Deficit ‘dire’ for state college system

Millions of dollars saved by instituting a mid-year hiring freeze has not been enough to get the state’s largest public college system out of the red, members of the Board of Regents’ Finance Committee learned Tuesday.

With less than three months remaining before the end of the fiscal year, a $5.5 million deficit remains.

“The situation seems pretty dire,” said Gary Holloway, the chairman of the finance panel.

The board has already made several rounds of cuts and members said they have no idea how they are going to close this shortfall.

“No decisions have been made yet,” said Holloway after the meeting.

The 16-campus system has undergone a major staffing reduction since last winter. Following a mid-year budget reduction from the state, university officials decided they would not fill vacant positions as people retired or quit — a move that has resulted in 400 fewer staff and faculty and $14.8 million less being spent.

One additional budget remedy considered Tuesday is to expand the hiring freeze of full time staff to include hiring part-time teaching staff at the community colleges.

“In the absence of more dramatic efforts to reduce cost within the community college system, it may be necessary to extend the freeze on hiring to all positions within the system,” says a report to the finance committee from staff.

The Board of Regents has heavily relied on part-time adjuncts to teach students as enrollment increased and money for more expensive and experienced faculty has decreased. Over the last five years, as enrollment increased by 12.4 percent, full-time faculty stayed the same and part-time staff increased by 29.4 percent at the community colleges and 9.4 percent at the Connecticut State Universities, reports the U.S. Department of Education.

Stephen Adair, a leader with the faculty union for the Connecticut State Universities, said this trend is troubling. While part-time staff have become an attempt for the campuses to still offer the courses necessary for students to graduate, the part-timer’s sole responsibility is to teach. Full-time staff have a gamut of responsibilities, including advising and mentoring students, conducting research to boost their lessons and developing curriculum.

“This is something we are going to have to address… There is a backfilling of positions,” Bill Bowes, the college system’s budget chief, told the committee Tuesday about the reliance on part-time staff. “You continue to water down the expenses to the point… I think will reflect on the quality of the services being offered.”

Another possible solution to close this year’s lingering deficit could be using money in the reserve fund. But that would leave the system with just one-year of remaining reserves, a dangerous level, Holloway said.

“The reserves have been declining at a fairly rapid rate,” Holloway said. “We have a problem.”

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