BANGOR — The University of Maine System trustees welcomed upbeat financial news Monday, with new financial projections showing a budget surplus in 2021, after years of stubborn multimillion-dollar deficits.

The trustees also approved a $523.4 million budget that continues a tuition freeze for a sixth year.

“This is outstanding work,” Chancellor James Page said.

But faculty members used the public comment period of the meeting to tell the trustees that they feel left out of the big-picture planning to unify the seven-campus system into “One University.”

System officials announced the One University plan last year, describing it as a long-term transformation that will streamline costs by cutting overhead and sharply focusing on what academic programs will be offered at each campus. Some parts of the One University plan have been completed, such as consolidating certain back-office functions. Other aspects lie ahead, such as the academic program changes.

Although the academic review teams include faculty members, speakers Monday said the trustees need to work with more of them.

“The faculty need to be involved from problem identification, through implementation and beyond,” said Jim McClymer, the incoming president of the systemwide faculty union. “You miss an awful lot from 30,000 feet.”

The professors talked for over an hour during the public comment period at the beginning of the trustees’ meeting to air their concerns.

Because of the format, the trustees did not respond directly to the speakers’ questions. After the meeting, board Chairman Sam Collins said he understood the faculty members’ position.

“I think input from all the stakeholders is very important. We don’t work in a vacuum and we need to know their concerns,” Collins said.

Also Monday, the trustees voted to renew Page’s contract for one year, through June 30, 2018. Page, who was hired in 2012, is the former CEO of his family’s Old Town-based international consulting firm and the first Maine native and system alumnus to hold the position.

The budget approved by the trustees Monday, for the fiscal year beginning in July, had a $20 million gap that was closed in part through $4.6 million from Gov. Paul LePage in exchange for not raising tuition, $3 million in one-time emergency funds, $3.3 million from campus reserves and $1.3 million in budget stabilization funds.

Without the additional funds from the governor, the system would have had to raise tuition by 2.3 percent, said Chief Financial Officer Ryan Low.

During the university system’s tuition freeze over the past five years, there has been an average tuition increase of 13 percent at public universities nationwide. In-state tuition and fees at the flagship campus, in Orono, are about $10,606 per year, slightly higher than the national average of $9,410. Tuition at the University of Southern Maine is about $8,000 annually.

Tuition also plays a significant role in getting the system to a surplus budget. The 2021 projection relies on certain financial factors going forward, including annual increases in tuition and the state’s subsidy tied to the rate of inflation, and enrollment increasing about 1.5 percent a year.

That means in-state tuition, currently $8,370 at the University of Maine in Orono, would gradually rise to $9,165 a year by 2021, a 9.5 percent increase. The current $187.3 million state appropriation would need to increase by the same percentage, to $205.2 million in 2021.


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