BANGOR — A subcommittee for the University of Maine System’s trustees endorsed a plan Monday to take $11.4 million from emergency reserves to balance the system’s $528 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But officials warned that the system faces potentially bigger deficits in the coming years.

“The kind of problem we’re dealing with required tens of millions of dollars, not millions of dollars,” said trustee Gregory Johnson. According to five-year projections, the system faces a budget deficit of $46 million next year, with increases each year to almost $90 million in 2019.

“We’re in a position now that we are unsustainable until we tackle it in a more substantial way than we have,” Johnson said.

Board Treasurer Rebecca Wyke agreed, telling the committee, “As bad as (2014-15) is, I think (2015-16) is going to be worse.”

The seven-campus University of Maine System will eliminate 157 positions to close a structural deficit of $36 million that officials say was caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes.

After Monday’s meeting of the trustees’ finance committee, Chancellor James Page said he thinks the campus reductions lay the groundwork for future cuts but more will be needed as the system moves toward a “portfolio” model, with each campus carving out unique offerings and reducing the number of redundant courses and academic programs.

“We have to go up to a different level” of making cuts or increasing revenue, Page said.

The board of trustees will consider the budget for the coming year at its meeting May 18-19 in Bangor.

After hearing budget presentations from the system’s seven university presidents, the committee recommended adopting a budget that parcels out emergency funds to several campuses that were unable to close their budget shortfalls with campus funds.

The emergency money comes from a $15 million budget stabilization fund created in 2010 for the sole purpose of offsetting operating shortfalls at the campuses. This would be the first use of the fund.

Under the budget, $6.9 million in budget stabilization funds would be given to the University of Southern Maine, $1.3 million would go to UMaine Fort Kent, $1 million would go to UMaine Presque Isle, $900,000 would go to the flagship campus in Orono, $800,000 would go to UMaine Machias, and $500,000 would be given to UMaine Farmington.

The committee put off deciding whether the funds would be grants or loans.

The trustees praised UMaine Augusta President Allyson Handley in particular for having the only campus budget that didn’t have to use any emergency funds to be balanced.

“We took a very aggressive approach,” said Handley, who cut $2.7 million from the $37.3 million budget, mostly by eliminating 24 positions, ending several degree programs and dropping two sports teams.

The trustees also endorsed a move by the Augusta and Fort Kent campuses to share a degree in nursing, and for the Machias and Presque Isle campuses to share certain administration positions. UMaine Machias President Cynthia Huggins said they plan to share a director of finance and a marketing.

“This is breaking new ground for the system, but it makes a lot of sense,” Huggins said.

The biggest cuts were at the two largest campuses, in Orono and the University of Southern Maine.

At Orono, President Paul Ferguson cut about $10 million from the $249 million budget by leaving positions vacant and laying off about seven non-faculty employees.

At USM, President Theodora Kalikow has proposed cutting $7 million by eliminating three academic programs and as many as 35 staff positions, closing about half of the school’s $14 million gap in its $134 million budget.

Some of her cuts remain in flux because she rescinded the layoffs of a dozen faculty members and is now working with the Faculty Senate to come up with alternative cuts. She will have to return to the trustees in July with details of how the final cuts will be made.

Kalikow noted that USM eliminated about 50 positions last year.

“We have not been sitting around waiting for something good to happen. We have been making things happen,” she said.

All of the campuses except Presque Isle eliminated positions: Farmington cut 18 positions, Machias cut 6.5, Fort Kent cut four, and the system office cut 24 positions.

Machias also reduced some scholarships and is increasing class sizes.

Several campus presidents noted that their projected revenue budgets remain fluid since they don’t yet have an accurate picture of fall enrollments.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:[email protected]

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