April 8, 2013

Budget woes force USM into new wave of layoffs

The School of Music is hit with big cuts, angering students, as officials try to save $5 million.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The University of Southern Maine is laying off employees as it seeks to cut $5 million from its budget for the next year.

click image to enlarge

This September 2010 file photo shows the University of Southern Maine's Portland campus.

So far, seven faculty members have been told they will lose their jobs, according to a union representative. The total number of layoffs will be larger, said Bob Caswell, USM's executive director of public affairs.

Caswell said Monday that he cannot say how many employees will be affected because the notification process won't be completed for a few weeks. The university has yet to make an internal or public announcement about the layoffs.

Academic and administrative jobs will be eliminated, Caswell said. "We are trying to do as much as we can with attrition, but we are not going to make it with just attrition," he said.

The six other campuses in the University of Maine System are facing the same kind of budget pressure and will make staffing cuts, proportional to the size of each campus, said Rebecca Wyke, the system's vice chancellor for finance and administration.

Since the recession of 2008-09, state funding for the university system has remained flat, she said. The other major funding source is tuition, and enrollments have been flat because of the decline in Maine's college-age population.

Meanwhile, costs such as health insurance and building maintenance continue to rise, Wyke said, and "the revenues just can't keep pace."

Gov. Paul LePage's budget proposal for the two years starting July 1 calls for no funding increase for the university system, and the system's board of trustees has frozen tuition.

That leaves USM with a $139 million budget for 2013-14, up slightly from the current $138 million budget.

Caswell said university officials have identified $4.4 million in savings through cuts in operating expenses, such as reduced travel, and in staffing through layoffs, attrition and terminations of fixed-length employment contracts.

He said the officials may not be able to find the remaining $600,000 in needed savings in the 2013-14 budget, which begins July 1.

USM has been under intense financial pressure for the past six years. From the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2012, a total of 50 full-time faculty positions and 207 full-time administrative and clerical positions were eliminated though attrition and layoffs. More budget cuts are anticipated for the next few years, Caswell said.

USM has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston.

"We are a player in the life of the region and will continue to be," Caswell said, "but we will have to make some choices and set some priorities."

While it's too early to determine the full impact of the layoffs, it's apparent that the School of Music on USM's Gorham campus will take a big hit. Steve Bizub, a lecturer in music education, will be laid off, leaving the program with one music education professor.

In addition, the School of Music will lose a voice instructor and a bassoon instructor when they retire at the end of this academic year. And the university will not replace band director Peter Martin when he retires next year.

Taken together, the cuts will be devastating for the department, said Anastasia Antonacos, a part-time instructor for piano courses. "It completely handicaps the department in a way that's impossible to recover from," she said.

Chris Camire, chair of the USM Student Senate, said students are angry about the cuts to the School of Music because they are disproportionately large.

He said students are also upset about a lack of communication from the university. "The administration is not being transparent enough with the student body about what's happening," he said.

Ed Collom, chapter president of the union that represents faculty members, the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, said he knows of seven termination letters that have been sent. His union is one of six at USM.

He said the layoffs are unnecessary because the university system has $177 million in reserves and there is no reason why USM can't borrow some of that money.

He said his members have worked without a contract for nearly two years and have gone four years without pay raises.

"The morale around campus is very low," he said.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomBellPortland 

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