University scrambles to patch budget hole
The University of New Orleans laid off 28 employees this week as officials work to close a multimillion-dollar deficit, President Peter Fos said Friday.
The layoffs are expected to save the cash-strapped school more than $2 million annually, he said. The positions that were eliminated were all staff; no faculty members or instructors were let go, he said.
“Unfortunately, we can’t continue to operate the university at current staffing levels,” Fos said in a statement announcing the cuts. “The goal in this difficult process was to preserve the academic and research core of the university, which are the central features of our mission as a research university. We remain committed to providing the best learning environment possible for our students.”
In an interview, Fos said his hands were tied by a looming budget deficit of about $6 million for the current fiscal year. Hard decisions about which employees to lay off were based on input from UNO’s senior administrators, whom he instructed to “look at all their positions and let me know which ones they could do without.” Not every job position identified as a possible target for elimination ended up being cut.
“I personally put no position on the list,” Fos noted.
Money from the university’s reserve fund will cover the remaining budget gap. That fast-shrinking pool is down to “just a little north of $10 million,” Fos said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said last month that he plans to end six straight years of cuts to higher education spending, instead proposing an increase of $142 million. Still, UNO couldn’t delay making moves, Fos said.
“We can’t wait another year because the new money won’t be enough to fill the whole budget gap,” he said, adding that the reductions “could be enough to save us from any future layoffs, given that we’re expecting more revenue next year.”
Depending on how the state higher education funding situation plays out, Fos is weighing giving UNO employees a 4 percent raise next year, increasing their pay for the first time since 2007, he said.
Last week, Provost James Payne, UNO’s top academic official, resigned after just a year on the job. Payne was among a handful of top UNO administrators who led the push to cut costs, co-chairing a committee of faculty and administrators tasked with finding millions of dollars in budget cuts.
Fos said Friday that he didn’t expect Payne to leave UNO “this soon” but said it was for “personal and family reasons,” without elaborating.
For months, many UNO students, staff and faculty have expressed concern about the prospect of additional cuts that were anticipated to follow the committee’s recommendations. The group was expected to submit its conclusions this month; Fos said its formal report may come in the next few weeks.
UNO has been grappling with sharp drops in state higher education funding and a declining enrollment, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005. Since starting at UNO in January 2012, Fos previously cut 90 positions and closed a popular on-campus child care center. He has said the fiscal belt-tightening is necessary in light of the school’s reduced size.
Over the past five years, UNO’s state funding has dropped by $24 million, from $56 million in 2008 to $32 million for the current fiscal year. Enrollment has fallen almost 50 percent in the past decade, from 17,360 in 2003 to 9,323 in 2013.
UNO also lost more than 800 students between 2011 and 2012 as new state-mandated admissions requirements took effect, further reducing the size of its freshman classes, according to the university.