COLLEGE PARK – Student Government members quizzed a panel of administrators about budget transparency and student fee hikes — largely ignoring staff furloughs — at a town hall meeting designated to discuss the budget and furlough plan at the The University of Maryland Tuesday.
“It was an opportunity to directly search out these answers” from the panel, said Lisa Crisalli, SGA legislator and College of Behavioral and Social Sciences senator.
“These are questions that have been lingering with the SGA for a while,” added SGA President Steve Glickman.
Gov. Martin O’Malley directed UMCP in August to return $10.2 million from its fiscal year 2010 budget to the state in an effort to close a $454 million budget gap for this year. The state has reduced the university’s budget by $86.2 million since July 1, and more cuts are expected after O’Malley announced the state budget is still out of balance by more than $300 million.
The university’s furlough plan was finalized Friday night, just hours after the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents passed a resolution authorizing furloughs and temporary salary reductions for its institutions. E-mails from University President C.D. Mote Jr. and University Human Resources, which detailed the furlough plan, were sent to the campus on Saturday.
According to the plan, the campus will shut down for two days each during winter and spring breaks, effectively furloughing all faculty and staff. Additional furlough days will be required of employees based on salary, with the highest earners required to take the most days.
The salary loss will be spread out over 17 pay periods, rather than just in the periods where the furloughs occur.
According to the e-mails, the plan will begin Saturday.
The state is trying to minimize the impact of budget cuts on students, freezing in-state tuition for all USM institutions for the fourth year in a row.
The administration panel consisted of Mote, Vice President for Administrative Affairs Ann G. Wiley, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Nariman Farvardin and University Senate Chairwoman Elise Miller-Hooks.
The seven students representing the SGA interrogated the panel about increasing student fees by about $200 to approximately $1,700 for the 2010-2011 academic year. The fees help cover services previously paid for by tuition, such as $30 for teaching facilities, $35 for the health center, and $100 for the library, said SGA Vice President of Finance Andrew Steinberg.
These fees were recently approved by the Committee for the Review of Student Fees, said Steinberg. The increase is still awaiting official approval from Mote.
Budget transparency was also a major concern of the SGA.
“We want to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” said Glickman, hoping that the administration will start to involve students in their budget decisions.
University Senate member Robert Hayes alleged that the budget was only accessible in PDF format on one computer in one library, thus hindering transparency.
“Do you think it’s fair for faculty and students to have to jump these hurdles to see the budget?” Hayes asked the panel.
“No one’s ever really wanted that much access to the budget before,” Mote said with a laugh, adding that it was a complicated 900-page document.
Aside from SGA members, several of the estimated 250 audience members, mostly staff, asked questions ranging from general to personal budget matters.
Anthropology professor Mark Leone wanted to know how to calculate how much of his salary he is losing through furloughs, and whether that new figure will become his permanent salary.
“The impression is that these cuts are only one time, but last year they were only one time” as well, Farvadin answered.
Two participants shared their concerns that employees earning less than $30,000 annually should be exempt from furloughs, citing that they were only required to take one day in last year’s furlough plan instead of two this year. They did not mention whether they fell into this category.
Mote said these employees would be losing less than 1 percent of their annual salary over the entire year, minimizing the impact on lower-paid employees as much as possible.
Many in the audience, however, were only there to listen.
“The more we know, the more we hear, the better we can prepare” for budget cuts, said Maureen Kotlas, director of the Department of Environmental Safety. “I’m concerned with my own personal salary and I’m also concerned for my staff.”
“I want to see what everyone else has to say,” said Thomas Elliott, an accounting associate in the finance department and a recent graduate of Towson University.
The furlough plan, frequently asked questions, and other budget information is available at www.budgetcentral.umd.edu.