VALDOSTA — By the end of President Dr. Patrick Schloss’s second year at Valdosta State University more than $15 million will have been cut from the university’s $130 million budget.
Schloss, who took the helm of the university in the summer of 2008, had to immediately begin working with faculty and staff on how to reduce the budget per the state’s demands.
The work is not over, he said.
By the end of this fiscal year Schloss estimates that the university will have lost 20 to 25 percent of its state appropriated funds through budget reductions in two fiscal cycles — reductions that will be permanent.
“It’s permanent and for that reason we are re-engineering Valdosta State,” he said.
The goal of an engineer is to create a solution to human problems. The budget reductions are a long-term, permanent solution to something that is a human problem, Schloss said.
“That said, engineering is always imperfect,” Schloss said.
While the institutions within the University System of Georgia were told they could prepare plans for a four, six or eight percent budget reduction this year, Schloss said that reductions for VSU have already moved past the first two levels of those plans.
“If I plan level one and come to the end of the year and it happens to be level three, the cow is out of the barn so to speak,” Schloss said. “We are anticipating from the start of the recession, which would be the day I got here literally to wherever the bottom is, we expect to forgo 25 percent of our state appropriation.”
Though if state revenue does not see an upturn in the coming year that percentage could increase, he said.
The Board of Regents has accepted the reduction plan proposed by VSU, Schloss said.
“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that we will not see that money again,” Schloss said. “To have 25 percent, you need to get 50 percent back to break even and then that has to be on top of the cost of living and no one believes that the state at some point in my lifetime is going to announce that the university system is going to get its 50 percent back.”
Last week Schloss met with every department at the university to explain the plan of action.
“We are not going to be caught short at the end of the year,” Schloss said. “No student who signs up at Valdosta State is going to have substandard education cause of something we didn’t anticipate.”
The goal is to be fiscally conservative, he said.
“A prudent course of action is to look at the worst case,” Schloss said. “One of the challenges in Georgia is you have to plan for the worst case because we don’t have the ability to carry money forward from year to year.”
Budgets have to be balanced at the end of the year, even if budget reductions are handed down with a month or two left in the fiscal year, he said.
When working in other states, Schloss said he had the ability to draw down a reserve fund to cover budget reductions.
This is not the case in Georgia.
“For that reason we are managing against the best guidance which looks a little bit like the worst case,” Schloss said.
The big picture is reducing areas that are seen as the least destructive when considered against other options, he said.
“Our solution has been to distribute the reductions in ways that are minimally detrimental to student learning and minimally detrimental to life and safety,” Schloss said.
There will be no reductions or restrictions in the student health services, no losses in residence halls or residence directors.
Schloss said they would have loved to develop a plan that does not affect academic affairs, but when a large portion of the budget covers academics and that personnel, it is impossible.
No faculty or staff have been laid off due to the budget cuts, Schloss said, but 85 vacant positions have been eliminated.
The university’s grounds crew, custodial crew, technical support, outreach programs, hospitality and marketing have all seen a reduction in positions.
Though positions have been eliminated, the university will have more faculty this year than it has in previous years.
But this faculty will be serving more students, which determines the amount of state appropriations the university receives, Schloss said.
A faculty initiative will help ensure students concerned with getting their appropriate classes will not miss out on their education, Schloss said.
“Every student that registers at Valdosta State will have as good a schedule as any student in past years at Valdosta State,” Schloss said.
More seats will be available in more than 30, non-major classes. Many of these classes, which previously had between 25 to 30 students, will now hold 150 students.
“That is ironic in a tough budget time to be able to produce more seats and more opportunity for learning, and they are doing that through carefully selected large section classes,” Schloss said.
Professors charged with teaching larger classes will have the initial class count as two courses, opening up time for them to do more research and possibly pursue more grants outside the realm of the classroom.
“The vast, vast majority of classes at Valdosta State will be the same as always, but there will be that small portion of classes that will be offered in that lecture hall style where previously we hadn’t been,” Schloss said.
Professors teaching large, lecture-style classes will also have graduate assistants to help provide break-out sessions and more intimate educational involvement.
“The concern is to protect the integrity of our academic work,” Schloss said. “ (When) those large sections were selected, we looked at non-major courses, courses distributed throughout the life span of a student’s career so they wouldn’t be all popping up in their first year.”
Offices that may offer similar services have been merged and administrative travel has been restricted. Repair/replacement cycles for technology and equipment have been extended, he said.
Computers will be on longer replacement cycles and maintenance on the campus itself will go through longer cycles, Schloss said.
The pressure washing of buildings, mowing of lawns and replanting of flower beds have all been drastically reduced, he said.
“We have avoided the temptation of offering fewer seats to a larger number of students,” he said. “In other words, accepting students’ tuition and appropriation money and then not providing for those students.”
The state also plans to save additional money by requesting universities take furlough days.
The Board of Regents approved six furlough days to be taken this fiscal year.
At VSU, three days will be taken in the fall and three taken in the spring.
The only faculty and staff exempt from the furlough days are visiting international scholars and those making less than $23,660.
Actual dates haven’t been decided, but one each will be taken in October, November and December, Schloss said.
The days will be non-teaching days and the campus will be closed on those days, he said.
Some faculty, like residence hall advisors and others, may have to work those days, and if so, they will take another day off in the month.
The furloughs at VSU will save the state about $1.2 million.