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2010 January 25 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: La. Colleges Bracing for Budget Cuts

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Public colleges say they will shrink class offerings, slash library and athletics spending and hand out pink slips to employees as they make required budget cuts, according to plans submitted to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, statewide elected officials are trimming museum hours, shutting recreation sites and limiting purchases and travel while largely avoiding layoffs.

Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered budget reductions to cope with a $248 million midyear deficit in the $29 billion budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The eight-campus University of Louisiana System plans to lay off 42 non-faculty employees, eliminate vacant faculty jobs, cut scholarships and reduce support for sports programs as officials manage a $21 million share of the $84 million cut doled out to higher education by Jindal.

“Our universities are doing the best they can to minimize the impacts of these devastating cuts, but the fact is we are bleeding,” UL System President Randy Moffett said in a statement.

The head of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Joe May, said he expects layoffs, program cuts and closures of satellite campus offerings as part of the system’s $8.2 million share of the budget reduction. As many as 125 people could be laid off, he said.

“Up to now the reductions were largely invisible to the public,” LCTCS Board of Supervisors member Edwards Barham said. “I think these cuts are going to be visible, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think the public needs to understand the damage this is going to do to our efforts.”

The community college system has not specified what will be cut.

The only layoffs announced by statewide elected officials are in Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s department, where six full-time workers will lose their jobs.

“These layoffs will adversely affect the entire attorney general’s office, due to the fact the work load will remain the same while the available staff will be reduced,” Caldwell said in a statement.

The Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism — overseen by Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu — won’t open six swimming pools at state parks this summer and will close two state historic sites, making them available for group tours by appointment only.

An antebellum cotton plantation in Tensas Parish, called Winter Quarters, and an archaeological site near Natchitoches, called Los Adaes, will stop offering regular visitor hours, said Pam Breaux, CRT secretary.

Arts grants and downtown development grant awards also will shrink as the department manages a $2.1 million cut, Breaux said.

Secretary of State Jay Dardenne said he’ll reduce hours at some regional museums under his control, but he won’t close any as part of a $1.6 million cut to his agency. He also said he is postponing equipment purchases, limiting travel and not filling vacant jobs.

“We have implemented the cuts and they’re agency-wide. They certainly are significant. We made every attempt — and successfully — to avoid layoffs, furloughs and suspending merit pay,” he said.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said early retirement offerings, a hiring freeze and the withholding of pay raises will offset more than a third of his $1.6 million budget cut.

Every department received either a 7.6 percent cut to its state general fund appropriation or a 3 percent cut of its total budget, whichever was less, under the governor’s executive order to rebalance the budget.

Three departments — the corrections, juvenile justice and military agencies — didn’t get budget cuts in Jindal’s order. But those departments already faced their own shortfalls, and they have to make cuts to close their internal budget gaps.

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