By Katie Quaranta
Ohio University is considering nearly 20 strategies to streamline operations and increase efficiencies with the goal of reducing a projected multimillion-dollar deficit in fiscal year 2010, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur said Friday.
Such actions, which range from implementing a shared services model to consolidate non-academic departments and human resource functions to adjusting building temperatures, could conservatively save up to $5 million, Decatur said. Actual savings might be even greater, he added.
Decatur presented the list of recommendations, compiled by working groups made up of deans and vice presidents, on Friday to the Budget Planning Council (BPC). He stressed that the efficiencies would help the university confront projected budget deficits in fiscal year 2010 while protecting Vision OHIO strategic priorities.
"Our goal in all of this is to protect the academic core of the university," he said, "and to try to find strategies where we can take advantage of economies of scale in order to reduce the cost of providing these services instead of just eliminating the services."
For example, one suggested project would involve working with other universities across the state to save money on strategic procurement initiatives by leveraging collective buying power. Other suggestions include centralizing class and event scheduling -- so that buildings are used efficiently -- and implementing eProcurement, which would reduce paperwork and allow employees to focus on core functions of their jobs. (See story at right.)
Such steps are critical in order to reduce costs, Decatur said.
In the best-case scenario for fiscal 2010, which assumes the funding levels put forward in the governor's executive budget remain unchanged, the university is facing a deficit of nearly $15.5 million because of such factors as cost increases, shortfalls in investment income and a new student information system. However, if administrators, classified and faculty members receive a 3 percent raise, in addition to a $1.2 million investment in raising faculty salaries as called for in the Vision OHIO plan, the deficit would increase to nearly $22.6 million.
However, Decatur indicated that all budget numbers remain in flux because of uncertainties about how much aid states can expect from the federal stimulus package for higher education and how the state would apportion those dollars. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the stimulus package would send nearly $54 billion to states to limit budget cuts to colleges and schools and spend on other priorities.
"We've made a lot of progress looking at key variables," Decatur said. "The critical next step is to value all of those dean and VP initiatives and then (get) a better understanding of the federal stimulus package."
More details about the stimulus package could come as early as next week, while exact figures regarding how much the university could save in the next year by implementing the suggestions are due on Feb. 23.
The BPC also is evaluating possible adjustments to health care benefits that could result in additional savings and likely will put forward recommendations by the end of February. At its Jan. 30 meeting, the group endorsed implementing health care measures that would save $1 million.
Decatur said the university would distribute reduction targets for fiscal 2010 to planning units by the end of February. The reduction targets will be used to close the remaining gap after savings from the efficiency initiatives, health care adjustments and other BPC recommendations are implemented.
Other institutions in Ohio also are evaluating ways to work more efficiently, together and as a group.
The BPC meeting on Friday came a day after The Advisory Committee on Efficiency in the University System of Ohio met for the first time to begin discussions on creating efficiencies in shared purchasing and shared resources at Ohio's public institutions. The group plans to meet monthly through June.