LSUE bracing for budget cuts

By J. Anfenson-Comeau

LSU at Eunice is bracing for budget cuts, and hoping that a hiring freeze and other reductions will be enough to avoid layoffs.

Chancellor William “Bill” Nunez said that LSUE is looking at budget cuts of 5 to 30 percent for the 2009-2010 school year, and possible cuts for the current 2008-2009 school year as well.

“We’re not even sure that this year we’re not going to get tampered with,” Nunez said of the budget.

“The Revenue Estimating Committee hasn’t met yet (it meets Dec. 15), and we’ll know more definitively where we stand in another week or so, but they may hold off until January; whenever they feel they have a clearer image of what the actual numbers will be,” Nunez said.

Although worst-case estimates may be as much as a 30 percent cut, Nunez said that the cuts are more likely to be in the range of 5 to 10 percent.

With over 80 percent of the school’s $14 million budget tied into salaries, any cuts will affect personnel.

LSUE is hoping that if budget cuts are low enough, the school can meet the reduction by not replacing retiring and departing faculty and staff in some departments, and reducing adjunct, or part-time, faculty.

By doing so, Nunez said he hopes he can avoid releasing full-time faculty.

“This is going to have an impact. We’ll have sections with larger numbers of students, fewer sections, maybe faculty with heavier workloads, less adjuncts,” Nunez said, adding, “What I’m trying to do is avoid a bloodletting, so that I wouldn’t have to fire or release anyone.”

In addition, the school may be able to cut some expenses from the remaining 20 percent of its budget, devoted primarily to operational expenses.

The expected budget cuts come at a hard time for LSUE, which experienced a 6 percent increase in student numbers this semester.

“They’ve talked about the possibility of increasing tuition, but even then, there’s a cap, and even a 3 percent increase for us doesn’t go very far when you’re talking about a 5 to 10 percent overall budget cut,” Nunez said.

“We may find ourselves getting to the point where we have to compromise, where we ask the question, ‘What’s best for the student within the context of what we can afford for the campus?’” Nunez noted.

Louisiana’s budget woes come from a number of sources, including declining oil prices, lackluster state tax revenue due to a weakened economy, and the revocation of the Stelly Tax Amendment by lawmakers earlier this year.

Most of the state budget is protected by statute or constitutional amendment, making it untouchable; the two primary areas that are open to budget reductions are health care and higher education.

Both areas are going to take a big cut, but “we’re going to feel most of the pain,” Nunez said.

“It’s not extraordinary that higher education frequently becomes the budget balancer in state budgets. It is extraordinary that higher education is so targeted, so up on the tee, because everything else is nailed down in the budget. This does not happen in other states,” Nunez noted.

LSUE is already underfunded, when compared to its southern peers, and further budget cuts will hamper the college’s educational mission, as well as the state’s economic recovery, according to Nunez.

“All of our competing states are still investing in higher education, and all of those states know that the economic future of their state is proportionate to their investment in higher education. That’s how states have turned themselves around,” Nunez said.

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