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UNIVERSITY NIGHTMARE

CONFUSION PLAGUES BUDGET PROCESS

As they've testified at budget hearings one by one, North Dakota's university leaders have told legislators they're worried about the same thing.

That's whether or not they'll receive their share of a $16.9 million pool in Gov. Ed Schafer's executive budget that was created from 5 percent of each university's salary base.

Schafer placed the $16.9 million in the Board of Higher Education's hands, and he wants the board to use the pool to address salary problems on campuses.

The board has a couple of choices. It could give the money right back to the universities, as North Dakota University System administrators say is likely.

Alternatively, the board could give some universities more money than others.

The problem, university presidents say, is the uncertainty, particularly after the controversy surrounding Schafer's separate 95 percent budget request last spring.

CAMPUSES NERVOUS

The point is we don't know what's going to happen, Mayville State University President Ellen Chaffee told the House Appropriations Committee's Education and Environment Subsection Thursday during Mayville State's budget presentation. That's why campuses are nervous. Unless we know what the rules of the game are, it's impossible to play.

UND President Kendall Baker said the uncertainty cuts into university planning.

For example, UND cut $4.5 million from existing programs to meet Schafer's 95 percent budget-cutting request. Although Schafer restored the $4.5 million to UND's bottom line, the cuts made in the request are final.

UND's plan is to reinvest the $4.5 million into other areas, primarily faculty salaries. They've been praised by Schafer for their plan.

Here's where things get complicated.

UND's contribution to the separate, $16.9 million pool in the board of higher education's hands would be $5 million.

Since that's more than the $4.5 million cut in the budget exercise, UND's reinvestment plan would be jeopardized and further cuts would have to be considered if UND doesn't get the $5 million back from the board.

We'd all like to know early enough in the game what's going to happen so we can factor all of that into our planning, Baker said. If it were to be the case that we were to lose that $5 million, we're either going to have to not do the reinvestment plan, or alternatively make future reductions.
Much ado? The worry may be much ado about nothing. Laura Glatt, the university system's vice chancellor for administrative affairs, said universities are likely to get their money back.

I would venture to say that there is little if any way that we can take that money for salary increases, Glatt said. The campuses are expecting to get all of that money back just to maintain positions. She said the board can't make a decision about what to do until the higher education bill passes. That would be April at the earliest.

Pools. Budgets. Five percent. Confused? Many campus leaders have been, and Glatt said its easy to understand why.

Some have confused the 5 percent universities cut from their budgets in Schafer's 95 percent exercise with the $16.9 million dollar pool set aside for the board and created with a separate 5 percent of university budgets.

Others wonder how a 3 percent per year salary increase for government employees over the next two years enters the picture. To create the $16.9 million pool, Glatt said, 5 percent was taken from each university's salary budget first.

Then the 3 percent per year salary increase was added to each university's bottom line. That means no funds were taken from the salary increase to create the $16.9 million pool.

In 1997, Glatt said, the governor also pooled all university salaries for the board's use, but the Legislature approved a clause that said each campus couldn't receive less than 95 percent of what it put into the pool.

In other words, the situation was more or less the same. The board of higher education was left with 5 percent of university salary budgets to either return to each university or allocate for targeted salary increases.

Baker said he thinks more people at UND now understand where the $16.9 million is coming from and are curious about where the money will end up.

Chaffee calls the situation a nightmare.

We need to have funding for what they expect us to do, she said. If they don't want us to fund, we need to know.

Source Grand Forks Herald,  Published  01/15/1999