Last Modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:35 AM
McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College are both facing millions of dollars in cuts in state appropriations, if a budget bill now moving through the Legislature remains unchanged.
Under the budget bill, cuts to higher education could top $200 million. McNeese could lose $8.8 million in state appropriations and Sowela, $1.7 million.
The cuts would bring McNeese’s total state funding reductions since fiscal year 2008-2009 to $25.4 million, or 56 percent, McNeese president Philip Williams said in a news release.
“The size of this reduction comes at a most unfortunate time. Just when the community has expressed its support for a number of extremely exciting and cost-effective educational initiatives that will enhance regional economic workforce development,” he said. “The loss of $8.8 million could force McNeese to delay or even scrap those much-needed projects. I have been heartened, however, by the expressions of support that I have received from key members of the Southwest Louisiana delegation.
“More than 70 percent of the state’s operating budget is protected through constitutional statutory dedications, federal mandates and unavoidable obligations. Higher education does not enjoy any constitutional protection from cuts,” he said. “Consequently, when the state faces shortfalls, higher education, along with health care, take the brunt of reductions.”
Williams said McNeese has taken several steps in the past few years to make up for cuts such as “administrative reorganization, and early retirement incentive plan for tenured faculty, cutting over 90 positions campus-wide, elimination of four academic programs and consolidating 14 others, freezing salaries and curtailing travel and non-essential purchases.
“The additional loss of $8.8 million may result in further reduction in workforce numbers, leading to fewer or delayed class offering, larger class sizes, delayed administrative services and lower employee morale,” Williams said.
At Sowela, the cuts would mean reduced staffing, limited course offerings and the college’s accreditation process could be jeopardized, according to Michael A. Elam, Sowela’s interim chancellor.
As the budget bill stands now, Sowela would see a 28.6 percent cut in general fund money, Elam said in a news release. The proposed net cut would be $1.7 million, or 13 percent of Sowela’s overall budget.
“The proposed cuts could critically impact our ability to perform our core mission, to train and prepare residents for the workforce. These proposed cuts are so deep that it may also reduce student access to higher education with the reduction in available classes and personnel,” he said.
The college’s non-personnel budget base is $2.7 million, said vice chancellor of finance Jeanine Newman.
This portion of the budget has to cover mandated spending, such as insurance and audit fees, “before getting to utilities, necessary repairs and maintenance — and as well as, the equipment and supplies for the classrooms,” she said. “Such a cut would mean eliminating some positions on campus — including both permanent and adjunct faculty — and reducing the number of classes offered, according to college officials.”
Sowela is currently in the process of earning accreditation from Southern Association for Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting agency.
“The proposed budget cut might mean the reduction or elimination of services that are required by SACS for accreditation,” Elam said.
The state Legislature is currently considering the cuts — as well as public input — as part of overall budget work that must be completed by June 4.