. After hearing discussion over the intent of the building to consolidate the entire system’s IT personnel, “we felt like we wanted to hold the board’s feet to the fire,” Holmberg said.

The bill now says all University System IT personnel have to be consolidated into the building within five years. The amendment, however, allows an IT staffer to continue working outside the new facility if they plan to retire or have a reason to stay at their location, as long as lawmakers sign off, Holmberg said.

The bill also will allow UND to purchase the UND REAC building, which was built with grant money from Centers of Excellence, a state economic development agency, a bank loan and federal money, but not direct state appropriations, Holmberg said.

“The building has not lived up to its expectations,” and is underutilized, he said. By passing the bill, UND will have authority to purchase the building and use rent to pay off the building. Tenants include organizations that use the building as a research and economic development facility.

Minot State University will receive $5 million to help address any problems as a result of flooding.

The UND School of Medicine will receive $800,000 for malpractice insurance, but the funding will be directly transferred to the school, rather than the current system that appropriates the funding to the University System, which then gives it to the medical school.