Lawmakers decide to look at CSUS administration for potential savings

Looking for ways to help trim the state’s deficit, a panel of state lawmakers has voted to begin looking at cutting state spending for the Connecticut State University System.

“You have to start somewhere,” said Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford and co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee.

They panel agreed to look at whether each of the four campuses needs administrative staff in addition to the systemwide staff and if their pay is appropriate.

“We are trying to eliminate duplication and redundancy,” said Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield and co-chairman of the PRI Committee. “How much is this costing us is what we want to know.”

CSUS has come under fire recently by lawmakers over the dismissal of Southern Connecticut State University’s president and planned double-digit percent raises for administration office employees. Those raises have since been rescinded, but only after Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell created a task force to decide by Dec. 1 whether the central office should be eliminated or four campus offices should be consolidated.

The state is scheduled to give CSUS almost $163 million for the current fiscal year, which amounts to just less than half the system’s operating budget.

There were 77 full-time senior level administrative employees at CSUS’ four universities and system office as of May 2010, which amounts to one out of every 40 employees at CSUS.

David P. Trainor, the executive assistant to University Chancellor David Carter, applauded that ratio last week during a committee meeting with members of the Board of Trustees.

“It’s a pretty lean operation,” he said, adding that some of the other universities and state agencies he has researched have one out of every 10 employees working in the administrative offices.

But that small ratio hasn’t convinced some lawmakers, as they still are requesting a breakdown of CSUS’ administrative costs so they can find out where, if any, cuts can be made.

“My concern is that this office has grown in relationship to academic expenditures. Are we building up a central office in lieu of academics?” asked Rep. Roberta B. Willis, D-Salisbury.

Bernard Kavaler, spokesman for CSUS, said the number of staff working at the system office has actually decreased significantly over the past few years. But Willis said she is interested in more than just how many administrative staff CSUS employees, she wants to know how much is being spent total for administration.

Whether the administrative setup at the nearly 37,000-student university makes sense has not been explored in many years, Willis and Department of Higher Education Deputy Commissioner Jane A. Ciarleglio said.

“This will be the first real research that’s been done on it for a long, long time,” Ciarleglio said noting that there have been plenty of legislative proposals to consolidate CSUS but no research to verify it makes sense. “It needs to be more than just talk. It may or may not actually work in practice.”

Mushinsky said now is the best time to find out if it does make sense since the state facing a $3.3 billion deficit the coming fiscal year.

“There is pressure to do reforms now more than ever,” she said. “This is the year to do this.”

Mushinsky and Kissel said the other state colleges — including the University of Connecticut and the dozen community colleges — will likely be explored next by their committee for cost-savings.