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2009 August 10 - 12:00 am

La. Budget Cuts Not as Draconian as Earlier Feared

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Class sizes will grow and student services will be trimmed — but the thousands of layoffs and widespread program eliminations once predicted for Louisiana’s college campuses appear unlikely as colleges and universities craft their budget cutting plans for this year.

Cuts totaling nearly $120 million, about a 7 percent reduction in state funding, were divvied up among the state’s four public university systems by the state Board of Regents, which governs all public higher education in the state. Some of those gaps will be offset with student tuition and fee hikes, lessening the hit.

College leaders say they’ll make do with shrinking funds, but they warn the cuts will curtail their course offerings, research work and student programs.

“We’re doing our best to protect our core academic responsibilities, so we’re not going to reduce the access to courses. But classes will be larger, they won’t be offered as often, that sort of thing. Students shouldn’t experience any serious impediments,” Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said.

Savoie said his university, which still was crafting its final plans, will avoid layoffs by cutting vacant jobs.

LSU-Eunice won’t fill some faculty positions, canceled class sections and off-campus offerings, increased class sizes and filled some vacant posts with “less-experienced, less-credentialed part-timers,” said William Nunez, chancellor of the two-year university.

Though the new fiscal year began July 1, Louisiana’s colleges still are working out their budget cut plans. Final plans for all campuses are expected to be complete over the next month. Only the LSU System has released campus-by-campus plans so far.

Spokespeople for the University of Louisiana, Southern University and Louisiana Community and Technical College systems each said their budget cut plans would be ready for presentation to their governing board meetings.

At LSU’s campuses, about 120 full-time and part-time employees will be laid off, many of those workers at LSU-Alexandria, where 65 adjunct professors were cut.

LSU’s main campus will furlough employees, stall pay raises and cut funding for its art museum and award-winning press as a way to balance its budget. Non-faculty employees will be furloughed for 52 hours, an average 3 percent pay cut to each employee.

LSU Chancellor Michael Martin’s plan includes deeper reductions to some nonacademic areas, like LSU Press and its literary publication, the Southern Review.

The LSU Museum of Art is losing 20 percent of its funding — a $107,000 cut — and may shut down an extra day each week, said Thomas Livesay, executive director. He said the museum hopes to boost its private donations and grants, a tough prospect in a tight economy.

But at least the museum is staying open. Livesay said LSU had implied museum operations might be shut down entirely when budget cut proposals were even deeper than the reductions approved by lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“For us, it’s good news/bad news. The good news is that we’re still open. The bad news is that we have to tap-dance even faster to survive,” Livesay said.

Thanks to a last-minute budget compromise, the reduction to higher education this year was smaller and less devastating than originally proposed. When tuition and fee increases are included, the total budget for public higher education in Louisiana is $2.8 billion, about a $58 million cut from last year, according to the governor’s Division of Administration.

However, the state faces several years of projected budget shortfalls, and Savoie said it will be difficult to continue making cuts — or maintain cuts already sustained.

“Over time it will affect our strategic initiatives to continue building the university and standing offerings and making sure the buildings, equipment and library are all in modern condition,” he said. “While we can handle some of these things on a temporary basis, costs continue to go up.”

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