By Katie Quaranta
An Ohio University Board of Trustees committee Thursday opposed key portions of a Budget Planning Council recommendation to delay some fiscal year 2009 budget expenditures, favoring investments in strategic initiatives.
Last week, the executive staff and academic leadership endorsed a BPC recommendation to delay 2009 spending on base-budget first-year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan initiatives -- including faculty compensation increases -- and raises for all employees rather than only bargain-unit members, whose contracts dictate increases.
But University Resources Committee members opposed holding off on Vision Ohio investments, citing worries about abandoning strategic priorities.
"I don't know how we're ever going to get from where we are to where we want to (be)," said Board Chair C. Daniel DeLawder, who along with others showed particular concern for the initiative to improve faculty compensation.
"I really struggle with delaying compensation increases when we have identified those as top priorities," DeLawder said.
Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur and Director for Budget Planning and Analysis Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings told the committee that economic indicators at the state level, final admission commitments and recent news about investment projections informed the cautionary recommendation. Due to the latter, the university will need to resolve a $1.35 million deficit before the fiscal 2009 budget is finalized in June.
Decatur and President Roderick J. McDavis stressed that the contingency plan grew out of a campuswide concern that planning units have nowhere left to trim.
"To date, the predominant, almost unanimous feedback across campus is, 'Let's avoid budget cuts and layoffs for next year,'" Decatur said.
Trustees, however, were concerned about delaying investments that would help put the university on stronger footing going forward. They also asked whether the university could capitalize sooner rather than later on cost-saving measures, such as shared services and strategic procurement, or whether partial measures such as reduced annual pay raises makes sense.
"I'm really having a tough time with ... wanting to cut money on the faculty side when there are these other cost-saving measures out there," Trustee C. Robert Kidder said.
McDavis assured the committee that the university was actively working toward such measures -- which Decatur had outlined earlier -- and is in a good position to capitalize on them. However, those savings likely would not come to fruition in time to help with any shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.
"Once you make a commitment, you can't go back and get those dollars," McDavis said. "If we find strategic investments or strategic procurement in the short term, we are going to do them."
The trustees considered these arguments and applauded the BPC's contingency planning, but ultimately decided that funding strategic initiatives should take precedence over other concerns.
"You're really not talking about dollars and cents. You are talking about principle," Trustee Larry L. Schey said. "If we never get these in the budget, then we'll keep taking them out."
McDavis accepted the committee's rationale, but stressed the serious consequences. "I want to be clear with this group that we are talking about people's jobs," he said.
National Trustee Frank Krasovec countered with concerns about the longer-term consequences. "If you don't do it, you put everyone's job at risk," he said.
The Ohio University Board of Trustees' formal meeting begins at 10 a.m. today.
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